Developing countries lose $1.26 trillion a year to corruption, theft, and tax evasion, according to analysts’ estimates – a sum large enough to lift 1.4 billion people above the poverty line for six years (Fleming, 2019). Unless we control corruption, development experts say, achieving the other Sustainable Development Goals will be all but impossible (United Nations, 2019; Rubio & Andvig, 2019).
Yet corruption scandals make almost daily headlines, in Africa as elsewhere. South Africa continues to wrestle with the fallout of state capture during Jacob Zuma’s presidency (Alberts, 2020; Arun, 2020). Namibians are gearing up for one of their most prominent court cases ever, involving two ministers accused and imprisoned in the #Fishrot corruption scandal (Zenda, 2020; Iceland Review, 2020). Allegations of corruption involving COVID-19 pandemic relief pour in from Zimbabwe (Guardian, 2020), Somalia (Daysane, 2020), Kenya (Malalo, 2020), Nigeria (Financial Times, 2020), and other countries.
And ordinary Africans say things are getting worse rather than better. In Afrobarometer surveys in 18 African countries, a majority of citizens say corruption increased in their country during the previous year. Police are the worst offenders in citizens’ eyes, but even many health-care providers demand bribes.
Most citizens say their government is doing too little to fight corruption. And in a bad sign for activists working to engage citizens on this issue, most Africans say they risk retaliation should they report cases of corruption to the authorities.