The standard legal dictionary defines corruption as “the use of public office for private gain”. Corruption is a form of theft. To corrupt is to take something that belongs to a larger group and to give it to a fewer number. Corruption is the injustice of the few against the many. Transparency International and other anti-corruption campaigners worldwide estimate that in Africa for example, where corruption is most rampant, the practice costs the continent tens of billions of dollars annually.
It is not surprising therefore that many have been the campaigns, the well-written laws and the uncountable efforts made to combat corruption in every nation. Consistently over the years, a lot of money, conferences, institutions and strategies have been devoted by the United Nations and other reputable international organizations to combating corruption worldwide.
What causes corruption? Some say that it is personal greed. Others say that it is poor surveillance and weak law-enforcement. Still, many writers point to cultures that admire and praise wealth regardless of its sources and so on as causes of corrupt behaviors. Logically then, anti-corruption strategies and campaigns have tended to focus on strengthening surveillance, better law-enforcement, ethical sensitivity training programs and “corruption as evil” awareness campaigns, etc. Let me refer to these anti-corruption efforts as the “cure”.
Unfortunately, instead of a decrease in corruption, all indicators are that year by year corruption appears to be increasing and deepening in many countries. This is especially true of countries in sub-Saharan Africa. When faced with the problem of persistent corruption despite the cure, some scholars have tended to point to inefficiencies in the administration of the solutions rather than a re-think of the cure. Their solution has often been greater and more efficient ways of administering the cure.
In my view, the cure cannot undo, reverse or even minimize corruption. The reason is simple. Those who apply the cure have misdiagnosed the mother of corruption. Therefore, the cure is and will remain ineffective. The main cause of corruption is not personal greed, weak law-enforcement etc. It is the manifest and the inter-generational absence of the duty of care in many countries in Africa. The absence of the duty of care has resulted in entrenched universal negligence in almost all aspects of life in sub-Saharan Africa.
The cause of this endemic negligence would be the subject of another essay at another time. In the meantime however, what is important to keep in mind is that where there is a chronic and an almost complete failure of duty of care, the consequences of same are universal pain; universal disappointment and universal frustration. In that context, there is JOY in corruption.
In the context of persistent failure of neighborliness in cultures of incompetence; in the context of repeated alienation and of communal chaos, being corrupt when the opportunity presents itself, becomes almost a duty; wise and joyful. Paradoxically, a corrupt moment becomes a moment of “justice”; a moment of the citizen’s participation in the “equal rights” promised by the Constitution of the nation.
To refuse to be corrupt in these contexts would be tantamount to an undemocratic act and tantamount to refusing a favour in an unfortunate circumstance. This would be unnatural and in some sense, foolish. Where there is a rule of ills instead of the rule of law; where there is the rule of chaos instead of the rule of order; where there is the rule of “every man for himself”, jumping the cue, knocking down others and grabbing all for oneself is survival, joyful; “fortunate” “a blessing” and an irresistible “bargain”.
A culture in which the duty of care is present, honored and universal is an extremely important foundation for honesty, fair play and justice. Where the duty is missing, injustice of all kinds, including corruption would be the result. Why are some cultures and nations full of injuries and unkind in their treatment of one another? Why are the people in some cultures more caring towards one another?
Until neighborliness becomes an inherent and adored part of the cultures of the people of sub-Saharan Africa, no effort, no laws and no strategies can combat corruption. The reason is very simple. Where nobody cares about you, the opportunity for corruption is sweet. Hai!!!
By Nana Oppong, President of the Distinguished Scholars of Africa.