End the choke of corruption in Africa

The African continent is one filled with an astonishing abundance of natural resources and attractions, alongside a well-known and rich cultural history.  Throughout our existence, the sheer number of discoveries and inquisitions about current and past civilisations and species that the continent has provided us with, makes clear example of Africa’s potential as a home and foundation for many a prosperous and successful society.

The well-known abundance of flourishing, influential and magnificent ancient civilisations like the Egyptians, Carthaginians and the Kush (amongst many others), almost made certain, that the rest of the world would soon be invading and colonizing for a piece of Africa.  Amongst other things, this ensured the introduction of not-before-seen weaponry and disease.

As all of us are aware however – and to the unfortunate demise of many millions of Africans – dreams of prosperity and success on the African continent today, seem all too far away.

While exposing their unique societies to such foreign means and methods no doubt contributed to today’s Africa – disputes were once settled by tribal elders, whereas now they engage in bloody wars with automatic weapons, for example (the affects of forcing our economic and social systems upon a people who had never experienced such a thing, is another topic entirely) – exploitation, corruption and inefficient disbursement of aid to assist its struggling countries, has only served to magnify Africa’s problems, in an incredible way.

According to a recent Guardian report, a staggering $1.8tn has flowed out of the continent illegally in the past 4 decades or so; and every dollar we give, is far-outweighed by the $10 flowing out of the continent, to offshore institutions.

Even more alarmingly, the report continues on to note that much of this missing money could have been used to pay off Africa’s external debt (approximately $250bn) leaving a significant sum for a healthy contribution in the fight against poverty.

Many of those involved in local projects outwardly accuse officials of siphoning money off for themselves, some suggesting that as much as half of the aid provided is being used for unintended means.

Besides starving local populations of the basic goods and services and their subsequent provision, studies have shown that corruption also intensifies ethnic conflict, while ruining the efficiency of local and federal governments, according to the Asian Development Bank.  Worse still, studies also found that the resulting atmosphere of distrust was something that adversely (and unsurprisingly) affected all areas of administration.

One means of strengthening communities that is seeing a turn away from the perception that “western” methods are the key to African prosperity is beekeeping, or apiculture.  Traditionally practiced in Africa, there are organisations (such as www.hivessavelives.com and www.britishbee.org.uk) that are focusing their funding on the supply of training and resources in order to allow villagers to set up and control their own businesses and micro-economies within their communities.

The African continent has long been pillaged for gain by overseas companies, most of them uninterested in rehabilitating the areas that they often leave ravaged, also outsourcing labour and ensuring that training and skills remain something of a distant hope for local workers.

Such plans like the apiculture projects ensure that locals are given proper training, inheriting skills – and acquiring resources – that are easily maintained and shared with others, eliminating the need for outside assistance.  They have also served to raise awareness about sustainable practices, encouraging communities to think about their future, as well as those futures of generations to come.

Africa may have fallen far behind, but it certainly is not too late.  U4.no – an anti-corruption resource centre – said that 1996 saw money in sums in the vicinity of $30bn (originally intended as aid money) ending up in foreign bank accounts – amounts double the GDP of resource-rich Ghana, Kenya and Uganda.

With a focus on improved local infrastructure however, as well as an increased importance in monitoring new and existing systems of authority and administration, much less of this money could end up offshore.

Corruption also contributes to a general distrust amongst possible investors, and strongly supports evidence that proper, controlled, monitored and enforced application of overseas aid, could help the African continent back onto its feet, once more mobilizing a people that shared a material and cultural wealth with our ancestors and the world.

It is also interesting to note that only now are we placing importance on educating and assisting Africans to utilize their abundant resources – and in a sustainable, self-sufficient manner too – rather than exploiting them for ourselves.  It seems corruption and exploitation are one and the same.

Arguments that corruption has some political, efficiency and distribution benefits are now all but null and void, the ADB noting that “the bulk of the evidence indicates that corrupt actions typically generate far more costs than benefits”.  Eradicating these costs should be of the utmost importance.

entered in The Guardian ‘International Development competition 2010’

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