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Nigeria awakens to fight corruption and why Africa struggles with the vice

The reality of corruption in Africa is a sign of the decline and erosion of African traditional value systems

Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency recently recovered close to $30 million due to an investigation into alleged fraud at a government ministry responsible for tackling poverty. This has been followed by other reports of suspected corruption by powerful government officials, such as the former aviation minister in Nigeria (Hadi Sirika), who has made a court appearance facing corruption allegations alongside his daughter and son-in-law. Many other African countries are also plagued by corruption. For example, the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) report by Transparency International revealed that “corruption is widespread globally and on the African continent,” with Somalia ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world alongside other African countries. The reality of corruption in Africa is a sign of the decline and erosion of African traditional value systems, which have negatively impacted our sense of collective morality as a people and are destroying the fabric of our societies including governance systems.

African culture is deeply rooted in strong moral principles. It encompasses a system of beliefs and customs that individuals are expected to follow to ensure longevity and avoid bringing misfortune upon themselves and others. Acts like adultery, theft, and other immoral behaviours are firmly discouraged within the African cultural framework. Also, African proverbs and wise sayings embody a wealth of wisdom. These sayings caution Africans against engaging in harmful behaviour and serve as a fundamental reservoir of African wisdom, integral to the continent’s heritage. The moral code of African culture emphasizes the importance of not causing harm to relatives, kin, in-laws, foreigners, or strangers unless they are involved in immoral actions. In such instances, it is wise to distance oneself from the individual involved, according to scholars.

However, according to scholarly reports, “colonial rule disrupted the cohesive moral fabric and practices of traditional African societies. This interference weakened the established methods of instilling moral values, leading to the erosion of traditional norms and values. The systematic depersonalization of Africans and the denigration of their cultural values led to a significant departure from their traditional moral standards.”

Furthermore, it is reported that “in pre-colonial African societies, democratic principles like the will of the people, broad participation, consultation and consensus, checks and balances, fair representation, and accountability were actively practised, and these values were inherent in the social and political systems before being disrupted by colonialism.” Before colonialism, African leaders would rule for the greater good of the people, which very much different from the form of democracy borrowed from the West. Community, solidarity and responsibility were some of the core societal values. Corruption and other moral vices were tackled using traditional moral codes and frameworks that worked for the greater public good.

Unfortunately, several years after decolonization, most African rulers still rule Africans like their colonial masters by embracing Western colonial values and systems of governance that exploit Africans for personal and selfish interests of the political elite. However, countries like Rwanda, despite undergoing significant modernization and embracing aspects of Western development, have managed to revive and uphold their traditional values and governance systems, which has helped minimize corruption and promote integrity among their citizens in contrast to what is obtainable in other parts of Africa.

A striking example of the Rwandan government’s commitment to reclaiming pre-colonial traditions is the Itorero programme. In a pivotal decision during its cabinet meeting on 12 November 2007, the Government of Rwanda (GoR) opted to revive the traditional civil education initiative known as “Itorero,” aimed at reintroducing Rwandans to the values and taboos inherent in their culture. This programme is mandatory for all students and is structured into two distinct phases: the theoretical phase, called Gutozwa (meaning “getting trained”), which encompasses moral, political, and cultural education spanning three months. The second phase is the practical aspect, named Urugerero (translated as “a camp”), which involves national service or volunteering activities lasting seven months. Rwanda has since made significant strides from a high level of corruption to a status comparable to middle-income countries. Particularly noteworthy is Rwanda’s unparalleled success in curbing administrative corruption. This achievement stands out, especially given Rwanda’s economic development level, and sharply contrasts with the challenges faced by other nations emerging from conflict and violence in their anti-corruption endeavours.

Moreover, traditional institutions like chieftaincy systems and community councils hold significant potential in fostering ethical conduct and resolving disputes within communities. Due to their esteemed status and authority, these institutions wield considerable influence over societal norms and values. Strengthening this system is paramount to preserving our traditional values and promoting integrity.

To effectively combat corruption and improve governance, we must urgently reclaim and reinforce our traditional values in family, education, society, workplace and governance structures. By learning from the examples of nations like Rwanda, we can see that it is possible to maintain moral standards amidst rapid development and societal changes. However, this will require concerted efforts from all sectors of society, including the government, civil society, and the private sector. Only then can we build a future where integrity, accountability, and transparency are the hallmarks of governance in Africa.

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