Arresting Corruption in Africa: Role of the Youth

By: Edward Kahuthia Murimi

This policy brief argues that to reverse the corruption trend, it is imperative for the African Union, member states and their anti-corruption agencies meaningfully involve the youth in the anticorruption agenda..
The African Union (AU) declared 2018 as African Anti-Corruption Year with the theme ‘Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation’. This focus is signifiant to the youth in Africa not only because of their large demographic size, but also because of the socioeconomic challenges they face, some often as a result of corruption.
These challenges hinder the progress of Africa’s youth. Studies show that corruption is a major problem in Africa. According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2017, out of all the regions of the world, Africa was the worst performer regarding perceived levels of public sector corruption. Globally, 11 out of the 20 countries perceived to be most corrupt are African countries.
An Afrobarometer survey in 2017 estimated that almost one in five respondents (18%) from 36 African countries had paid a bribe at least once in the previous year in order to obtain one of six government services: an identity document, household utility services, assistance from a public
school, a public hospital, the police or the courts. 2 Other studies show similar negative trends on the prevalence of corruption.
It is thus evident that corruption is a serious problem on the continent and has a detrimental effect on development, stability, governance and democracy. At the center of this negative impact are the continent’s youth, defied in the African Youth Charter as people between the ages of 15 and
35. They have borne the brunt of corruption as this brief will demonstrate.

Defining corruption

One of the most common definitions of corruption is by Transparency International, which describes corruption as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’. According to the World Bank, corruption is identified as ‘the abuse of public office for private gain’.
The primary AU anti-corruption legal instrument, the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, does not give a specific definition of corruption. It describes corruption as all acts, practices and offences that are forbidden in the convention. Some of these forbidden acts and practices include soliciting or accepting monetary and non-monetary benefits such as gifts, favors, promises or advantages by a public official in exchange for an act or omission in the performance of their public function.
It further states that offering such benefits to public officials in exchange for their acts and omissions in the performance of their public functions, diversion by public officials of state property received by virtue of their position, and illicit enrichment and laundering constitute corruption.

AU anti-corruption legal frameworks

The AU, Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and member states have done well with setting norms to address corruption. At a continental level, AU Agenda 2063 aspires to an Africa where ‘corruption and impunity will be a thing of the past’. Several AU instruments focus on corruption, the most comprehensive being the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AU Corruption Convention). This convention establishes the AU Advisory Board on Corruption which is mandated to, among others, promote the adoption and application of anti-corruption measures on the continent and advise governments on how to deal with the problem domestically.
Other instruments that complement the AU Corruption Convention include the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, the AU Convention on Values and Principles of Public Service and Administration, the African Charter on the Values and Principles of Decentralization, Local Governance and Local Development and the AU Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa.
At a regional level, some of the anti-corruption instruments adopted include the Economic Community of West African States Protocol on the Fight against Corruption and the Southern African Development Community Protocol Against Corruption. While the existence of these instruments is undoubtedly positive, the challenge remains ensuring that the continental ideals as captured in the legal instruments are manifested through effective implementation at a state level.
Having the political will to fight corruption is an essential ingredient to effective implementation. As Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said regarding his country, there are enough laws, rules, regulations on good governance, anti-corruption commissions and agencies and there is perhaps no need for more. What was required, he argued, was to strengthen, adequately fund and motivate existing institutions to do their jobs.

Corruption and Africa’s youth

The impact of corruption in Africa is well documented, but the extent to which corruption specifically affects young people on the continent is yet to be fully examined. Corruption not only has a negative effect on a country’s economy, but also on issues of governance, democracy and development. Economically, corruption is said to fuel inefficiency, and increases the cost of doing business because of illicit payments.
In terms of governance, corruption – for example by siphoning of millions from the state’s wealth – leads to government’s inability to protect, respect and fulfill the rights of its citizens, a core obligation of every state. On democracy, illegal campaign contributions and bribing politicians can undermine democratic systems, particularly when payoffs are made in exchange for legislative or regulatory favours.
Corruption further leads to the phenomenon of state capture, aimed at changing the rules in the interests of the corruptor. Public policies are formulated to favor a few powerful individuals and businesses and not the public.
The impact of corruption is widespread and cross-cutting. However, young people feel the negative implications the most. According to the AU, 65% of Africa’s population is below the age of 35, and it is projected that by 2020, three out of every four people in Africa will be on average 20 years old.
These numbers mean that Africa is not only the most youthful continent but also that young people are the most exposed to corruption as students, voters, workers and customers. This exposure to corruption occurs in many ways: from demands for bribes to secure admission in learning institutions, get employment, obtain business permits and licenses, to being bribed as voters and receiving cash handouts from politicians to cause violence during elections.
Young people in South Africa for example believe that their employment prospects are compromised by corruption – for example by the jobs-for pay scandal and nepotism in recruiting employees. In Zimbabwe, young people who work as vendors reportedly must bribe authorities for permission to sell wares on the streets or get vending bays. Funds set aside for youth empowerment have not been spared either – an example is the theft of nearly US$100 million in Kenya’s National Youth Service.
Institutionalized corruption is one of the push factors for the massive and often dangerous migration of young people from and within the continent. Some African youth are prepared to risk their lives in this exodus to escape to apparently kinder environments in Europe to improve their prospects of a better future. The plight of the youthful migrants is further exacerbated by demands for bribes along migration routes.
Of concern is the reality that African youth are not just victims of corruption, but are engaging in and tolerating corruption. It is alleged that the youth, ‘despite pronouncements and aspirations for legitimacy as equal partners, have colluded in dysfunctional relationships of expediency and opportunism – working the system as they hustle to eke out a living and gain advantage’.
Research conducted by the Institute for Security Studies shows that young South Africans are increasingly conscious of fraud and corruption and the negative impact these have on their future. 30 The research was done to better understand the factors that influence the voting behaviour of young South Africans between 18 and 24.
However, for some young South Africans the impact of corruption has resulted in the perception being created that a job in government means access to lucrative business and an ‘easy way’ to make money. Youth surveys by the Aga Khan University demonstrate how youth in East Africa are increasingly tolerating and condoning corruption. Findings from these surveys indicate that 58% of young people in Tanzania believe it doesn’t matter how one makes money as long as one does not end up in jail. 32 In Uganda, 55% of youth admire those who make money by hook or by crook. 33 In Kenya, 30% of young people believe corruption is profitable.
On average, 40% of youth in all three countries would readily take or give a bribe. These findings indicate that if the war on corruption is to be won in Africa, the youth need to not only meaningfully participate in the anticorruption agenda at all levels, but must also stop being drivers of corruption.

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