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The political economy of corruption


As a cancer inherent in varying degrees of intensity across the globe, corruption is an integral part of the political economy of world capitalism.

So, the capitals of the western world lie at the heart of the problem, with complex and organised tentacles across the world, and in relation to such economic activities as the extractive industries in Africa in particular, illicit financial flows from Africa to the capitals of the northern hemisphere.

Needless to add, the struggle against corruption will remain incomplete if it is not also attacked at its source in the northern hemisphere.

Corruption is not denied by the Zimbabwean government, and almost daily we have reports of persons being arrested by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission.

The prosecutor-general Kumbirai Hodzi even alleges that cartels have captured every sector of Zimbabwe’s economy and are responsible for the economic crisis.

However, whilst corruption is currently an epidemic, it is not new: the UN Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo identified senior political persons, military personnel, businessmen, and Zimbabwean companies as complicit in illegal activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This began as long ago as the late 1990s.

The auditor-general Mildred Chiri has reported on the enormous sums unaccounted for over the past decade, and parliament is being asked for condonation of US$10 billion in unbudgeted expenditure by the government.

Finally, there are still unanswered questions about the extractive industries, and what has happened to the earnings from diamonds and gold in particular.
Corruption is therefore a very serious problem.

The following are some of the elements to be considered in the context of the political economy of corruption in Zimbabwe; and around which ideas and strategies could be put in place as part of the anti-corruption drive.

First, the vulnerability to corruption on the part of that class of leaders who inherited power at independence.

This is the petit bourgeoisie (or middle classes) for whom the state became the agency for primitive accumulation; and whom such multinationals as Anglo America and Lonrho would have patronised many of the nationalist leaders (even before independence), resourced them corruptly and converted them into the comprador bourgeois class for whom power and wealth are conflated.

This class now constitutes a major constraint to change and transition.

Related to the role of such multinationals has been the role of comprador cartels, mostly in the form of former Rhodesian businesspersons.

They have waxed rich on the back of their association with such powerful politicians in the post-independent state, thereby sustaining and nourishing corruption.

Second, is the frightening extent to which both the scourge of corruption, and the class of political and military-securocratic elite that has thrived on ill-gotten wealth, has become almost institutionalised, seldom questioned nor probed.

For example, shouldn’t it be an obvious question to ask how mere politicians, civil servants and soldiers — all of whom would have come into office with no more than an empty briefcase and the clothes on them at independence in 1980 — have waxed so wealthy, far beyond their well-known salaries and allowances?

Third, most pertinent in the Zimbabwe situation is the relationship between corruption, wealth and politics; the extent to which corruption per se pervades the polity, influences political and policy decisions. How has corruption in the diamond sector — especially the issue of the Chinese and their companies, Anjin and Jinan — been a factor in the November 2017 coup? It is worth remembering that the new dispensation itself accused Jinan in 2018 of illegally externalising US$332 085 310, 72% of the total amount the government claimed was externalised.

Related to this is the growing competition, among the political and bureaucratic elite, for loot and access to corrupt deals, at the expense of the country’s economic and social development, and even at the risk of internecine conflict within and among themselves, and including the spectre of ethnic politics.

Last, but not least, the debilitating and disastrous effect that corruption continues to have on the economic and social fabric of Zimbabwean society: the capture of the state in every sense of the word, especially when you have a virtual cartel in charge of it; the capture of the productive sector by cartels whose interests are hardly conducive to the national one; the capture of national institutions which are thereby no longer independent and non-partisan; and the impact on the social conditions of the mass of the people.

This all results in the collapse of social services, health (including the corruption around the resources meant for Covid-19), education, food security, access to water and sanitation, etc.

For, it is a massive scandal — not to mention an indictment for all time — that the Mugabe/Mnangagwa/Chiwenga regime has nothing to show, in terms of benefits to the people of Zimbabwe, for the $15 billion accrued from the production of diamonds in the period between 2006 and 2016; excluding the average of at least $6 billion per annum from gold, chrome, platinum and other minerals.

A rich country, but with millions of its citizens living below the poverty datum line.

Therefore, the anti-corruption drive in Zimbabwe has to be integral to the struggle for political and economic reform, in the pursuit of a new dispensation.

l Ibbo Mandaza is the Sapes Trust director. The next Sapes policy dialogue themed: The Political Economy of Corruption in Zimbabwe will be held on October 29 via Zoom.

The speakers will include Tawanda Mutasah from the Paris School of International Affairs, who is also a former senior director law and policy at Amnesty International, Khadija Sharife, a South Africa-based award-winning journalist and Africa editor for OCCRP, and Godfrey Kanyeze, the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe director.

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