Corruption as an African Virtue


I know it sounds ridiculous or maybe it does not but corruption (in the African sense) is a virtue. When one is fortunate enough to have access to an opportunity of some kind, he/she is expected to help the next of kin and in a wider context, members of his/her ethnic group. This translates into nepotism and ethnicity. When you think about it, there is nothing wrong with helping one’s relatives and ethnic group members. This is especially because government institutions are not perceived as legitimate forms of government but as avenues for accumulating personal wealth that one can use to benefit one’s community. Why would the electorate refuse to elect a leader who promises to bring development in the form of infrastructure (electricity, water and roads) and go on to vote for a leader who dishes out money?

Perhaps it is because people are poor and their immediate concern is filling the stomach. In African communities the wealthy and generous individual would have a place of honour for his contribution. Not through a fault of their own, Africans have carried with them their ideas about leadership in a western style democracy. The individual with no money or rather refuses to dish out money to voters may stand no chance in being elected. The one who dishes out the most money, buys food and beer might be the most preferred candidate. This same individual will be expected to give out money and assistance to those who voted for him. In the past, this saw leaders steal from state coffers in order to contribute huge amounts of money in harambees.

We have individuals seeking out leaders for all their needs. Ironically, people see leadership as a place where a leader gets access to resources for their community and recognise the authority of informal local leaders. When politicians give bribes they are using a language the people understand. When the police receive bribes to let the people free they are probably settling an offence the easy way out, a way where long court cases that do not add value to anyone are avoided. When communities defend wayward leaders, they are doing what they have always done, helping and defending their own even if the concerned party is guilty of murder. Looking out for others is deeply engrained in the Africans psyche and sadly, in individualistic western forms of government this provides the perfect fodder for corruption especially when shrewd politicians take advantage of the people’s mentality. In such situations civic education on the Western style of democracy and government may just be futile unless sensible interventions are made.


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