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African Citizens: Breaking the Corruption Cycle

05 Jul 2024
By Dr Ernest Mensah Akuamoah
A Somali money exchanger inspects a U$10 dollar bill. AMISOM Public Information / Flickr /

The irony of African politics is that those who promise to eradicate corruption are often the ones distributing money to voters, while those who demand corruption-free leadership are frequently the recipients of such payments. This illustrates the intricate relationship between political rhetoric and practical realities shaping the continent’s political landscape.

Corruption represents a significant obstacle to good governance and development across African countries. Transparency International’s (2022) Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) indicates that 44 out of 49 African countries scored below the midpoint, with an average of 32 out of 100 in the sub-Saharan region. The CPI uses a scale from 0-100, with the lower and upper bounds respectively corresponding to “highly corrupt” and “highly clean” (i.e., uncorrupt) countries. African leaders frequently vow to tackle corruption in their inaugural speeches, but these promises often turn out to be mere political rhetoric shortly after they assume power, with some leaders even becoming implicated in corrupt practices later on. Ordinary African citizens have persistently complained about the pervasiveness of corruption within their countries, pointing fingers at their governments and key state institutions like the police service—as evidenced by several rounds of Afrobarometer surveys.

Generally speaking, there is a tendency among African citizens to criticise their leaders and institutions as being corrupt while overlooking their own contributions to these issues. However, I argue that the perpetuation of corruption is driven not only by politicians motivated by personal gain but also by citizens who expect financial incentives in return for their electoral support. Empirical studies have confirmed the symbiotic relationship between politicians and rent-seeking voters. Research indicates that voters, particularly those who benefit from rent-seeking practices are reluctant to punish corrupt politicians, especially if these politicians are affiliated to their preferred political party. Other studies suggest that voters assess corrupt politicians differently based on the purposes for which the money is utilised. For example, beneficiaries of vote-buying are less likely to support punishing politicians and “many voters do not object to, and may even prefer, corrupt politicians in a system where a single ‘honest’ official is unlikely to reduce corruption overall.”

While voters’ tolerance of corrupt politicians is not peculiar to Africa and other developing democracies, it is exacerbated by weak electoral and party financing laws  in less established democracies. This culture of “transactional politics” poses a significant challenge to democratic integrity and obstructs progress towards establishing accountable governance in Africa. Concepts such as “Monetics,” “Monecracy” or “Monetization of Politics” have taken centre stage in African Political life, reflecting the pervasive influence of financial interests in political processes on the continent. Some scholars have even argued that “without money you are technically knocked out” in African elections.

Several studies have highlighted the detrimental effects of election cycles on African economies, specifically emphasising how pre-election expansionary policies by African governments negatively impact economic growth, inflation, and human development post-election. Moreover, a recent study across 36 African countries shows that increased government spending during election years is associated with higher corruption perception. Hence, election periods present a paradox: while offering African citizens a chance to exercise their political rights, they also tend to leave African countries economically impoverished due to high government spending and their inability to service debts. The widespread expectation of financial contributions from politicians during elections has normalised corruption to the point where it is perceived as a pragmatic necessity rather than a detrimental force that undermines public confidence and inhibits socioeconomic progress. Indeed, some voters view election periods as “their time to chop.” Nevertheless, the long-term consequences far outweigh the immediate benefits of receiving handouts—and poor people are more affected. African voters must keep this in mind with many elections set to take place across the continent this year.

While it’s critical for African citizens to demand accountability and transparency from elected officials, it’s equally essential for the African populace to engage in self-reflection and recognise their own contributions to the issue of corruption. This introspective approach will hopefully promote a greater sense of personal accountability and inspire collective efforts to promote integrity in governance. Additionally, the significance of civil society organisations (CSOs) and the media in advocating for democratic reforms, combating corruption, and promoting good governance cannot be overstated. Regrettably, these institutions sometimes fail to fulfill their mandates due to partisanship and biased reporting, underscoring the importance of their neutrality in the fight against corruption.

Admittedly, poverty and low development create vulnerabilities that can be exploited by politicians, but this should not prevent African citizens from demanding accountability from their elected officials or excuse their involvement in corrupt practices. Rather, the difficult economic conditions should provide the impetus for African citizens to unite and demand for change.

In conclusion, a fundamental change is necessary for tackling corruption on the continent and this will require moving from the current practice of transactional politics to a truly participatory democracy built on principles of integrity, fairness, and social equity. By resisting the incentives of short-term financial gains and demanding ethical conduct from their leaders, African citizens can significantly contribute to creating a future where corruption is less attractive to both the giver and receiver, and where governments prioritise the collective good over privileged interests.

Dr Ernest Mensah Akuamoah is a Sessional Academic in the School of Politics and International Relations at The Australian National University. His research interests include electoral violence and African politics. He can be reached via email at

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.