Clientelism, Corruption & Catastrophe

Published: 2021-09-29 22:20:04
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Category: Poverty, Corruption, Nigeria, Africa, Colonialism

Type of paper: Essay

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Africa with an average annual GDP/capita amounting to $1,560 is the poorest continent in the world, as Appendix 1 demonstrates (World Bank, 2012). Most countries of the region struggle with a number of socio-economic problems. African states are economically underdeveloped. They are characterized by low GDP/capita, high inflation and high unemployment rates. With the exception of seven oil-exporting countries[1], Africa states are relatively poor in natural resources. As most of them failed to industrialize, the major component of GDP in Africa remains agriculture. In result, they are global net importers. At the same time, most of them grapple with unstable exchange regime and huge national debts. At the social level, African countries are overpopulated and unable to provide free health care and education to their citizens. Hence, they are characterized by spreading diseases and high illiteracy rate. Further most of them fail to provide equal income redistribution. Hence, spreading poverty became a permanent feature of contemporary African states. Many scholars and African activists believe that corruption is a key obstacle to overcoming internal crises and to socio-economic progress on the African continent. Although international bodies and some national governments (i.e. Nigeria) have implemented anti-corruption strategies in the recent years, a little progress has yet been observed. In 2011, Transparency International has still listed all African states but Botswana as highly corrupted states (Appendix 2).
The following essay is an in-depth analysis of clientelism[2] and corruption problems in Africa, aiming to demonstrate why these problems remain inherent elements of political regimes in Africa. First, the following essay presents a short overview of the corruption problem on the African continent. Further, the essay examines why combating corruption is such a challenge in most African states. In conclusions, the essay presents policy recommendations.

Clientelism and corruption on the Africa continent
Without a doubt Africa is strongly affected by the corruption problem. One of the best known corruption cases comes from Nigeria. The former dictator, general Abacha, had been stealing national oil revenues and had transferred them into his private account in Switzerland. The issue was revealed in 2005 (after general’s death) and Nigeria started to recover their funds (Lovejoy, 2008). Nonetheless, Nigeria is not a sole example in Africa. The Corruption Perception Index, the most popular corruption measure used by Transparency International is low for all African countries but Botswana[3]. In 2011, fifty three African states reached CPI between 0 and 5 and hence, were qualified as highly corrupted states. Botswana with its CPI amounting to 6.1 is the only African country where the corruption level can be comparable to the corruption levels in the European states such as Portugal (6.2) and Spain (6.1) (Transparency International, 2011).
Also Gini Coefficient Index, an international measure of income inequality, indirectly indicates the scale of corruption in Africa, as it measures how equally the incomes (wealth) are distributed within the society. According to the World Bank data[4] (2011), Gini Coefficient ranges from 35.3 in Sudan to 63.1 in South Africa. Hence, Gini Coefficient points out that the African states are characterized by highly unequal income redistribution and significant level of corruption.
The roots of clientelism and corruption in Africa
As African states are highly diversified at the political and socio-economic levels, various factors contribute to a current level of corruption. Three of them need to be considered. First of all, corruption is deep-rooted in African history and tradition. The colonial states in Africa had been characterized by the centralization of economic and political power. The colonial institutions such as police or security services that were meant to uphold the law, in fact served the colonial elites (i.e. governors, administrators). The elites had a privileged access to the colonial resources. They lived expensive lives and selectively shared resources within the colonial society. Violence was commonly used to deal with dissatisfaction amongst the colonial workers. Not only did the colonial elites fail to develop a culture of hard work but also encouraged unequal resources redistribution and so-called petty corruption amongst lower-level civil servants such as bribes for routine services (Konold, 2007). The new governments in postcolonial Africa that often remained highly centralized modeled on their colonial predecessors. Instead of establishing new political regimes, they fitted into colonial political structures. Hence, the colonial political systems with rooted corruption have been followed in Africa for over 50 years and still exist in a number of authoritarian African states such as Chad, Zimbabwe or Sudan (Gumede, 2012; Szeftel, 2000). Moreover, some scholars (i.e. Huntington) postulate that corruption was deepened in the postcolonial Africa. The political and socio-economic modernization resulted in the creation of new sources of wealth and in the expansion of the governmental authorities. The postcolonial governments, following the colonial authorities’ behaviours, reaped private benefits and had further developed unequal wealth redistribution (Konold, 2007).
Second, some political regimes in Africa are not aware of negative consequences of some forms of corruption. During the 1978 elections in Nigeria, presidential candidates offered material incentives in order to gain political support. After election, President Shagari signed a valuable dam contract. The revenues that could have contributed to socio-economic transformations in Nigeria had to cover high costs of presidential campaign (Magrin and Vliet, 2009). Many scholars believed that political transformation into modern democracy was a key factor to corruption reduction in Africa (Konold, 2007). However, current levels of corruption in democratic and non-democratic regimes in Africa are comparable (Transparency International, 2011). While non-democratic regimes in Africa simply regard corruption as an inherent element of their political systems, democratic states often practice bad behaviours such as clientelism and do not seem to notice negative consequences of these behaviours. Further, in some African countries (i.e. Zambia) clientelism led to the extreme situations where the national governments are no longer able to make policy in national interest. It is known as “Big Man Syndrome” or “bigmanism” (Lindberg, 2010, p.2). In the countries where economic conditions are poor, the governments offer non-material incentives in order to gain support. These incentives are usually governmental employment which results in a large bureaucracy. Hence, the governments are focused on securing their interests rather than overall national interests. They seem to be unable to tackle corruption.
Another problem is an underdeveloped private sector, characteristic for most African countries. The national governments became responsible for creating a capitalist class and businesses in postcolonial Africa. However, politicians and governmental officials occupied the major positions in the newly privatized companies. In result, also private sector in contemporary Africa remains weak and dependent on state. It does not require the government to become more accountable (Gumede, 2012).
Finally, the international efforts towards corruption combating in Africa do not bring positive outcomes. The fight against corruption in Africa has involved a number of international bodies such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, European Union or Transparency International. The global anti-corruption strategies launched in Africa over the past years focused on the reduction of incentives and opportunities for corruption. Moreover, the international aid to Africa became dependent on good governance in African states. However, the implementation and synchronization of the anti-corruption reforms remained poor. International bodies undermined also collective action problem (Persson, 2010, p.12), characteristic for Africa. As corruption is a common feature of African governments, African societies often do not believe that reporting corruption cases could bring any change and hence, do not cooperate with international bodies. A significant obstacle remain also Western countries (in particular Switzerland) that welcome huge amounts of money and goods from Africa and seem to ignore the fact that these money are gained through corruption. Instead of cooperation with international bodies on corruption combating, these states indirectly support corruption development in Africa (Ogongo, 2012).
Conclusions: policy recommendations
To conclude, clientelism and corruption remain significant problems of the contemporary African continent. Not only are clientelism and corruption deep-rooted in the African tradition but they also seem to be underestimated by the national governments. These governments often fail to recognize negative consequences of corruption and to take appropriate actions. Some governments lost their ability to act in the national interest and to tackle corruption. Also international organizations often fail to deliver a coherent support in corruption combating to African governments. Additionally, their role is often undermined by the Western countries, accepting corrupt money from Africa.
Many scholars and African activists postulate that the elimination of corruption incentives is simply not a sufficient element to successful poverty combating. The African governments have to gain confidence within the societies. Hence, only radical transformations at the political, social and economic levels can bring positive outcomes to corruption reduction in Africa. The World Bank identified five key elements of corruption reduction in Africa. These elements are an increase of political accountability, strengthening civil society participation, institutional restrain on power, competitive private sector and better public sector management (Persson, 2010).
The following policy recommendations seem to be a good start for corruption reduction in Africa. First, the African ruling parties must establish a new type of leadership both at the national and local levels. The new leadership style should be characterized by the honesty, competence and a set of values encouraging socio-economic development. Further, the ruling parties should publicly punish bad behaviours and reward positive steps taken by the governmental officials. This kind of action will restore moral authority of the national governments amongst the citizens and will help the society to follow the established rules. Moreover, African media should be actively involved in the corruption problem in Africa in order to condemn publicly corruption cases and promote a new system of values within African societies (Gumede, 2012).
Amundsen, , (1999). Political corruption: An Introduction to the issue. Bergen: Chr. Michelsen Institute
Gumede, W., (2012). Africans inherited corruption [online] Available from: The Sunday Independent (Accessed on 15/04/2012)
Konold, C., (2007). Perceived corruption, public opinion and social influence in Senegal. Working paper number 85. Michigan: University of Michigan
Lindberg, S., (2010). Some evidence on the demand side of private-public goods provision by MPs. London: Overseas Development Institute
Lovejoy, P., al., (2008). A country study. Nigeria. Washington: Federal Research Division
Magrin, G. and Vliet G., (2009). The use of oil revenues in Africa [In] Lesourne, J. (ed.), Governance of oil in Africa: unfinished business. Paris: IFRI, p.103-164
Ogongo, S., (2012). Reduce corruption in order to develop, author tells Africa [online] Available from: (Accessed on 15/04/2012)
Persson, A., (ed.), (2010). The failure of anti-corruption policies. A theoretical mischaracterization of the problem. Goteborg: University of Gothenburg
Szeftel, M., (2000). Clientelism, corruption and catastrophe. Review of African Political Economy, 85, p. 427-441
Transparency International, (2011). Corruption Perception Index 2011 [online] Available from: (Accessed on 15/04/2012)
The World Banka Database, (2011). [online] Available from: (Accessed on 15/04/2012)

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