Rethinking the Dominant Narratives about Corruption in Africa


‘Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish’ – UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan (2003).

Generallyconceptualisedastheuse of public office for private gain, corruption has multiple negative effects on peace and development. Though a universal phenomenon, it seems to have generated a lot of concern in African countries. Because it hampers the growth of democracy and economic development, as well as negatively affects human rights, it is understood Babylon the front burner of discourses on African development.Warf(2017)observes that corruption is an aspect of African politics, especially at the highest levels of the state, as illustrated by high-profile scandals involving multiple heads of state

Apartfromcasesinvolvingmembers of the political elite, other sectors of the African society have been involved, while those at the grassroots are not entirely innocent.

For example, in the education sector, cases of corruption include examination malpractice, favoritism in admission and employment, teachers’ absenteeism, pay delay, and fraud in the selection of prescribed textbooks(seeSerfontein&deWaal, 2015; Coughlan,2013; Campbell, 2018; Konte,2018).McFerson(2009) states that, unlike the situation in developed countries, corruption actually kills people in Africa. Whereas corruption could kill

anywhere, McFerson’s point appears to be that the situation in Africa is worse than what obtains in so-called developed Western countries. While this is debatable, it is inarguable that extensive corruption in parts of Africa has had very unhelpful consequences for the peoples of the areas concerned.

Some scholars argue that corruption in Africa is different from corruption in other societies, especially in relation to its driving force, and that anti-corruption measures depicting western and international appeals may be inappropriate for the African context (Szeftel, 2000). While this is understandable – that is, the idea that responses to corruption in various settings should be designed based on the context – a related idea that is more questionable ist he widely held notion that corruption is an African norm (see Smith, 2001, 2007; Uslaner, 2010; Ekeh 1975). Smith (2001), for example, is of the opinion that what may appear to be corruption in some settings may be regarded as moral behavior in Nigeria. In this paper, we argue that this narrative does not reflect the African reality and that it diverts attention from the real causes and consequences of corruption in the area, thereby hampering its eradication in the continent. In what follows, we discuss some of the dominant narratives of corruption in Africa and highlight some of the factors aiding corruption in the region.


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