Columns / Discourse / October 23, 2013

People and Politics: Endemic African corruption and a new hope

Across the range of Sub-Saharan African nations, if this reader were to receive a government job it is quite likely it would be expected that you hire the boss´ relatives and the ruling parties peons, with the understanding a promotion would come your way sooner.

We in the West see this as stifling corruption to be found in various stages and in differing government institutions, which persists and occasionally becomes news, resulting in the momentary halting of European aid taps before they turn a blind eye.

Most Westerners have missed out on this simply from not having an ear to the continent’s inhabitants, instead viewing corrupt acts as they were becoming in Western societies — rare and harmful aberrations from the government´s duty, and not as representative of another norm.

After the construction of limited African bureaucracies in the 1930s and 50s, a second wave of Westernization came with neoliberal economic policies and multiparty reform implemented throughout the 1980s and 90s.

Rulers that had taken over at independence or won out in military coups were forced to face opposition using popular anger at the harsh policies instructed from New York and DC and without the same array of vote-rigging tools.

While new leaders largely had the same tendencies as their predecessors, enriching themselves and empowering the loyal, the forced divorces of economies from the state have made it slightly more difficult to cut pork barrel deals, though not always increasing the efficiency of the slashed-back civil service.

Nonetheless, Africa prospers, benefitted by stability, urbanity, education and still-latent the resource potential.

Some point to painful reforms, others to a new generation of urban entrepreneurs and others still point to the Chinese — a Tanzanian friend of mine discussing the quality or lack thereof in new paved roads near his village called them “our friends from the East.”

The question thus remains: what is happening to the close-knit ties that make this clientelistic system so attractive?

The truth is, it remains obscure as ever.

Some claim Chinese non-interventionism will encourage the worst offenders of human rights, but the fact of the matter remains that systemic government institution is not a long-term strategy that brings nationwide growth without an expansion of who sits at the table to eat the state´s resources.

Thus while clientelistic and ethnic politics may be popular and the simplest methodology, it inherently alienates much of the population that does not do as well under centralized sectarian rule.

For the Sinophiles unconvinced by numerous high-level calls to learn from, but not copy the Chinese model there has been a concerted cleanup effort within China´s single party, the Chinese Communist Party. Thus, though not directly responsible to an electorate, the CCP´s leadership is attempting to remain responsible to itself.

While there is a need for recognition of the hospitality and kinship that represent admirable facets of this system, there are also huge benefits of a civic mind that links the family unit to national spirit, deemphasizing ethnic distinctions.

National boundaries will remain the strongest divide for more than a few decades and it is neither practical nor wholesome to govern by tribe.

Africans need not only follow Western or Chinese models, and would likely benefit from continuing to domestically develop modern, cosmopolitan identities using whatever local or foreign ideas they so choose.

Tom Courtright
Tom Courtright is a columnist for The Knox Student, primarily covering Africa. He grew up in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania and is currently studying international relations, history and journalism. He begins his volunteer term with Peace Corps in September 2014, on the Pacific island of Fiji.

Tags:  Africa Chinese Communist Party Chinest Corruption non-intervention Sinophiles Western society

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