To eat or not to eat; that is the big question corrupt Africa faces today


The last week was a good one for flag-waving Kenyan patriots. US president Barack Obama (or “cousin Barry” to many Kenyans) visited the land of his father, becoming the first sitting American president to do so.

On the same weekend cousin Barry was in Kenya, Kenyan-born British cyclist Chris Froome won the Tour de France (TDF), the world’s most gruelling and prestigious cycling race, for the second time.

For the point we are going to make here, it is worth noting that this year’s TDF also saw the first entrance by an African team, South Africa’s MTN-Qhubeka. Two Eritrean members of the team became the first black Africans to race in the TDF.

Mr Obama had a few very good days, and between his visit to Kenya and Ethiopia, he got more applause and crowd love than he has in the past five years in America, despite the fact that he presides over the lowest level of unemployment in the US since 1973.

He pressed all the right buttons, acknowledging the progress that many of the continent’s leaders have overseen in their countries, while chiding them for corruption, repression, and changing constitutions so that they can become presidents for life.

He spoke up for the continent’s long-suffering women and talked up its youth and their entrepreneurial spirit. But this is the external and frustrating contradiction in Africa; you have a breakout by an MTN-Qhubeka on the biggest cycling stage in the world, happening at the same time with the most savage forms of violence in South Sudan. You get a flourish of enterprise and innovation happening at the same time with gravity-defying corruption.

Thus this week, Kenya’s Auditor-General revealed that nearly a third of the Sh1.2 trillion (about $12 billion at today’s exchange rate) spent in the 2013-14 financial year could have been stolen.

Also, Nigeria’s new president, Mr Muhammadu Buhari, was in the US and met Mr Obama just before he left for his African tour.

A Buhari aide says US officials told his president that a minister in Goodluck Jonathan’s government robbed the country of $6 billion!

There is a lot of bad news, but also good news. Among the bad news is that corruption in Africa defies the usual prescriptions. Many say democracy will reduce corruption, but Nigeria is quite a democracy that holds free elections, but it is as corrupt as authoritarian Equatorial Guinea.

Then you have Botswana and Mauritius, among the least corrupt in Africa and the world, and also the most democratic on the continent, but then you also have Rwanda, with a mixed democratic-authoritarian model, being the most honest nation on the continent.

The second depressing thing is the cost. Mr Obama noted that corruption costs Kenya 250,000 new jobs a year.