Corruption, A Human Rights Crisis And Economic Menace
Human rights groups and scholars in sub-Saharan Africa say that corruption is a human rights violation, denying the poor in the region access to basic services like healthcare, education, electricity, clean water, and sanitation facilities. As the world marks Anti-Corruption Day on Saturday, calls are growing louder for ethical governance and more stringent measures to curb corruption, which rights groups say is the number one problem hampering development in the region, as corrupt elites loot funds meant for national development.
Onesmo Ngurumwa, national coordinator of Tanzania Human Rights Defenders coalition, told FNF that corruption was "a human rights concern in the region." "When corruption is rampant, it's felt in the lives of the people," Ngurumwa said. "When people in government are corrupt, the resources that are allocated for governance and social services will be abused. If issues of corruption are not addressed, it means whatever deals and engagements those in power sign for will not be done in favour of the development of the nations but to benefit a few individuals in positions of authority and those in their political circles. The cost of corruption is that more people will be poor because there will be opportunities only for those people who are connected to the political elites. They are the ones who will be gathering and looting."
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to the world's poorest, with more than half of the populations living on around US$1.90 a day. John Maketo, programs manager for Zimbabwe Coalition for Debt and Development, told FNF that corrupt officials should face the same consequences as human rights violators. "Due to corruption, we have seen poor service delivery," Maketo said. "In countries where those at the top are corrupt, we have public hospitals without medicines and basic diagnostic tools, no clean water for poor communities, and this leads to a lot of outbreaks of social diseases. Considering its impact on the poor, corruption should be regarded as a human rights violation, and stringent measures should be taken against those involved in corrupt practices."
Dakarayi Matanga, a senior researcher at Transparency International Zimbabwe, said sub-Saharan Africa had the lowest Corruption Perception Index score at 32. "Some groups in countries in the region, including women and girls and other groups at the risk of discrimination, tend to rely on public services, so they are disproportionately affected by the impact of corruption," Matanga said.
Ngurumwa said to combat corruption, citizens should scrutinize those who seek political office and keep them in check. "We need to improve our democracy, our governance, our elections, policies, and constitutions, putting in place structures such as anti-corruption bureaus," he said. "People should make their leaders accountable and follow up on the use of their resources."
Corruption—from petty bribery to avoid arrest for misdemeanor or to access public services at state hospitals and welfare offices, to state capture and multi-million underhand dealings involving the elite in governing parties, top government officials, politically connected businesses—has been blamed for destroying economies and widening the gap between the rich aligned to the ruling elite and the majority of the poor, barely able to afford basics like food, education, electricity, clean water, and quality healthcare.
"People, especially those in leadership, need to be held accountable," Melusi Ncala, a senior researcher at Corruption Watch, the South African chapter of the global Anti-Corruption watchdog Transparency International, told FNF. "We need clear and forthright prosecution of offenders. If there was money lost, the funds should be recouped. There should be no preferential treatment of offenders based on the offender's social or political standing, as this gives the idea that certain people can get away with crimes." He called for stringent measures to deter would-be offenders and protection for whistleblowers who play a pivotal role in exposing corruption.
In South Africa, the entire nation is paying the price of corruption and mismanagement at the power utility Eskom, enduring long hours of scheduled power cuts. Ncala said, "You can only stem out corruption by making examples of the culprits. Those found guilty should be jailed." He said citizens should be vigilant and make background checks of candidates for political office and prospective appointees for high public offices. "We should have a thorough background check when getting people into positions of authority, and we should also have zero tolerance for people who behave unethically."
South Africa's neighbor Zimbabwe is an example of how a corrupt ruling elite can ruin a thriving economy in a matter of years. Professor Gift Mugano, director of the Centre for African Governance and Development at Durban University of Technology, told FNF: "Zimbabwe is losing an average of US$1.8 billion a year through illicit financial dealings. This is money which should fund our education sector so that our schools are up to date with modern trends and our hospitals are well-equipped to avoid unnecessary deaths. Corruption gives a country a bad image and creates high levels of poverty. No investor wants to invest in a country where there is no market due to poverty."
Zimbabwe's economy has been on a downturn for more than a decade, with growing unemployment, worsening poverty, and poor social services, including public hospitals without basic medicines in stock. The country's state hospitals have no functioning radiotherapy machine.