chapter  13
African Politics and Elite Corruption
Pages 8

Elite corruption and regime consolidation Corruption has long been pervasive in sub-Saharan African countries. As mentioned throughout this book, the motives leading to high-level corruption are diverse but chief among them are the desire for personal enrichment and the need for political consolidation. As in Uganda, leaders in other African countries have used the levers of state power to promote private accumulation as well as regime maintenance. Public resources have often been distributed in arbitrary but purposeful ways outside of rules and regulations to favoured individuals in the state and private sectors. Rulers have personally appointed top personnel in the political executive, bureaucracy and military, and sought to maintain their loyalty by allowing them to benefit personally from their positions. By using patronage and corruption to promote the private interests of such highly placed individuals, political leaders are able to build elite cohesion and forge a relatively united regime. As we have seen from the Uganda case, in return for these opportunities to enrich themselves, state and associated business elites have used a portion of the proceeds of corruption as well as other public resources to mobilize political support for the president and the ruling party at election time. Public and private sector elites owe their wealth and privileges to the incumbent ruler, and they ‘become vested in the continued stay in power of the government that is feeding them’ (Onyango-Obbo 2011). Elite corruption has therefore

enriched many at the highest levels of the state and business, promoted elite loyalty to the national political leadership and consolidated the regime in power. Although African political regimes differ in various ways, in most of them high-level corruption is intimately related to weak mechanisms of accountability and the actions of an unchecked executive. Political power has often been concentrated in the hands of a powerful president. African presidents have typically possessed broad latitude in the use of public resources. Their decision-making has not been subjected to effective public scrutiny and control. Political leaders have been relatively unrestrained by check and balance institutions or by opposition parties, CSOs, international donors or electoral competition. What emerges, then, is a system of a dominant executive, ruling with virtual impunity. It follows that such a situation is susceptible to the abuse of authority and lack of adherence to the rule of law. As we have shown in our Uganda case study, executive corruption encompasses a wide variety of illegal actions that affect decision-making in many state institutions including the bureaucracy, legislature, judiciary and military. Thus abuse has been rife in many of Africa’s privatization transactions. Public enterprises have often been transferred, in opaque government sales, to politically well-connected politicians and their business associates. For instance, in Ghana in the 1990s, ‘regime insiders and their friends began taking over SOEs [state-owned enterprises]’, many of which ‘were divested to [ruling party] National Democratic Congress insiders who previously had little or no capital’ (Opoku 2010: 153). In return, the new owners of privatized enterprises will help a government consolidate its political control, often through contributing to election funding. Military and government procurement have been areas of major corruption. Procurement is big business, constituting on average around 60 per cent of African government budgets. Because defence spending is often classified, military procurement ranks as among the most corrupt sectors. The purchase of military weapons and supplies has often benefited top army officers, senior defence officials and business allies. South Africa’s major arms deal in the late 1990s involved bribes being paid by European companies to senior ruling African National Congress figures, who used some of the money to finance the party’s 1999 election campaign (Feinstein 2007: 177). Similarly, a wide range of irregularities has been evident in the awarding of government contracts and tenders, particularly in the large infrastructure projects and the oil and construction sectors. Recent World Bank papers on Ghana indicate that the large majority of government procurements are single-sourced rather than awarded through competitive bidding. In many of Africa’s natural resource-rich states, nontransparent deals have been struck between governments and corporations, which enable foreign firms and domestic state and business elites to reap enormous riches, constituting an important source of funding for election campaigns (Global Witness 2012). Elections are expensive, and raising resources to finance electoral campaigns is a major driver of corruption. Corrupt behaviour has been revealed in the many ways ruling parties have raised funds to pay for their election campaigning. Incumbent regimes have received donations from private businesses in exchange

for irregularly awarded contracts and licences. Many of Kenya’s corruption scandals since 1990, when the transition to multi-party competition began, have been linked to election financing. A vast fraud known as the Goldenberg scandal, in which at least $600 million (the equivalent of 12 per cent of Kenya’s annual GDP) vanished via an officially-sponsored import exemption scheme, involved regime insiders building up ruling party campaign funds for the 1992 elections, the first multi-party elections since independence.1 In 2005 under a new ruling party, senior government ministers were involved in a huge procurement scandal known as ‘Anglo-Leasing’ after the name of a company that extracted some $750 million from the Kenyan Treasury through questionable contracts in order to raise a large war chest for competing in the 2007 elections (Wrong 2009). Nearly everywhere African rulers have played key roles in maintaining their political dominance through a mixture of patronage, corruption and sheer muscle. Elections have been seriously overshadowed by the depredations of incumbent leaders employing illegal means to hold onto power. In the words of a South African analyst: ‘what greater corruption could there be than stealing an election?’ (quoted in Wrong 2009: 325). Elections in Nigeria have been stolen more often than won. Nationwide polls in 1999, 2003 and 2007 were violent and brazenly rigged. According to many observers, the 2007 poll was marred by fraud of every kind and ranked among the worst conducted in Africa (The Economist 26 April 2007). But whatever the form, electoral abuse has ensured that regime incumbency has hardly been threatened by electoral competition. By 2011, ‘only 18 of the nearly 150 presidential elections held . . . since 1990 had resulted in an incumbent or his party losing and handing over power to the opposition’.2 On the African mainland, Benin and Zambia (once each) and Ghana (twice), are among the few countries that have experienced elections that were not decisively influenced and manipulated by ruling and state elites, and that resulted in the constitutional transfer of power between political parties.