Articles

Corruption In The Third World

22/05/14

Many ask why corruption appears to be endemic in the third world (I am not suggesting corruption does not exist in our society, it certainly does but that is another subject).

Greed of course plays a part, but there are wider societal and cultural issues.

Regarding culture, take Kenya for example, where I was brought up. If a person 'makes it' such as becoming a teacher or policeman or something grander like being elected to a position of authority, in a local council or parliament, the village or community which nurtured the lucky person expects some sort of payback in terms of jobs for example, but also basic financial support for such things as schools and other infrastructure. This puts enormous pressure on the individual, who in many cases believe their status warrants a first world standard of living. With rare exceptions their salaries do not warrant such an expectation, so what do they do? Again with rare exceptions they take whatever they can from the position they are in. A policeman's uniform in many countries in Africa, and this certainly applies to Kenya, is regarded as a licence to prey on the local population. Individuals responsible for granting contracts are in a position to ask for bribes, and they do. Once the corruption starts it grows and grows, since in order to survive the person who started the practice has to continually widen the circle of those benefitting from the corruption. In Kenya, corruption is endemic and applies from the very top of society as it has done since Jomo Kenyatta became top dog in 1963. (See: It's Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong).

In a societal sense there is also an ever-widening gap between those who have 'made it' and the rest of the community. If a person becomes a member of the privileged few a major concern is that if they fall off the perch, they can fall a very long way; perhaps as far down as a grass hut and a bicycle in a rural area instead of a fancy house and a Mercedes in town. So what do they do? They try to protect their position and the circle of corruption continues. Offshore bank accounts prevail.

In Africa I know of one exception to the general rule and that is Botswana. I had the privilege of working there when Sir Seretse Khama the first President of an independent Botswana was at the helm. He had virtually stamped out corruption within the society. He personally had no interest in large scale wealth and his status in the society was well established since he was the hereditary chief of the Bamangwato, the largest tribe in the country. I had a few instances of attempts at low level corruption in the business I was responsible for but a few quiet whispers in the right places put paid to that double quick. It is interesting to note that according to the IMF the GDP per capita in Botswana is $16000 pa (62nd in the world), South African GDP per capita is $11000 pa (84th). South Africa's reputation as a hotbed of corruption grows by the day, and South Africa is potentially a much richer country than Botswana will ever be. At the lower end of the scale, where corruption is a way of life we have Kenya with a GDP per capita of $1800 pa (159th) and Zimbabwe with a paltry GDP per capita of $780 pa (182nd). Botswana is a genuine democracy; constitutionally the President is only allowed two terms before being obliged to retire. Ian Khama, Sir Seretse's eldest son in now about half way through his second term as President. We can only hope that the pernicious influence of the Chinese has not succeeded converting the country to a more corrupt way of life; what Sir Seretse left them has served the country well.

Why should any of us care about this? Apart from considerations of equity, there are two main reasons: Australia has a GDP per capita of about $43000 pa so there is (an ever widening) gap between us, and the third world. With the vast increases in population particularly in Africa this gap will continue to widen and attract more and more refugees to this country. Also Australia provides substantial aid to the third world. Can we be confident it all goes to the front line and not into the pockets of 'fat cats'?

Guy Hallowes 2014
Sydney-based Guy Hallowes is the author of 'Icefall', a thriller dealing with the consequences of climate change. He has also written several novels on the change from Colonial to Majority rule in Africa