Corruption epidemic impedes development in Africa

It often begins with a whisper, a subtle request: “Could you do me this small favor?” One person asks another to bend the rules, just this once. The recipient, initially hesitant, eventually complies. They experience the allure of a shortcut, the thrill of manipulating the system to their advantage. This marks the inception of a destructive cycle.

Like a contagious disease, corruption proliferates. The individual who once received a favor now seeks reciprocity, perpetuating the cycle. What starts as a seemingly harmless act becomes normalized, gradually engulfing an entire community in a web of dishonesty and moral decay. The transmission of this contagion from one person to another thrives on complacency and the promise of effortless rewards. Communities that were once built on trust and integrity devolve into hotbeds for this malevolent plague.

The pervasive nature of corruption has cast a shadow over many African nations, transforming them into dystopian landscapes where honesty is a scarcity and distrust runs rampant. This detrimental phenomenon has had profound repercussions on governance and economic progress. According to the 2024 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) report, numerous African countries feature prominently among the most corrupt nations globally. These countries include Somalia, South Sudan, Kenya, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Chad, Burundi, South Africa, Malawi, and Eritrea.

Human rights activists address protesters in Lilongwe on Jan. 16, 2020, during a protest to denounce alleged attempts to bribe judges. AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

In Malawi, the fight against corruption has encountered numerous obstacles, such as political interference, restricted access to information, insufficient institutional backing, and the dismissal of high-profile cases involving government officials or influential figures. These actions have raised significant concerns among the public, exacerbating the trust deficit between the populace and those in positions of power. For example, in 2018, the government dropped the case involving Zameer Karim, the director of Pioneer Investments, who was involved in a scandal where his company allegedly received payments amounting to millions of Malawian Kwachas from the Malawi Police Service for goods and services that were never supplied.

This raised many questions among the public and eroded trust. During a recent interview in Washington, USA, Malawi’s former Anti-Corruption Director Martha Chizuma revealed that she received little support from the government in her efforts to deal with corruption because most cases involved high-profile people. It was difficult for her to go after the big fish.

We have also witnessed whistleblowers and journalists who expose corruption facing threats and intimidation, worsening the crisis and promoting an environment where corrupt practices thrive unchecked. The Voice of America revealed that investigative journalist Gregory Gondwe from the Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ) faced threats after exposing corruption involving senior officials in the Malawi government and police.

GONGDWE – Exposed corruption cases involving Malawi Government Senior Officials

These actions are a setback to the fight against corruption. They are a set back and worrisome because they perpetuate an epidemic that diverts public funds from essential services like healthcare, infrastructure, and education, causing the country to remain poor. The misallocation of these funds leads to inadequate medical care, unsafe roads, and a substandard education system, contributing to among other things preventable deaths and stunted development in the country.

Corruption causes governments to lose a lot of money annually. Reports by the African Union (AU) and the Malawi Economic Justice Network (MEJN) highlight the staggering economic toll of corruption, with Africa losing approximately $150 billion annually. In 2017, MEJN reported that Malawi was losing about $70 million annually.

To move forward, Africa must unite to confront this challenge to achieve Agenda 2063. Awareness is the first step, and integrity and accountability are the vaccines for sustainability. Africa and Africans must reject corruption and embrace honest and ethical behavior. Our schools, including institutions of higher learning, should teach students about the negative effects of corruption on a nation. Only then can we hope to cure this invisible pandemic and restore health to our communities.

Encouragingly, individuals and civil society organizations are stepping up efforts to combat corruption. In Malawi, initiatives like the “Zatikwana” campaign led by Youth and Society (YAS) mobilise citizens, especially youth, to demand transparency and accountability from leaders. Their goals include promoting the disclosure of government financial information, holding public officials accountable, ensuring corrupt individuals face legal consequences, and equipping citizens with the tools to fight corruption effectively. The “Zatikwana” campaign has gained traction, with increased public participation and media coverage, sparking important conversations and pressuring authorities to address corruption effectively.

These are huge steps in the right direction. The time has come for us to rally behind such initiatives so that we can defeat the corruption epidemic. With continued support and a commitment to integrity, Malawi and other African countries can lead the charge against corruption, paving the way for sustainable development and prosperity.

Martin Mbewe

Martin Mbewe is a journalist and Development Communications Specialist. He is a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) RLC-SA alumnus and currently works as a Communications and Marketing Officer at Tingathe Malawi. With experience in development communication and writing stories for print, radio, TV, and online media, Martin is passionate about change and writing on topical issues concerning Malawians and beyond. Previously, he worked as a current affairs reporter at the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and held communication roles with Cure International and the Ministry of Agriculture's Communications Branch. Martin believes in the power of effective communication to drive positive change and improve the lives of individuals and communities, especially those facing social and economic challenges.

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