The Failure of the African Anti-Corruption Effort: Lessons for Managers

By De Maria, William | International Journal of Management, April 2010 | Go to article overview
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The Failure of the African Anti-Corruption Effort: Lessons for Managers


De Maria, William, International Journal of Management


Corruption is big business in Africa. Since 1996 an international effort to rid Africa of corruption has been underway. The paper exposes this effort as a failure. The paper attributes this failure to a flaw deep within the international management model utilised by western governments and NGOs, whereby corruption has been removed from its natural cultural context. The paper argues that to tackle corruption is to first understand it historically and culturally. International management has to learn that the meanings of corruption are not scientific, trans-cultural and singular. They are normative, ethnographic and multiple. Corruption cannot submit to empirical investigation nor can it be comprehended outside the lived experience.

World Bank outlays to Africa in 2007 was a record with US$7.3 billion committed (World Bank, 2008). According to a recent report by the World Bank's internal watchdog, the Independent Evaluation Group, this effort, since 1996, has been a gross failure (Davis, 2008). What is going wrong? This is a complex question and the paper engages with one specific target of western funding and sponsorship; African anti-corruption agencies (henceforth ACAs). These are official agencies of state ostensibly with law-backed jurisdictions to prevent and prosecute corruption. As of March 2007 there were eighteen stand alone ACAs and five integrated ACAs currently operating in Africa (De Maria, 2008, Appendix 1). The paper argues that much of this anti-corruption work is wasted because of a fundamental flaw in the international management paradigm used.

(Mis)managing Anti-Corruption

Western pressure for clean governance in Africa is now sharp and relentless. As a result the anti-corruption policy landscape has become hectic. Trans-national agencies like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime share policy habitats with continent-specific agencies such as the Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union, specialist NGOs such as the International Group for Anti-Corruption Coordination and Transparency International and an emerging legal armoury of six international and regional anti-corruption treaties.

The management of anti-corruption can be seen as a contested space between a dominant international framework emphasising commerce and profit and subjugated frameworks emphasising local culture. On one side is the powerful voice of universalism proclaiming the ontological validity of an emerging One World culture. On the other side is a swarm of critiques that variously see this position as neo-colonialist and/or West-centric. For the universalists cultural convergence is seen as the emerging world reality (as long as the convergence keeps inclining towards the western outlook). We see at the business end of this convergence project a culture-free management ethos imported into Africa embedded in aid, development and anti-corruption discourses.

Doig, Watt & Williams recent evaluation of African anti-corruption commissions has referred to the "carpet-bombing" of corruption throughout Africa with a model designed specifically for an entirely different historical and political context. They observe that despite a substantial body of literature confirming the importance of context in understanding corruption there is an "unstoppable drive to find a universal solution" (2005).

The culture-free management model is not just about a hubristic west forcing its know-how onto a "primitive" target. African ACAs are part of a massive attempt to fundamentally re-fabricate African public life using the building blocks of Western governance (e.g. free speech) and Western economics (e.g. free enterprise). The evidence is mounting that much development interfacing by powerful bodies such as the World Bank, the MF, the Millennium Challenge Account and the G-8 leaders is continuing a colonialist tradition of seeking to pour divergent African governance styles into a single Western mold (Thirkell-White, 2003; Doornbos, 2004; Harrison, 2004; Harrison, 2005; Nanda, 2006).

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