14 June 2016
Dr Jennifer Tangney, Associate Director of WYG in Kenya, will be joining the debate on global security at the ACE International Conference on 15th June.
There are many challenges facing Africa from its youth unemployment rates to the rapid pace of urbanisation leading to slums and poor service delivery, but behind these challenges also lie opportunities for Africa in terms of economic development and progress. Jennifer has chosen to highlight a challenge that does not have any flip side and which only has negative consequences for the continent.
“Corruption is one of the key threads that connects poverty, conflict and the consequences of such - including migration and underdevelopment”.
There is growing understanding that Africa’s daunting “next” challenge is to overcome the levels of corruption that pervade all levels of society:
The African Union estimates that 25% of Africa’s GDP is lost to corruption each year.
This cancer of corruption leads to underdevelopment, fuels conflict and creates a very unfavourable investment environment. Unfortunately, all too often those in power reach the higher political echelons owing favours to all kinds of groupings meaning that their decisions are not made without bias. This political elite set the culture that cascades down through the public and private sector, irritating the rich (or at least those not benefiting) and making life a misery for the poor, who of course bear the brunt.
In 2015, 37% of Kenyans and 43% of Nigerians admitted to paying a bribe to a public official. Liberia and some other West African states fared even worse with some 69% of the population confirming to have paid a bribe for services. Botswana and Mauritius offered great hope with levels of just 1% reported.
Corruption is a daily reality of the context in which we operate in many African countries. There is an onus on us, as the international private sector, to ensure that our local offices and staff adhere to the highest moral standards of operation so that we do not become part of the problem.
What have we as business put in place? British companies are, since the 2010 Anti-Bribery Act, subject to one of the toughest anti-corruption regimes in the world, at home and abroad. Staff, local and international, as well as the partners we work with in consortia or as sub-contractors need to fully understand our company ethos and zero tolerance policy. WYG goes to great lengths to ensure that those we work with not only sign up to our policies but understand and value them. This means that there are a great many companies in the market with which we simply will not work.
When looking at investing in environments where corruption is rife, one has to recognise that it is not a level playing field. It is a space where bidding on work and winning work are often not the exact science of quality and cost, even when donor funds are involved. Does this mean that Africa is not an important emerging market? No. The growth rates and economic potential indicate otherwise, it just means that it is a challenging market where it is essential to understand the political economy of the country. This is where WYG’s localisation strategy to develop meaningful local partnerships is invaluable as no “outsider” will ever fully understand the different drivers, relations and practices that influence decision-making and behaviour.
Morally, there is a need for us, as the international private sector, to work within the systems to bring about change. We must complain when tenders are unfairly awarded and not fear missing out on a future opportunity for raising our heads above the parapet. Only through transparent due process will confidence in systems begin to develop, a key element of accountability.
As well as working with integrity in African markets, WYG is delivering projects in key fields that are known to reduce corruption such as strengthening public finance management systems, support to justice systems, capacity building of civil society actors and many more.
All of the above is not to say that corruption is a particularly African challenge, we have our fair share of corruption issues in Europe too. However, corruption in many African countries is facilitated by weak governance institutions and has an exponentially greater impact on the already vulnerable populations who face ongoing misery and poverty even in the midst of great resources.
In the words of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia, “Africa is not poor, it is poorly managed”.