In my past career as a teacher in the UK it was all I could do to try to instil some objective, professional, goal-oriented thinking into the heads of my students. They were of course, almost wholly preoccupied with their developing social relationships. This was even bFb (before Facebook). Students eventually, although reluctantly, acceded to my requests and many went on to their respective professional careers (or not). By contrast, in Tanzania where I have spent much of my time recently and, I hazard to guess in many African countries, personal relationships and social networking (even without Facebook) are paramount. Greetings and face-to-face contact, knowledge of extended family and clan networks, tribal affiliations (see Arab Spring in 60 Posts) and many other manifestations of social, personal, networking, they all trump professional responsibilities. Contracts are valued for the paper they are written on. Policies are kept neatly or not-so-neatly on the shelves. Seminars and workshops are reluctantly attended and delegates require a reward for their inconveniences. Professional commitment takes a back seat to personal goals and aspirations. People feel aggrieved for instance, if they are not allowed to use their mobile phones for personal calls at work (not unlike students sneaking their phones into class to text their friends).
The propensity for corruption in Africa is, I believe, an extension of the personal bonding that is such an important feature in social relationships there. How does this play out in practice? A typical scenario might go like this:
The Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has ordered the office of the Controller and Auditor general (CAG) to conduct a forensic audit on the release of $574 million […] meant for agricultural subsidies.
[…] many PAC members expressed concern that the money didn’t reach farmers as intended due to dishonesty of some inputs agencies and crooked public officials. An MP [… stated that] the CAG conducted a special audit in [one] district, which revealed that names of people who had died a long time ago were included as beneficiaries of the agricultural subsidies (The Citizen [Tanzania], Wednesday, 29 January, 2014).
The perpetrators are aware of their actions and collude in the practice. They remain mum and of course deny any malpractice, in just the same way as the mafioso practice their code of silence, ‘Omerta’. This story is common in other sectors, such as with ‘ghost teachers’ in the Ministry of Education. Knowledge of the practice is shared within a trusted network but is kept hidden away from the prying eyes of the law or the endless ‘forensic audits’. In many cases, the law itself takes a slice of the action.
Even though a reported 60% of the $574 million went to elected officials (see the above reference) the remainder may well have benefited the farmers although even they were guilty of selling on the vouchers. In other cases being made public as I write, many more significant sums regularly go missing at higher levels of government. For example,
Malawi’s president [Joyce Banda] has sacked her Cabinet in the wake of reports of worsening corruption in her government.
A statement signed by presidential press secretary Steven Nhlane says President Joyce Banda dissolved the Cabinet on Thursday and will announce a new one “in due course.”
The dissolution comes amid revelations of high-level corruption and plunder of government money following the shooting three weeks ago of Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo, who was taken to South Africa to be treated for his injuries.
Banda has said Mphwiyo was targeted because of his efforts to curb graft.
Corruption is endemic in Malawi, which ranks among Africa’s poorest countries. The former director of public prosecution, Fahad Assani, has said over 30 per cent of the national budget is lost through corruption (see here for reference).
I could cite more examples, even here in Tanzania, from where I write. And that is only one African country. The problem is, what can be done about it? If the corruption goes right to the top as it has done in many African states, as well as in Turkey, in Russia, in Thailand, in China, etc. it remains very difficult to contain. Cases continue to emerge, show trials are arranged, small fry go to jail while VIP’s walk away with the loot. While personal networking remains the basis of corruption and is protected by a conspiracy of silence, the corruption that emanates from it becomes an invisible cancer eating at the tissues of the society. More soon.