Corruption is a major obstacle to economic growth, human development, and poverty reduction (Mauro, 1995, 2004; Asiedu, 2006). The practice of demanding or expecting monetary or other benefits in exchange for preferential treatment has plagued the global South, and high-profile revelations of corruption in politics and business have shed light on the magnitude of the problem (Baker, 2016; McCool, 2015). The poor are most vulnerable to both the immediate effects of having to pay bribes or do favours and the longer-term impacts of hampered growth and weakened investment power (Hosken, 2017; Baker, 2016). Recent research by Peiffer and Rose (2014) and Justesen and Bjørnskov (2014) notes that poor citizens faced with official corruption have fewer means to seek out services from alternative providers and are thus forced to “play the game.”
In recent years, headlines have pointed toward a stronger stance against corruption in Africa. In South Africa, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and other countries, scandals and government responses have placed corruption at center stage. In Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari’s winning ticket in 2015 included zero tolerance for corruption, and he has taken several steps to try to fight what he calls the “hydra-headed monster” (Maclean, 2016; Gaffey, 2016). In Tanzania, President John Magafuli won the 2015 election after a campaign denouncing corruption and misconduct among civil servants (Muvunyi, 2016).
No doubt strong and committed leadership is necessary if meaningful progress is to be made in fighting corruption. But as with any attempt to change the status quo, it is equally important that the policy be accepted, “lived,” and enforced by ordinary citizens.
To what extent do ordinary Africans feel they can combat corruption? What informs whether citizens believe they can play a role? Findings from Afrobarometer Round 6 (2014/2015) surveys suggest that education and material security contribute to building efficacy among ordinary citizens for the fight against corruption. But leadership also matters: Perceptions that elected leaders or officials are corrupt make citizens less likely to think they can make a difference.