China has over the years tightened it’s foothold in Africa. Evidence of China’s involvement on the continent is becoming ever so apparent. From children learning Mandarin in school to imposing physical structures built by the Chinese — the new African Union headquarters being a case in point. Clearly China’s influence on Africa has been on the rise.
Zimbabwe and other African countries could learn a thing or two from its new found senior partner. Specifically when it comes to dealing with deep-rooted corruption in many African states. An estimated $148 billion is lost due to corruption annually in Africa, according to the AU. If as little as 10% of this money were to be recovered, then approximately $14,8 billion could be available for various poverty reduction initiatives on the continent.
Over the years, China has had to deal with corruption scandals of epic proportions that have involved even the most senior officials of the Chinese Communist Party. This has led to President Xi Jinping embarking on a massive anti-corruption and graft campaign, aimed at fighting both the “tigers and flies” referring to both high and low-ranking officials who are corrupt.
President Jinping’s anti-corruption drive is not without effect. As many as 182 000 officials have been reportedly punished for corruption and abuse of power since President Jinping came to power.
China’s eight-point-plan and several other measures developed to decisively deal with corruption, could very well be exactly what the doctor ordered for Africa’s corruption problems.
Confronting the enemy within
Corruption has been rampant in Africa, particularly in the structures of ruling governments. The senior government officials often co-opt the system and enrich themselves underhandedly. This is not to say that corruption from government officials takes pre-eminence over other forms of corruption, especially that in the private sector. But more often than not, instances of government officials awarding themselves state tenders, soliciting bribes and abusing their power involve taxpayers’ money, and thus come under the spotlight.
The Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection (CCDI), an internal watchdog on corruption and graft in the ruling Chinese Communist Party was set up to deal with internal corruption within the party structures. Unlike many such failed initiatives by African political parties, the CCDI is not just a paper tiger. Even the once “untouchable” Bo Xilai — former member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee Political Bureau — stood open trial on charges of taking bribes, embezzlement and abuse of power, and was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment.
Such firm and resolute steps to addressing corruption send the correct signals that graft and mismanagement of state resources will not be tolerated. This would serve as a deterrent for would-be offenders in government. However, a lack of political will to decisively root out offenders means the problem continues. Apart from the naming and shaming of a few sacrificial lamps fingered for corruption; allegations of corruption by government officials have generally fizzled out with little or no convictions of the culprits in Africa.
Taking a bold, decisive stance against corruption
Bold steps need to be taken if the scourge of corruption is to be dealt with. For instance, a pilot programme launched by China’s political watchdog makes it mandatory for all newly promoted officials to disclose their spouses’ and children’s employment statuses, assets owned as well as international travel records. This could be an effective way of ensuring transparency and engendering accountability in government officials, as they would have to account for any large and unjustified accumulation of wealth while they occupy positions of influence.
The Chinese have also excelled at doing away with extravagance and hedonism that encourages a misplaced sense of entitlement. Often, the ruling officials splurge riches on themselves with impunity as they lead opulent lifestyles supported by state coffers.
In China however, the winds have been shifting. While for years, the doctrine of “letting some people get rich first” pushed by communist leader Deng Xiaoping had fostered this extravagant and grandiose culture by top government officials; frugality and thrift now dominate the political landscape. China’s party leadership has now banned such trinkets as flower arrangements for officials in meeting rooms and hotels as well as other luxurious gifts during festivals. Additionally, government officials now have caps on daily spending when travelling around the country.
Reining in the military big shots
Perhaps more worrying is the heavy-handed role that the military plays in most African states. Military inspired coups and a patronage brand of politics by military personnel are prevalent across the continent. This huge involvement by the military could well be a potential avenue for army officials to engage in corruption.
As anti-corruption initiatives gain more prominence in China, the military has also not been spared. Issues around property ownership, use of official vehicles and the hiring of service personnel are now coming to the fore. As a case in point, the Chinese military has been banned from buying foreign-made vehicles.
An interesting observation made in China was that at least 99% of the violations involving graft were committed by prefecture or township level officials. This is not peculiar to China alone, however. Continental heavyweights like Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa have also witnessed corruption at low levels of government by parliamentarians or council officials. It is then at these grassroots structures that corruption must be nipped in the bud.
More importantly, the Chinese fight against corruption has attracted the involvement of the top leaders. The top rungs of leadership, with President Jinping at the forefront, have been consistent in their anti-corruption message and not merely political rhetoric. This is definitely something that is needed in Africa as part of efforts to confront corruption.
A common Chinese practice of “Guan Xi”— related gift giving — previously seen as a way of building relationships and connections basing on those gifts — has for long been viewed as a form of corruption, especially by foreigners. As the crackdown on corruption continues, officials are becoming more circumspect in their involvement in such practices. This is one of the many examples of how the direct approach taken by the Chinese to root out corruption is slowly permeating into Chinese culture.
These prescriptive measures on dealing with corruption from a Chinese perspective can be highly effective if they are implemented in Africa. Some reports even suggest the crackdown on corruption in China has been weighing down growth in the Asian giant’s economy as conspicuous spending by top officials dips. This however is an argument for another day. What’s needed now is an effective way of rooting out corruption and graft, particularly that of top government officials in Africa.
Should African policymakers be serious about corruption, then China’s eight-point measures on corruption might very well be the antidote to Africa’s corruption problems.