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Opinions of Saturday, 22 September 2012

Columnist: Agyapong, Elijah

African Leaders and Corruption: A Ghanaian Perspective

The African continent has been described as paradoxical – a credit owed to Ali Mazuri’s insightful vignette, the six paradoxes of Africa. In the same vein, the continent has become synonymous with corruption, which also constitutes another paradox. There is nothing paradoxical than the fact that the most impoverished continent is also the most corrupt. In fact, perceptions of corrupt government are rife all over Africa and it looks as if corruption, as a concept, is absolutely inevitable in any African dialogue.
The ambiance in the African Diaspora is not, at all, different. Once a while, one would find disgruntled Africans bitterly arguing about their respective governments and conditions at home, and many even doubt what the future holds for their countries. In our minds, several questions linger: Do our leaders have our welfare at heart? Are they in politics for personal gains? Did we give them our mandate only to realize they won it via subterfuge? Was Dr. Nkrumah wrong in claiming that the “black man is capable of managing his own affairs”? Or did Lord Acton, by his famous quote, “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”, leave a resident curse at the seat of African governance such that most people who become political leaders in Africa, irrespective of their good intentions, inescapably become corrupt?
These and many pertinent questions need asking. I, obviously, do not have all the answers. In fact, I may not have any answers at all. Whether or not African leaders are solely to blame for the corruption menace that has plagued our dear continent, I do not know. But let me be quick to highlight that it is not my intention to vilify any incumbent or previous African government. Instead, I am concerned about the deteriorating trends of political and economic leadership in Africa, which I believe resonates quite well with readers all over the continent. It is about time we faced these issues squarely and demanded answers from our leaders.
I read elsewhere that corruption is a necessary evil in Africa. I am even much disappointed in some who not only let loose their conscience, but who also willingly succumb to the destructive delicacies of public corruption. How disappointingly so to see my cronies, even those who avowed during college days to always ‘defend and protect the good name of Ghana’, betray their country upon ascending to public offices. In Ghana, and I believe this is true of most African countries, It is commonplace saying that the system is already corrupt; no person could change it, so one has to become corrupt in order to survive. As Robert Solow has remarked, that is like saying as a perfectly aseptic environment is impossible, one might as well conduct surgical procedure in a gutter. Our leaders can do better than perpetuate the status quo.
The other day I was on a blog following discussions on corruption in Nigeria. One of the participants lamented, “Corruption has been synonymous with naija since I was born”. Inasmuch as I sympathize with this individual, I think he/she will find some consolation, if there is any at all, reading that it is not Nigeria alone but the entire African continent is synonymous with corruption. I consider myself a voice in the wilderness. Like the carrier pigeon, I carry a simple message for African leaders. While our leaders may not be solely responsible for widespread corruption on the continent, their efforts are greatly needed in fighting corruption, if not completely eradicating it, reducing it to the barest minimum. I equally speak for the African populace who, I believe, are ready and willing to follow the lead of their leaders.
Africans need more exemplary leaders to emulate. I have said this on one occasion but it is worth reiterating at this juncture: ‘African leaders need to realize that partially they are the missing ingredient in the development of African youth’. Folk wisdom judges those who venture high rather sympathetically. It is said that man comes to achieve something; he does not come to achieve everything. Question is whether most African leaders, past and present, consider themselves deserving of such sympathy.

Credit: Elijah Agyapong
University of Missouri, USA