Saturday, October 2, 2010

Government Accountability In Africa, A Question Of Choice

Unlike what is obtainable elsewhere, many African governments do not see the need for accountability. The average African leader sees no need to be accountable to the governed and the masses themselves do not know or care that the governments they voted in is supposed to be accountable to them, an institutionalised apathy has had significant impact on the macroeconomic performance of African states, especially south of the Sahara.

The inability or unwillingness of most African governments to formulate or implement programs that will force political office holders to embrace accountability as a way to stem endemic corruption have been seen by experts as a glaring example of the governments culpability in the processes that encourages corruption. While the economies of their countries flounders, most African governments, instead of doing the sensible thing – checking the root cause – go cup in hand to donor nations, in search of aid. This situation was highlighted recently by Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, who called for a financial market-led approach to development.

Moyo, who wrote the book ‘Dead Aid’, criticised aid flows, arguing instead for increased trade, foreign direct investment, and use of capital markets through bond issues.

Former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, recently said that developing countries needed to do more to promote government accountability, battle graft and create a “one-stop shop” for frontier investors.

Mr Blair statement summarises the problem as well as points to the solution. Graft is the root cause of Africa’s problems, without it accountability would not be an issue. It is the need to cover up the proceeds of corruption that causes government officials and civil servants, who regard government office as a business from which they extract extra income, to avoid any form accountability.

Though government corruption is not peculiar to Africa, as even western nations have had to deal with this hydra headed monster, the added problem of little or nonexistent government and bureaucratic transparency in most African economies makes it harder to trace and almost impossible to combat. African countries have had to turn again and again to the west for prosecution of corrupt government officials. This is solely because there are usually no hardcore evidence available to backup prosecution, as such African governments – the few willing enough to take the fight against corruption that far – turn to the western nations – where the proceeds from corruption are stashed – for help.

An alien lifestyle

Corruption in Africa is believed to have arisen from the clash or conflict between traditional values and the imported norms that accompany modernization. African traditional lifestyle frowned on vice of any kind and several checks were in place to checkmate any tendency to flirt with the negative. But the advent of colonialism and the importation of new religious beliefs effectively killed the age old beliefs, making it easy for people to spurn the checks that tradition placed on the society.

In an Africa where traditional values are sacrosanct the following statement would not ring true; “People in Africa see corruption as a practical problem involving the outright theft, embezzlement of funds or other appropriation of state property, nepotism and the granting of favours to personal acquaintances, and the abuse of public authority and position to exact payments and privileges" (Harsch 1993: 33), But those values have since gone the way of the traditional religions that spawned them, leaving the average African without a distinct identity.

The way forward

Though many African countries have vowed, in principle, to fight corruption and ensure accountability in their states, how far they are willing to take is exemplified by the Nigerian and South African example.

In Nigeria, with two anti-corruption agencies the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), there has been very little incidents of conviction in cases involving political office holders charged with corruption and even when there are convictions, the guilty parties either strike deals with the anti graft bodies to forfeit some of their loot and walk away, or got ridiculous jail terms.

South Africa, seen by the West as an example of a thriving African democracy, has had to deal with issues of corruption and accountability. Current President Jacob Zuma was accused of money-laundering and racketeering, stemming from a controversial $5bn (£3.4bn) 1999 arms deal, but the charges were thrown out just weeks before the elections that brought him to power.

According to Tom Lodge, a Professor in the Department of Political Studies, University of the Witwatersrand: “Public opinion suggests that political corruption is entrenched in South Africa. Comparative experience does not indicate that the historical South African political environment was especially likely to nurture a venal bureaucracy; as a fairly industrialized and extremely coercive state the apartheid order may have been less susceptible to many of the forms of political corruption analysts have associated with other post-colonial developing countries.”

It can be inferred from the above that the enforcement of state regulations and statutes in most African countries is poor, arbitrary, capricious, and ineffective. In many African countries, The Political elites have significant influence over the allocation of resources, so they behave like interest groups (cabals) whose primary objective is to put pressure on the political system in an effort to redistribute wealth to themselves.

Therefore, for African governments to embrace accountability and consequently break the shackles of corruption that is holding them down, they need to move beyond formulating policies and pay better heed to their implementation strategies while also checking the undue influence of the aforementioned cabals.

Also of utmost importance is the overdependence of African leaders on advice from the West that mostly seeks to protect its interests when dishing out advice. African leaders need to better understand the need of their economies and equate that with the advice received from the West, thereby ensuring the acceptance of only those policies useful to their countries.

Africa’s problems might seem insurmountable, with root causes that might appear very vague when viewed from the perspective of the West. The West may be undeniably right when it says that Africa’s problem s stems from bad leadership, but it fails again in that same regard when the fact that most of these leaders only succeeded because of support from Western states that claim they are the lesser evil is taken into consideration. That is to say that the west contributes in more ways than one to Africa’s perennial problems.

If these issues are tackled holistically, African economies will be the better for it and will see the sort of direct foreign and local investment that is needed to move them from third world economies to emerging economies.



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