By Matthew Ayibakuro
It is almost impossible to go through any material on development in Africa without coming across the word corruption. Hardly any speech on development of countries in Africa would come to an end without the mention of the “C” word. It is the go-to word, the toast of academics, analysts, practitioners, politicians, anyone really. In fact, irrespective of the country or sector you are interested in on the continent, when asked what the major challenge is, you cannot go wrong by starting your answer with the almighty “C” word. Anything else comes after the big “C”.
However in a continent where most countries multi-ethnic and are still grappling with achieving sustainable economic growth in an unfair global trading system, maintaining political stability, confronting terrorism and other security challenges and dealing with social inequities, amongst others, is corruption the only impediment to development in countries in Africa? In fact, is it even the major challenge?
The current state of the discourse on the subject or corruption in Africa is a demonstration of how the narrative of a subject can so easily be refashioned and redirected with reckless abandon. Until the famous speech of the then president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn in 1996 when he referred to the cancer of corruption as a major barrier to development which had to be dealt with urgently, corruption was considered one of the many challenges to development. As far back as 1988, the Africa Leadership Forum identified some of these challenges to include capacity building, food security, efficiency of trade investments, regional and sub-regional economic integration, food security, inequality and poverty.
Post-1996, following Wolfensohn’s speech at the annual general meeting of the World bank, the Bank and other financial institutions have led the way in making corruption the major focus of development efforts. Budgets for good governance-related development assistance has burgeoned at an alarming rate. Everyone else has followed and there are no signs of this narrative and therefore focus dwindling anytime soon.
Elections in most countries in Africa are growingly becoming about corruption and little more else. The most recent presidential elections in Nigeria provides a perfect example with the opposition candidate Gen. Muhammadu Buhari essentially riding to power on the promise of eradicating corruption. Very few appeared to have taken note that the election was held at a time when the economy of Nigeria was in dire straits following the slump in oil prices, the value of its currency was also in free-fall and its economic prospects for the rest of the year, at least, looked uncertain. All these challenges were however overshadowed by the issue of corruption. That Nigerians elected Buhari is yet another indication of the popular belief that the end of corruption would automatically translate to development. The economic woes of the country remain and four months after the election, there are no indications in terms of policy to steer the country to economic safety.
It would be foolhardy to deny the importance of fighting corruption in countries in Africa. However, doing so at the expense of most other pivotal issues challenging development on the continent might prove to be even more costly than corruption itself on the long run. The challenges identified by the Africa Leadership Forum referred to above remain relevant and visible today on the continent as they were decades ago, and whereas fighting corruption is intrinsically linked to solving some of them, most others have little or nothing to do with the corruption. Questions are being raised on whether some African countries have even successfully shaken off their colonial legacies and how this might be impacting on their development. More global issues impeding development of countries on the continent like the unfair imbalance in the multilateral trading system under the WTO also continue to impede meaningful economic growth.
The majority of people who prioritize the fight against corruption appear caught up in the challenge of deciphering the myth and the reality about the prevalence of corruption on the continent. Between the consistent headlines and sleek research findings of organisations like Transparency International, it is hard to criticise their conviction.
But it is time for African countries to recognise the fact that achieving sustainable development and having a chance of catching up with the rest of the world in terms of development goes beyond just fighting corruption. Ignoring the many other equally vital issues would be at the peril of countries on the continent. Those who succeed in eradicating, or at least minimising corruption, might just wake up to the fact that corruption was probably just a little more than a needle in a haystack in this prodigious field of development.
By Matthew Ayibakuro
The Historic 2015 Presidential Election in Nigeria has been hailed as the most free and fair election yet, that the country has witnessed since its return to democracy in 1999. Apart from the conduct of the election, the actions and reactions of the major contending political parties and especially of their presidential candidates have made headlines around the world. As expected, the encomiums have been pouring in from all over the world. But do these headlines tell the whole story about the just concluded elections in the most populous black country in the world? Is Nigeria, by the singular fact of this election, now a model of democracy in Africa? Has it now heaved out the many demons that have bedevilled its democracy up until this moment? Is Nigeria now strategically placed to achieve development through democratic governance?
The Significant Positives
It is beyond doubt that there are many positives to draw from the just concluded presidential election in Nigeria. It was freer and fairer than any previously conducted in the country. Despite the many challenges, the use of card readers and permanent voter cards during the election was itself a milestone which, if leveraged upon, provides a lot of promise for future elections in the country.
Perhaps the most positive development for which the 2015 presidential elections would be remembered is the phone call by the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan to the winner Muhammadu Buhari, conceding defeat and congratulating the latter, even before the results had been officially announced by the electoral body. This action was surprising as it was unprecedented in the electoral history of the country and indeed of the continent of Africa. It left the opposition shocked, and the supporters of the president overwhelmed. The ghosts of post-election violence that was predicted were immediately expelled even before they had a chance to surface. The country got the praise for it. Democracy got the medal, and in the midst of all this, it could easily be forgotten that this was the singular act of one man, not his party, or his supporters; I doubt if any of these groups would have approved. Whether or not the opposition would have done the same is anyone’s guess, but no harm done. The country is peaceful, and our ratings for democratic governance for 2015 would skyrocket when they are released, no doubt.
There are however many salient trends that emerged from the elections that have the potential of detracting rather than enhancing democratic governance in Nigeria; trends which should probably be making headlines too, or at least providing a cause of worry for Nigerians, and everyone else who is interested, or at least claims to be interested in strengthening democracy and achieving development in the country.
The Underlying Blindspots
A look at the above map showing the voting pattern by states in the country, show the deep lying divisions in Nigeria. These divisions are not based on progressive factors like performance of current and past governments or on levels of development in various parts of the country. They are rather drawn clearly on religious and ethnic lines. To deny this palpable fact would mean adhering to sheer hypocrisy. The muslim-dominated northern states voted en masse for Muhammadu Buhari who is a muslim, whilst the largely christian southern states did the same for Goodluck Jonathan, a christian. The BBC graphically portrayed the ethnic colouration of the election when it reported that the election was a tale of two hats: one representing the north, the other representing the south. It has not been this obvious for a long time. There were a few variations here and there, but these were way too insignificant in the context of strengthening democratic tenets in the country. The voting pattern makes vivid ethnic and religious lines that are deeply rooted in the history of the country’s unpleasant past; lines that are best forgotten in the best interest of everyone.
The UNESCO International Panel on Democracy and Development (IPDD) in 2002, highlighted a number of factors in its proceedings which aptly describe the concerns for democratic governance in Nigeria as revealed by the 2015 presidential elections in the country:
“A democratic society should be aware of three potential pitfalls. First, the domination of the majority does not constitute democracy. Minority groups deserve representation and without it, democratic governance is simply a tyranny of the majority. Second, minority political representation in and of itself does not guarantee harmony and in some cases can exacerbate problems. Finally, despite a need for cultural diversity in politics, minority status should not be the basis for access to power. That is, ethnicity, cultural and religious ties should not be prerequisites to political power”
The reality of the above truths, do not only define the just concluded election, but aptly describe the democratic culture of Nigeria from a broad perspective. It provides insights on how Goodluck Jonathan, a minority, became president of the country in the first place, and why he had to contend with many issues such as Boko Haram throughout the duration of his tenure.
In just over a month, the opposition party in Nigeria, the APC will officially become the ruling party. It promised change to Nigerians. The most significant and perhaps most challenging change it can deliver to Nigerians would be to change the democratic culture of the country. This is the only way it can consolidate on the gains that have been made so far in terms of entrenching democratic practices in the country. Democratic governance cannot thrive or be sustained along the path it is threading currently in Nigeria.
Although some may not agree with this, in my reckoning, it fell to the predisposition and strength of character of one leader to provide the framework which allowed the opposition in the country to thrive without harassment or intimidation, to ensure that free and fair elections take place, to concede defeat without compulsion, thereby saving the lives of many Nigerians and perhaps the very existence of democratic governance in Nigeria. In doing so, he allayed the fears of many, and made Nigeria a beacon of pride for democracy in Africa.
Post May 29, 2015, it would ultimately fall to yet another man to build on these milestones. Whatever his agenda is for anticorruption, for socio-economic development and the many other things that would foster development in the country, establishing a truly democratic culture in Nigeria has to be an objective as significant as any other. Until this is achieved, it is probably too early for Nigerians to start counting their blessings as a country.