Corruption an Infectious Disease in Africa?


While African countries are not the only countries worldwide that are faced with the corruption  epidemic the have an infection rate higher than 90% and by this I mean every country on the continent with the exception of Botswana and Mauritius, is being affected at the high end of the scale according to the corruption perception index, see website .

There are several different kinds of corruption in Africa ; there are the well known types of corruption – public officials demanding and taking bribes for privileged access to contracts or exemptions from regulations. Africa scores poorly on these indicators, with some exceptions – Botswana, Cape Verde, and Mauritius have consistently done well, and Liberia has made great strides.

Then more recently light has been shed on a different type of corruption- called “quiet corruption”- when public servants fail to deliver services paid for by the government. The most prominent examples are absentee teachers in public schools and absentee doctors in primary clinics. Others include drugs being stolen from public clinics and sold in the private market as well as subsidized fertilizer being diluted before it reaches farmers.  Not only is quiet corruption pervasive in Africa, but it hurts the poor disproportionately.

High profile corruption is often in the media limelight and we see many cases of the so called white collar crime being successfully combated by law enforcement agencies and the perpetrators being brought to book and sentenced to jail terms, with the latest high profile case being the Jackie Selebi corruption trial in South Africa. Therefore while this sort of corruption continues to happen in Africa with the culprits taking their chances in getting away with it, there is however a system in place to address this sort of corruption.

But what of the quiet or silent corruption how is this being addressed? Clearly it is not, as this sort of corruption is so bad in Africa that many of those doing quiet corruption are not even aware that they are committing it or that they are guilty of having committed a crime. It,  has become a way of life to them and a part of Africa’s culture.

While this sort of corruption is rife in every government department as well as the private sector, I want to focus on how it is affecting trade facilitation and the removal of tariff barriers in Africa. We all know that border posts in Africa have become the focal point of corruption and many customs officials as well as law enforcement agents and some of the private sector players are being bought over by large crime syndicates to help carry out trade fraud by using their powers at border posts to allow illegal transactions to take place.

This can be anything from deliberate under-declarations i.e. under valuation of a commercial invoice for goods being cleared to reduce the duties payable, to falsifying of documents, as has happened during the world cup soccer tournament where goods declared on the paper work ere shoes and the actual consignment was illegal world cup memorabilia destined to be sold in SA at under cut prices.

Then there is transit fraud where goods are changed or substituted en route in the transit country and then allowed to proceed without physical examination taking place at the border, or the other one where documents are stamped and cleared at the border and the goods are off-loaded  in the transit country and never reach their final destination.

These are some of the examples of the more common corruption that takes place along a trade corridor or at a border post which are being focused on. Through my interaction with management of some of the border post authorities and agencies, I have established that they are fully aware of the level of corruption at some of the border posts and even know who the culprits are, but if they were to take action against the perpetrators, they would render the border dysfunctional as they do not have sufficient suitably qualified or trained staff to replace them. A bit of a “Catch 22” situation wouldn’t you say, therefore the only way to address the situation is by introducing new systems, procedures like OSBP (one-stop border posts), the SADC TMS (Transit Management System), accreditation systems like the AEO or Authorized Economic Operator for transporters and high tech cargo tracking or monitoring systems like RFID technology. All of which are intended to enhance the green lane system at border posts and ports and minimize corruption through fewer human interventions.

This is all well and good, but what of the quiet corruption spoken of earlier and by this I mean the less significant corruption that goes on daily as if it were a way of life and it is this deliberate abuse of power that makes it so wrong and unacceptable. While there are many ranging from high and deliberate absenteeism by staff at border posts and other border agencies to driver smuggling for personal gain, the single biggest concern in my book is the number of police checkpoints in each country, be they permanent or temporary, and the mismanagement of weighbridges. These checkpoints have become privately run financial institutions receiving funds for personal gain in exchange for the over looking of a serious vehicle default which could go on to cause a serious road accident and loss of innocent life or for finding a fictitious fault just to encourage the driver to buy his way out of the fine.

Having travelled extensively through Africa I have seen this happen first hand and the targets for this practice are largely foreign owned vehicles as they are most likely to be carrying a fair amount of cash on them required for their transit through foreign African countries. This cash is usually in the form of USD as it is the most accepted currency in Africa. While I do not condone corruption and will never hand over money in return for a favour, I have learnt from travelling in Africa that these check points are usually easier passable by being polite, displaying a broad smile on one’s face and carrying a large cooler box full of cold cool drinks, because it gets very hot in Africa and these gentleman and sometimes ladies get very thirsty from the very strenuous job they do.

Then there is the mismanagement of weighbridges and or abuse of power where officials deliberately accept a bribe to allow a heavily overloaded vehicle to proceed on its journey only to cause serious damage to the roads on which it travels to reach its destination. Many of our roads when constructed have a planned lifespan of 10-15 years but rarely see out three years before they need repair and or resurfacing.

The logical solution in my book would be to combine the functions of both the weighbridge authorities and police checkpoints and locate them at weighbridge sites as has been done in South Africa with good examples being Mantsole between Pretoria and Kranskop on the N1 and at the new C-BRTA centre at Beitbridge border post. Combining these different authorities and functions at one facility firstly,minimizes the opportunity for corruption from taking place as there is better supervision of activities and staff, and secondly, reduces the number of stops required to be made by transporters along a transit route or corridor.

At the isolated areas where the checkpoints are currently located there is no supervision and these officials have free rein to conduct illegal activities. It is not suggested that the police should stop deploying mobile check points or road blocks in these areas, as they are still necessary when police act on tip-offs or carry out routine checks to combat criminal activities.

Over and above the corruption factor discussed above, the numerous checkpoints and weighbridges are causing huge transit delays for transporters and the movement of cargo through Africa. In a recent study conducted by my company TLC (Transport Logistics Consultants) in 10 Southern African Countries we detailed the number of police checkpoints and weighbridges in these countries the results of which can be found at the end of this article under downloads.  It is estimated that a vehicle or truck carrying cargo will spend on average about 10 minutes at each check point or weighbridge on its journey from origin to final destination. If you do the maths by checking how many checkpoints or weighbridges you are likely to encounter along a particular route or trade corridor, you will find that it could add as much as one days travel onto your transit time.

In conclusion if we are to achieve our goals to improve Trade Facilitation, reduce transit times, remove tariff or trade barriers, create a free trade area and ultimately reduce the cost of doing business to make Africa a Global player, then we have to instil good governance and transparency throughout the hierarchy, downwards, within both the public and private sectors in all countries.