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Corruption: Somalia, South Sudan and Burundi top TI list of shame

Corruption: Somalia, South Sudan and Burundi top TI list of shame
Most countries have made little to no progress in bringing down corruption levels over the past decade, according to an annual survey by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International. Graphic shows selected data from Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 | Nation Africa

Countries in the Eastern African are leading other sub-Saharan states in corruption that has grossly affected governance and foreign investments.

Out of 100 marks, Somalia scores 12 percent, South Sudan, 13, and Burundi, 17, in a region where the average score is 32. Forty-four out of 49 countries assessed scored less than 50 percent.

The TI report says widespread corruption has eroded democracy, security, and development in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic when oversight of government operations was difficult.

In Somalia, the report says the country wracked by violence and instability for over three decades has practically no means available to arrest runaway corruption.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s dissolution of two key anti-corruption bodies— the Judicial Service Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission— via decree is seen as a major setback in the fight against the vice.

South Sudan, another country in the region that continues to suffer insecurity, is second with the report stating that corruption exacerbated economic problems and the humanitarian situation, with half of the 12 million population facing acute food insecurity.

“A recent report revealed that money meant for food, fuel, and medicine was allegedly stolen in a massive fraud scheme through a network of corrupt politicians, some of them with ties to the president’s family,” the report says.

The activities of illegal armed groups, including mineral and wildlife trafficking, pose a risk to human security and facilitate plunder of resources.

Armed groups destabilise both their countries and the region, as exemplified by the March 23 Movement, and the so-called Islamic State, which has formed links with Mozambique Al-Shabab militia.

On the other hand, three countries in the region have improved their CPI scores. These are Ethiopia (38), Tanzania (38), and Kenya (32).

Kenya, for instance, has seen a slight improvement from 30 points in 2021 and is ranked position 123 out of the 180 countries and territories assessed.

In Kenya, the 2022 election highlighted the urgent need for public scrutiny of political financing, which is a major source of corruption where politicians look for money through hook and crook to bribe voters.

The overall picture in Sub-Saharan Africa is that conflicts and security challenges have further weakened institutions and undermined states’ capacity to respond to corruption decisively.

Independent checks on power and oversight institution are under siege, with opposition figures or activists pointing out cases of corruption having been intimidated or arrested under the guise of anti-corruption crackdowns.

Such cases demonstrate the enormous risks that anti-corruption activists and whistleblowers take when they speak up against corruption in many countries across the region.

Capital flights from Sub-Saharan Africa, which are proceeds of corruption, are estimated to be in tens of billions of dollars each year.

However, Seychelles, Botswana, and Cape Verde continue to lead as shining examples of the least corrupt counties in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Seychelles leads with a 70 percent CPI score out of 100, followed by Botswana and Cape Verde, both at 60 percent. The three are the top scorers.

Seychelles took a step forward by amending its Anti-Corruption Act in 2019, but its Public Officers’ Ethics Commission does not have investigative powers, yet the country continues to lead as the least corrupt country.

The report says that Botswana continues to be one of the top performers in the region due to a robust democratic system in which the legislative and policy frameworks have continuously been improved.

“The strengthening of opposition parties has allowed anti-corruption measures to be implemented, most notably the 2016 Whistleblowers Act followed by the 2019 Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Act,” the report says.

On the other hand, Cape Verde’s public sector reforms have ensured the country remains a top regional scorer. The country has implemented several measures to increase transparency in government and business transactions, in line with its Open Government Partnership commitments.

The report attributed it to President João Lourenço’s ongoing commitment to root out systemic corruption, including through enactment of stronger laws.

The public prosecutor recently requested for Interpol to issue an arrest warrant against Isabel dos Santos, daughter of the former president, and the Supreme Court ordered her assets seized.

However, the report observes, there continues to be a concern that corruption investigations are politically motivated, and that the governing party might be targeting the opposition.

On the converse, several countries have significantly declined in the CPI rankings over the last years – like Lesotho, which has fallen from 49 to 37 points since 2014.

This can be explained by executive interference in independent institutions, as demonstrated by the stand-off orchestrated between the police and military.

While there has been a positive step towards the separation of institutions in the establishment of the National Reforms Authority, its effects are yet to be felt.

Equatorial Guinea—being among the bottom scorers together with Somalia, South Sudan, and Burundi—continues to suffer from relentless exploitation at the hands of its ruling family.

This is because the country’s political, economic, and legal systems have all been controlled by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, his relatives, and his cronies for close to four decades.

Mali’s 28 CPI score has declined seven points from its peak of 35 in 2015. While corruption is not necessarily an active driver of the conflict, divisions at the heart of the violence have been reinforced over years of mismanagement and indifference to the plight of certain groups in Malian society. The grievances that terrorist groups have proved adept at exploiting stem largely from corruption.

The report says that South Africa— one of the continent’s economic giant— remains a country to watch. While Pretoria’s 43 CPI score is above the regional average of 32, public sector corruption is a serious problem. Most recently, this has been underscored by a series of corruption scandals involving former and incumbent presidents.

In June 2022, a judicial commission led by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo delivered the final findings of a three-year inquiry into deep-rooted corruption in South Africa.

The report implicated the country’s former President Jacob Zuma, but also found fault with the way his successor Cyril Ramaphosa handled allegations of misconduct.

President Ramaphosa is currently dealing with his own corruption scandal, known as Farmgate. He is accused of covering up a 2020 theft in which between $500,000 and millions were stolen from his farm, allegedly to avoid scrutiny over the large sums of cash.

The president, who won the election on an anti-corruption platform in 2018, has denied any wrongdoing. Despite initial indications that he might resign, Ramaphosa dodged the impeachment vote in the parliament and was even re-elected as the African National Congress party leader in December 2022.

Security challenges

The CPI also places them among the bottom 30 countries in terms of perceptions of public sector corruption. The report says that poorly governed national defence forces across the region struggle to contend with such security challenges and their vulnerability to corruption undermines state responses.

However, the absence of armed conflict does not necessarily mean political stability. In several countries not affected by war, governments still consider anti-corruption activists public enemies.

This can be seen in Madagascar (26), where the executive director and board chair of Transparency International’s national chapter is facing criminal charges after calling for investigations into companies involved in the Malagasy lychee trade.

Most states in Sub-Saharan Africa have signed or ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption, showing some commitment to anti-corruption.

But TI says that for countries to make meaningful progress, they need to prioritise outstanding good governance reforms, including measures to protect basic freedoms.

Integrity in politics is also crucial to ensure that public resources are used for the common good. States must also protect civil society so that they can hold governments to account.

“Countries in the Sub-Saharan region must also do more to stop the billions of dollars being siphoned offshore each year,” TI advises.