Many countries in Africa suffer under kleptocratic greed where the State is controlled and run for the benefit of few privileged individuals within political inner circle who use their privileged positions to transfer a large fraction of society’s resources to themselves.
By side stepping institutions of governance in various subtle ways, greedy politicians have proved to be disastrous for economic performance and are a cause of the rampant poverty faced by innocent citizens across the continent. In most cases, success of kleptocrats rests in their ability to use divide and rule via patron clientalistic strategies to maintain power in weakly-institutionalised polities costly to society. Oversight institutions such as anti-corruption bodies do not work the same way in many African states so as to control corruption. These weak oversight institutions have not as a rule, up to this point worked with practical effectiveness in Africa. As a result, corruption has continued to hamper both economic and human development. As a foe to transparency and ethical business ambience, corruption in many African countries has tended to promote a trans-lucid accounting milieu, thanks to a bunch of irresponsible self-serving kleptocrats and their cronies who in many public fora would shamelessly claim to be the answers to their people’s socio-economic problems. Kleptocratic leaders and equally corrupt bureaucrats in Africa are in total control of states without constraints of institutions preventing self enrichment, states which do not need to have a public purpose for their existence.
Instead of utilising public coffers to improve the socio-economic conditions of their fellow citizens, politically connected elite loot everything at their disposal and stash the ill-gotten loot in offshore accounts which they also use as tax havens. Lord Acton posits that the fact that some states especially in the developed world exists where politicians do not steal thanks to oversight institutions in those states that represents a more “superior power” which prevents theft. Sadly these institutions are either ineffective or totally nonexistent in Africa.
This is not surprising if the modern history of Africa is considered. When African states attained independence, they did so within a power vacuum devoid of constraining institutions of good governance. Even in states where they were inherited, as in Zimbabwe, they were easily ignored or destroyed. Since in most African states there is no meaningful private sector, the most common route is not through industrious work but through the political system. As wealth and power is synonymous with political power, political power in Africa has largely been used for self enrichment. As a result groups form, that is the wealthy few and the many poor.
The rich are generally the politicians and their patron clientalistic elites who have received their wealth through political process including an opaque network of connections and the poor are the rest. In the short run inequality, with political power being the source of wealth cannot be decreased as wealth is confined to the one and the few. Wealth is only available to the few admitted through political connections to the wealth. Since wealth is accumulated via the political system, it is not surprising that the state is seen as the domain or the fiefdom of the politically empowered.
In most cases, lucrative contracts go primarily to the adherents of Africa’s ruling political parties, especially fellow tribesmen through dubious tender processes. The tenderpreneurs and politically empowered begin to see the favoured position as theirs, their birth right, something to fight for, something to defend and something which others must be expelled. This is the reason why for some of these merciless kleptocrats losing an election or losing political power is more serious and considered a catastrophe. This is so because losing the elections is losing wealth and power that has the potential of relegating one to a life of poverty. In many African states, the loss of political power or exclusion from political power can be a permanent loss. This means that those who are outside political power can be excluded in theory for ever. Faced with such a possibility of elimination from power, this is when you start to see the callous brutality and political chicanery of an African kleptocrat.
He then starts unleashing all the artillery at his disposal for political elimination of his real and imagined enemies through systematic torture, exiles, detentions, marginalisation, use of bribes, rampant abuse of state media etc. In most occasions constitutions are bastardised with apocalyptic impunity to create third, fourth or life presidential terms for these self-serving kleptocrats. The logic is to enable him to sideline politically pivotal groups off the equilibrium path, ensuring that he remains in power against any challenges. It is quite shocking to realise that since the dawn of independence a total of five imperial presidents in Africa accumulated a combined total time in power of more than 150 years, which is a global record.
There is a need to make a radical shift from this kleptocratic madness.
The simple wisdom is that a strong government rests on strong institutions reflects in modern democracy through the separation of powers, a system which allows for checks and balances. Strong oversight institutions, instead of strong imperial leaders are what the continent of Africa needs to ensure accountability, transparency and most importantly adherence to the rule of law. Strong institutions are the cornerstone of stable governments while strongmen with kleptocratic characteristics are a serious threat to stability and long-term security.