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Key findings
  • On average across 18 countries, six in 10 Africans (59%) say that corruption increased in their country during the previous year, including 41% who say it “increased a lot.” One in five (21%) believe it decreased at least “somewhat,” while 16% say it stayed at the same level (Figure 1).
  • Among key public institutions, the police are most widely seen as corrupt; on average, almost half (48%) of Africans say “most” or “all” police officials are involved in corruption, in addition to 36% who see “some of them” as corrupt (see also Sanny & Logan, 2020). More than one-third of citizens see corruption in most/all members of Parliament (38%), civil servants (37%), judges and magistrates (35%), tax officials (35%), and Presidency officials (35%). Local government councillors fare only slightly better (33%) (Figure 4).
  • Bribery is not an uncommon experience in most African countries (Figure 9). On average across 18 countries, fully one-third of citizens who dealt with the police during the previous year say they had to pay a bribe (35% of those who sought police assistance, 33% of those who encountered the police in other situations, such as a traffic stop or investigation).
  • Almost two-thirds (64%) of Africans say their government is doing a “fairly bad” or “very bad” job of fighting official corruption. Only three in 10 (30%) approve of their government’s performance (Figure 12).
  • Almost three-fourths (72%) of Africans say that ordinary citizens risk retaliation or other negative consequences if they report corruption to the authorities. Only one in four (24%) believe they can speak up without fear (Figure 15).

Developing countries lose $1.26 trillion a year to corruption, theft, and tax evasion, according to analysts’ estimates – a sum large enough to lift 1.4 billion people above the poverty line for six years (Fleming, 2019). Unless we control corruption, development experts say, achieving the other Sustainable Development Goals will be all but impossible (United Nations, 2019; Rubio & Andvig, 2019).

Yet corruption scandals make almost daily headlines, in Africa as elsewhere. South Africa continues to wrestle with the fallout of state capture during Jacob Zuma’s presidency (Alberts, 2020; Arun, 2020). Namibians are gearing up for one of their most prominent court cases ever, involving two ministers accused and imprisoned in the #Fishrot corruption scandal (Zenda, 2020; Iceland Review, 2020). Allegations of corruption involving COVID-19 pandemic relief pour in from Zimbabwe (Guardian, 2020), Somalia (Daysane, 2020), Kenya (Malalo, 2020), Nigeria (Financial Times, 2020), and other countries.

And ordinary Africans say things are getting worse rather than better. In Afrobarometer surveys in 18 African countries, a majority of citizens say corruption increased in their country during the previous year. Police are the worst offenders in citizens’ eyes, but even many health-care providers demand bribes.
Most citizens say their government is doing too little to fight corruption. And in a bad sign for activists working to engage citizens on this issue, most Africans say they risk retaliation should they report cases of corruption to the authorities.

Christiaan Keulder

Christiaan is the national investigator for Namibia.