chapter  1
Causes, Costs and Control of Corruption in Africa
Pages 10

The past two decades have seen an upsurge of interest in the subject of corruption in the developing world.1 Numerous works have been published seeking to explain the causes, costs and control of corruption. A feature of this recent literature is the role played by economists in the corruption debate. Much of this ‘economic’ writing is associated with the World Bank. This is largely because the World Bank has been the leading organization in the fight against corruption, viewing corruption principally as a public sector problem, and depicting it as ‘the abuse of public office for private gain’ (World Bank 1997c). One of its major arguments has been that excessive state intervention in the economy increased the likelihood of politicians and bureaucrats abusing their authority for private profit, and that this has proved especially harmful to economic growth in developing countries. In consequence, it has advocated reducing the economic role of the state in order to minimize the incentives and opportunities for corruption. The approach to corruption and anti-corruption we adopt in this work is different from the one used by the World Bank and international donors. We focus on the political dimensions of the problem. This is not to deny that economic approaches have not enriched our insights into why corruption occurs in the public sector and why it has proven so difficult to control. Indeed, our politically oriented analysis incorporates some of these insights, although it emphasizes that politicians and state officials abuse or misuse their public position to pursue their political interests as well as their personal ones. In particular, our study examines how elite corruption in Africa involves the manipulation of state decisionmaking for achieving not only private financial benefits, but also for crucial political objectives. And although donor-sponsored economic reform programmes may be important in combating corruption, anti-corruption initiatives also need to confront the underlying political logic that drives corruption in African countries. The term corruption covers a myriad of corrupt actions.2 Corruption is complex and multi-faceted and resists a clear definition.3 We employ a restrictive definition, viewing corruption as the breach of laws in public office that affects state decision-making. The corruption phenomenon we investigate encompasses a range of illegal actions in many areas of government activity as

well as in the legislature, the judiciary, the police and the military. But whatever the particular state institution or the specific area of state activity, state corruption involves the transgression of formal rules and regulations in the making of state decisions. Both state and non-state actors are found engaged in state corruption. First, there are those agents occupying positions of public authority who behave contrary to the rules they themselves acknowledge and under which they are supposed to operate. Those in higher positions of public office include politicians (members of the executive and the legislature) as well as public officials (top civil servants, judges, and senior military officers). Corruption here refers to various illegal actions involving the abuse of public rules, roles and resources by state actors in decision-making. Second, there are private groups such as business firms, which seek to influence state decision-makers to act in ways that deviate from the rules and regulations governing the behaviour of those in public authority. Corruption here refers to ‘improper’ actions by private actors as well as state decision-makers, both of whom behave in unlawful and irregular ways. Our conception of corruption therefore encompasses state and non-state actors engaging in illegal behaviour in the making of decisions in various areas of state activity. A legal definition of corruption, however, does have its limitations as a precise guide to corruption. For instance, not all forms of misuse of public roles or resources constitute corruption. An incompetent public official is not generally considered corrupt. Also, the law may be silent on conduct widely perceived to be corrupt. Decisions made on ethnic, racial, or political grounds may be illegitimate but not illegal if they do not fall within the purview of the law. However, we assume that laws govern much of the behaviour of those holding public office in the making of state decisions in African countries. By focusing on highly-placed individuals, appointed or elected, who abuse their vested authority to advance their own interests, mostly by violating formal rules and procedures in state decision-making, a legal conception enables us to provide comparative insights on a very significant area of corruption in Africa. In this work we examine how and why corrupt behaviour has occurred and affected state decision-making in various African nations. In particular, we focus on corruption at high levels in African governmental, political and military circles. We concern ourselves with elite rather than lower-level state corruption; with grand rather than petty corruption.4 We are also concerned with anticorruption efforts, which involve examining the means adopted by governments, often with the backing of international organizations, to counter corruption,5 and especially the attempts of African governments to bring various forms of elite corruption under control. The present chapter reviews briefly the recent literature on state corruption and anti-corruption, especially on African countries. We point to some limitations of the economic approaches that have been so influential in seeking to combat corruption. In this and the following chapter, we present an alternative

political framework for understanding the causes and control of corruption in the Africa region.