We have all at some point moaned against corruption. According to a 2016 article by The Guardian, corruption robs Africa of US$50bn annually. I don’t know how much every single country contributes to this leaked bucket, but I’m certain my country has a substantial allotment pouring into it. Corruption has so many evils. Rightly, we ought to be past the stage of such discourses because the phenomenon is no longer alien. The question we should be attempting now is: why is fraud and embezzlement in public offices still towering debates on the continent at a time everyone claims to be corruption’s sworn enemy?
The most important perspective to the response lies in the question itself. It makes corruption appear as a phenomenon that is projected onto Africa by some alien forces bent to rid the continent of its citizens. Corruption has been othered in our discourses. When governments, Civil Society Organizations, politicians and ordinary citizens sit and debate on corruption, they all want to look in the other direction. Nobody wants to grab a mirror to check what is under their very nose. We don’t want to think that we sometimes do practice or encourage corruption.
I have boarded minibuses where after being impounded by traffic police, I have worried about the driver’s insistence that he isn’t on the wrong instead of just bribing an officer to let us go. I have been bypassed on queues at college cafeterias by friends well-known to service providers. Friends have testified about how being connected has helped them get assistance earlier than first-comers in hospitals. I have heard of friends who have been employed way before interviews simply because the boss is their dad’s friend or relative. Or worse, comes from the same village as them. After that, we all praise each other, and hail how warm-hearted we are.
Interestingly, when we want to talk about corruption, we will think of our governments first-and no one else thereafter. That is like slamming your son after catching him ravening a rotten fruit when that has always been your survival ploy every time you are hungry and away from home. The politicians plundering our economies are products of our society. They do not just become thieves overnight. We see them rise and we praise their small shady deals. Until they are too big and can no longer steal from the same pot as ours.
Then, tails between legs, we start barking. A little too late. The politicians are as corrupt as ourselves. Just that we do not have access to what they plunder. That is why everyone is talking about overhauling our government and political systems but nobody is willing to execute the plan once they get into power.
There was a time during the 2014 Malawi General Election campaign when the incumbent president travelled around promising to make the Anti-Corruption Bureau as independent from the presidency as possible once voted into power for example. When he won, and there were calls for the body to be made independent, he shrugged his shoulders. A bill to have the ACB seceded from the Executive arm of the government never passed in parliament. Ironically, the president went to the public and lambasted the opposition, bragging he wasn’t letting the ACB go.
Of course I understand the president. I would do the same if I were him. Here is the reason. Our politics is fuelling resistance to change because of its power-hungry nature. If the president would make the mistake of giving away some of his powers, he fears he would be dead and buried. And that is true. Unfortunately. Independence has cursed the continent with politicians who are determined to do all it takes just to unseat an incumbent regime. They will use all techniques to make a country ungovernable. The aim is for them to be at the helm. It is not about the voter-or the farmer they mention in their daily discourse in the media. Such politics of greed and lust for power are creating mistrust in the people’s desire to unite and combat corruption.
We are always afraid we will be used. By the opposition. By the government. By CSOs. The feeling is ‘everyone has pocketed something to do this.’ Why bother? This is why corruption is far from over. We are always bribing others, being bribed, in our different fields-however small. With that, we have normalized the phenomena. It isn’t a crime to be corrupt. Provided you do not fall prey to an antagonizing political set-up, you are okay.
When scams are reported, we all joke about it on Facebook, point fingers to others and call them names for voting thieves into power. This also contributes to the disunity among the masses in combating the conundrum. If, for instance, instead of asking me on the way forward first, a friend hurls insults at me for electing thieves, will I listen to what he will say afterwards? I shall be forced into defense-and I will defend my reasoning with all my might.
There are many ways we can defeat corruption and they aren’t new. They range from revolutionizing the political systems to the government systems-with a focus on law. Empower graft-busting bodies through legislations that divorce them from politicians. Everyone wishing their country and future well must join in the lobbying. But we need to re-emphasize change of the self first. We are the people who vote for the politicians -and the politicians who are voted by the people. The relationship between stakeholders in the fight against corruption must also be reworked so that there is trust between the people, the government, the CSOs and the different political groupings. We must all look at each other as enemies against corruption so that when we protest, it must be out of sincerity.
Beaton is a youth activist from Malawi and his key concern is bad governance in his country. He is active in speaking out against corruption, nepotism and poor policies, also dedicating a lot of his effort to rallying for improved youth participation in politics.
The statements, comments, or opinions expressed through the use of IGNITE THE YOUTH are those of their respective authors, who are solely responsible for them, and do not necessarily represent the views held by the entire society of IGNITE THE YOUTH.