An emerging war against corruption in several countries in southern Africa is changing the economic and political climate and challenging old ideas of sovereignty in unexpected ways.
Big business and non-governmental organisations, such as Transparency International (TI) and Global Witness are forming unusual alliances in the changing political scene.
Research from Harvard and UN organisations has shown that the cost of corruption can be counted not just in the sums of money lost but also in retarded development and increased inequalities.
The region is prey to drug and crime syndicates and a cynical political class which has come to accept corruption as normal, according to many influential Africans.
But suddenly the questions of corruption being raised by many groups in civil society, backed by these outsiders, have become a key part of the motor for change.
In Angola, a political sea change has begun. One of the most monolithic of one-party states in Africa has been weakened by charges of corruption in the oil and diamond industries and by its failure to confront its humanitarian crisis.
Previously, decades of threat from Unita, backed by the US and apartheid South Africa, meant the ruling MPLA was unchallenged.
But corruption was not an issue there until the latest phase of the war, according to Shawn McCormick, senior policy adviser to BP Amoco, which was the only oil company to throw open its books to an Angolan government monitoring team, according to the IMF.
Well before last year’s Global Witness report on Angolan oil sales revealed claims of high-level corruption or allegations of kickbacks from the French oil company Elf circulated, groups began campaigning for an anti-corruption candidate to stand against President Eduardo Dos Santos.
At a conference sponsored by TI in London this week some of the most egregious cases of corruption were discussed in detail, notably the Lesotho Highland Water Development Project.
Currently, 19 corporations and individuals are being prosecuted in the Lesotho courts, accused of bribing an official. Five British companies are involved and the accusation is that pounds 2m was paid in bribes.
Dr John Makumbe, from TI’s chapter in Zimbabwe, said: ‘We have daily corruption, in schools, hospitals, prisons, the private sector, and the public sector, including the army, but our law actually says that nothing can be investigated in the president’s office, the army or the police.’
However, he pointed out that most corruption is imported – ‘60% imported in our case’.
TI’s chairman, Laurence Cockcroft, told the conference: ‘There is no doubt about the urgency for these countries of rolling back corruption, and the UK has a critical responsibility both to support the efforts of weaker governments and to ensure that anti-bribery legislation is brought in in this country to act against companies such as those involved in the Lesotho project.’
‘The fight against corruption is essential for prosperity,’ said Michael Spicer, the executive vice-president of Anglo-American, who is also deputy chairman of South Africa’s Business Against Crime agency.
‘There’s been a lot of concentration on diamonds as a potential resource for corruption, and for wars, but in fact the oil industry brings the largest scale of corruption in Africa – though with the very honorable exception of Global Witness no one has tried to expose it,’ he added.
‘The arms trade is similarly key, but European governments turn a blind eye.’
Victoria Brittain, The Guardian (U.K.), July 13, 2000