Corruption a threat to stability in Africa

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BY OBIAGELI K. EZEKWESILI, MO IBRAHIM AND JAY NAIDOO

Corruption is a growing problem that hobbles development, and robs poor people of opportunities for economic and social advance.  That much is well-known.

Less well evident, however, until recently were the more insidious effects of corruption in spawning violence that not only threatens the viability and stability of whole nation states but can engulf them.

"Conflict, Security, and Development," the World Bank\’s just-released 2011 World Development Report sheds new light on the intractable, age-old problems of weak governance, poverty, and violence.

The new report\’s findings are unequivocal, and make for sober reading:

* Some 1.5 billion people live in countries affected by political and criminal violence – causing human misery and disrupting development;

* Over 90 percent of civil wars in the 2000s occurred in countries that had already experienced a civil war in the previous 30 years; and

* Coercion and patronage may be seen by some governments as ways to preserve stability, but this is a mistake – corruption, human rights abuses and low government effectiveness make countries 30-40 percent% more vulnerable to violence.

The new report\’s findings are particularly poignant for Africa, home to 23 out of the world\’s most conflict-affected and fragile economies.  And conflict impacts negatively on development.

Preliminary estimates suggest that Côte d\’Ivoire\’s conflict has cost over1,000 lives of men, women and children, displaced another 1 million, reduced GDP by between three to seven percent, pushed up poverty between 2.5 to four percentage points, and created additional fiscal needs of between four and five percent of GDP.

Building strong, legitimate institutions and governance that provide citizen security, justice, and jobs are all crucial to break cycles of violence. 

The report points out that it took the 20 fastest-moving countries an average of 17 years to get the military out of politics, 20 years to achieve functioning bureaucratic quality, and 27 years to bring corruption under reasonable control.

Put another way, tackling corruption and violence is a generational task requiring sustained effort, and is not for the weak or those prone to wavering.

It crucially requires dogged commitment to improving confidence between citizens and the state.  For governments, this means accepting, for example, that ruling parties cannot tackle violence successfully alone, but need to build citizen engagement and coalitions in support of change.

And confidence-building involves signalling a break with the past — through credible early results and measures that convincingly lock-in commitments to change.  Countries like Ghana and Mozambique have shown that this is possible.

That is why Robert B. Zoellick, World Bank Group President,  recently noted that good governance will not happen without the active participation of citizens, and why the new strategy for World Bank engagement in Africa has governance, and institution- and capacity-building at its foundation.  That is why the African Union\’s efforts to define and promote "shared political, economic and social values" and behaviour are critical and deserve support. 

That is also the reason we must continue to measure and promote progress as done by the Ibrahim Index of African Governance and its four indicators: Safety and Rule of Law, Participation and Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity and Human Development. It is no coincidence that conflict-affected countries in Africa are relegated to the bottom of the Index. 

Much of the economic news from sub-Saharan Africa has been increasingly positive — pre crisis growth of about five percent per annum for a decade in many countries; poverty reduction at a faster rate than anywhere else in the world; and a speedy return to pre-crisis economic expansion because of exemplary domestic policies.

Africa is now poised to take off much as Brazil and India did some decades ago if only it can make the structural links between citizen security, justice and jobs in conflict and violence prevention, and include mechanisms to build confidence between citizens and the state.  Africa must also strengthen governance while curbing systemic corruption.

Citizens, investors and the rest of the world are taking note.

Need we say more?

(The writers are World Bank Vice President for Africa Region, Chairman of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, and Chairman of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition respectively.  The latter two contributors served on the Advisory Council of the World Development Report)

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