A 2013 article for Silicon Africa by Mawuna Remarque Koutonin (“The New Rich in Africa!”) dwelt on the correlation between corruption and national development.
The writer said that “the research concluded that corruption is not by itself a problem for a country’s development, instead the most crucial factor is: ‘what people do with the money they have stolen?’”
Koutonin also said, on, “Furthermore, the study stated: ‘In some cases, corruption can be an effective state-building tool, as it enables the co-optation and accommodation of divided elites and thus consolidates political power.’
“The main finding is that money from corruption in East Asia was used by the corrupted people to start new businesses and build factories, while in Africa the money was mainly used for consumptions and non-asset-building investment.”
The contentions were based on the findings of research by Dr Alex Kupatadze of Kings College London.
Koutonin and Dr Kupatadze are not the only ones who have grappled with the issue of whether or not there is such a thing as “good corruption”.
British political philosopher Dr Mark Philp has said “if corruption is an established way of doing things, it can lead to predictability, which is important for economic development”, and that there is a real danger that “tackling corruption becomes a Western-imposed model to deal with the messy reality of business in poor countries”.
Corruption has become a way of life for many politicians and businesspersons.
And contrary to popular belief and oft-repeated claims, graft is not the preserve of crooked African dealers and kleptomaniac dictators. Evidence abounds of industrial scale looting of public funds during the COVID-19 pandemic by tenderprenuers in the United Kingdom, the United States and other parts of the world.
This week, we carry a story in which is presented the ludicrous statistics of illicit financial flows amounting to nearly US$90 billion leaving Africa every year. And according to Global Financial Integrity, between 1970 and 2008, Africa lost more than US$1,8 trillion to tax evasion, mis-invoicing, import over-invoicing and under-pricing of exports.
We are talking here of money that is being stolen in Africa from Africans by Africans who are usually working in cahoots with the paragons of transparency and hard work in America, Asia and Europe.
Among the most affected countries are those in Southern Africa, and these include Angola, Botswana, the DRC, South Africa and Zambia. Our region makes up half of the ten worst affected countries in Africa.
Global Financial Integrity has said that that out of every US$5 that leaves South Africa as part of a trade transaction, US$1 will have been stolen. In essence, one-fifth of the trade money that leaves South Africa does so in a criminal manner.
What this means is that every year, we are allowing our political and business leaders to siphon US$90 billion, even as we cry for support to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also means we are donating billions every year to non-Africans who use that money to develop their own societies while our hospitals struggle dispense things as rudimentary as painkillers.
Before independence, African countries lamented that their resources were being forcibly taken to Europe. Today, we are free to steal from ourselves!
We do not even have the smarts to steal money so that we build factories, develop agriculture, improve our infrastructure and create jobs for our hundreds of millions of despondent youths.
No. We steal so that we buy flashy cars, build monstrously gaudy houses and take leisure cruises in the Caribbean.
As you read this, Africa is pleading with developed countries for vaccine donations and yet we send US$ 90 billion to Asian, American and European capitals every year.
The statistics on illicit financial flows should spur us all into positive action. We must co-ordinate the fight against illicit financial flows at a regional level because these are transnational crimes with a devastating impact on all our societies.
Last year, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the SADC Secretariat had workshop on “Fostering International Co-operation in addressing Illicit Financial Flows and on Asset Forfeiture”.
Among the takeaways from that engagement – the first of its kind in Southern Africa – was that there was gross lack of co-ordination among law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders who are central to tackling the problem of illicit financial flows.
It was also pointed out that there were loopholes in existing legislation, particularly with regards to how to address technological advances that make such crime easier to commit.
Because of the sheer scale of the crimes and the value of money being stolen, it is in SADC’s best interest to train and deploy specialised units that can track financial flows.
Of course, that will all mean nothing if we do not structure appropriate legislation, engender the political will to fight illicit financial flows, and dedicate ourselves to upholding and implementing the SADC Protocol Against Corruption.
We must all realise that we will never develop if we carry on with this kind of looting.