Friday, March 13, 2015

It is the Capitalist Way

Corruption is rife in many African countries. It isn’t that corruption is endemic to only Africa, but so fragile are many African economies that the impact is more devastating. And the lack of consequences for those who squander or plunder their nations’ wealth has allowed the practice to seep deep into the body politic and become virtually a way of life. From the lowly clerk in a government department, to the top manager or bureaucrat, up the chain to the summit of the political class, virtually everybody has sticky fingers. Nothing ever gets done without someone getting a cut or having their hands greased.

In many places, the level of corruption is staggering, what with oil-laden tankers disappearing on the high seas without a trace; billions of dollars in oil revenues disappearing from foreign accounts; and tyrants and their families turning state coffers into personal piggy banks and flaunting their ill-gotten gains in wild spending sprees, even as majority of citizens struggle to eke out a living. Africa no longer has truly altruistic leaders. If you are someone like South African president Jacob Zuma, you spend $20 million of government funds on home renovations, and shrug your shoulders at the criticism.

The expectation is that if you are in government, or run a state corporation, department, agency or institution, you must make money – and we are not talking your legitimate pay. If you don’t use your position to amass wealth, your friends and family members think of you as a fool or worse. They never cease to remind you of this or that fellow who got a big job like yours, and already has two or three houses. There is no honour in honesty. Most politicians run for office today to make money, not to make a difference. Serving the people is only secondary. It is not uncommon for politicians or senior executives coming into office to set targets on how much money or property they should have over a given period. A junior minister in Ghana got the sack after someone she believed to be a confidant leaked a tape recording of her discussing her target.

The unwritten rule is that the only job worth doing, is the one that puts money in your pocket. If in the process some public good comes out of it, so be it. But that’s not the primary objective. The practice cuts both ways. You’ll find various opposition leaders slamming governments for various acts of corruption, and vowing to clean house if elected. But don’t believe it. It is all posturing. If you look closely, you’ll find that when the opposition were in power, they indulged in similar practice. And you can bet that if they ever get in again, they’ll do the same, or even worse. Another unwritten rule is that a new government does not go out of its way to investigate the corruption of the one it replaced. Occasionally, some lowly politician or official is made example of, for the sake of appearances. For the most part however, successive governments let sleeping dogs lie, knowing they will also indulge when the time comes.

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