The Dark Squeeze

The Dark Squeeze

Born Johnathan Shapiro in Cape Town in 1958, Zapiro is South Africa's most read political cartoonist.
Born Johnathan Shapiro in Cape Town in 1958, Zapiro is South Africa's most read political cartoonist.
Corruption gets worse in Africa, stays about the same in the U.S., and very few people really understand what it means.

Yesterday Transparency International released its corruption list for 2009. All of Africa got worse when compared to 2008. In East Africa, Kenya is at the bottom of the pack at 146 of 180 countries rated; Tanzania is 126, Uganda is 130, and Rwanda is a pleasing 89. All fell from last year.

The United States fell to 18 from 17. New Zealand is the best in the world. Somali is the worse. The tiny islands of the Seychelles considered a part of Africa makes it the best in its category at 54, but South Africa at 55 is the best on the continent.

Corruption is linked to economy in a bell-shaped relationship. There is least corruption in times that are considered normal, when economies are performing in ordinary ways. There is most corruption when economies are either doing extremely well or extremely bad.

If corruption were measured by quantity, then the U.S. would be the most corrupt place on earth, and the undefined country of Bernie Madoff would outrank every country in Africa. With Enron, Tyco and a few notable others, the U.S. in aggregate followed by about a dozen of its smaller parts like Madoff would top the list of corruption.

Bernie Madoff lost or stole (depending upon how you look at it) 4 times Kenya’s annual GDP.

So what does this mean? It means in a very dispassionate way that corruption is driven by economic trends.

In the west people like to say this trend is greed. And to be sure, that’s a fair explanation for Madoff, Enron, Tyco and the like. It’s fair to say that in times of plenty, greed is the driving force of corruption.

But in times of want it’s quite different, and most of the time, Africa is in want of a lot.

The way I see it, intelligent and usually talented individuals rise to positions of power in African governments with the most laudable motives. Time and again I’ve watched a Jomo Kenyatta or Jason Zuma or Milton Obote be applauded into office with nothing but the most transparent ideals.

Time passes and Africa just doesn’t move fast enough. Misery grows faster than happiness. This isn’t the fault of these great men, or their ideas or management, but simply the institutionalized poverty in the world order.

The rich can’t get richer unless the poor get poorer, and we all know what side Africa is on.

And these intelligent and talented African leaders come round to seeing the truth of this.

Their education into this realization is mightily helped by many of the richer companies and individuals that come to their lands to “strike deals” for oil and other minerals, tea and spices. Outside the limiting laws of their own countries, these representatives of the less corrupt nations become the most corrupt deal-makers on earth.

All driven by the mighty dollar, driven by greed.

Right now, China is throwing money at Africa in unheard of quantities, requiring no transparency whatever. As much as $40 billion (US) has been given to East African countries in the last two years as blanket grants requiring no accountability.

And it’s not just China. I recently reported how the Toronto mining company, Barrick Gold Corporation, was unable to account for $1.6 billion dollars in payments to the Tanzanian government for the development of the world’s second largest clump of gold near Lake Victoria.

There is a difference between China and Canada, of course. China doesn’t care, so long as it gets oil. Canada is ashamed: it’s going to get rid of the mine as soon it can, but it was unable to impede the corruption.

So the African leaders give up. Once they realize there’s nothing significant they can do for their country, all that’s left is their family. And boy, a few dinners and drinks with Chinese or Canadian businessmen, and their family is set for life.

Today, most of Jomo Kenyatta’s family lives in Colorado. Jomo Kenyatta was the first president of Kenya. Most of Julius Nyerere’s family lives in London. Nyerere was Tanzania’s greatest president. And without doubt, I’m sure that these progeny are all upstanding, law-abiding moral folks.

Transparency International’s ratings, I think, are valuable for the countries rated least corrupt. But for those poor countries on the bottom, let’s understand where this all comes from. The dark force squeezes down the bottom.

How does that old teaser go? The island is sinking, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. There’s one little boat with you at the oars. Who do you row to safety?