Corrupting the Anti-Corruption Movement

With respect to John Prendergast, Africa’s biggest challenge is not “the nexus between massive corruption and violent conflict” and we have got to get out of the paradigm that defines Africa as especially violent, corrupt and helpless.

Why do some still call for a more military- and intelligence-based U.S. engagement with African countries? Did U.S. surveillance drones “bring back their girls” in Nigeria? Did U.S. arms and training given to South Sudan’s army prevent the current civil war? Did U.S. support for the ouster of Qaddafi “fix” Libya?

We keep looking for Africa’s emergencies instead of looking at the emergence of African countries. African countries whose populations are getting richer, healthier and more educated while their governments evolve in a more democratic and more capable direction. African countries whose main killers are diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS — not militias.

We mustn’t turn this into another crisis that makes African countries look helpless and weak. That inevitably leads to giving money to contractors and consultants who “know how to fix it” and putting more resources and credibility into the hands of elites.

That’s the opposite of what the Obama Administration should do, if the goal is to curb corruption by strengthening the citizens’ control over their own government.

Instead, we should put the money directly into local businesses and local organizations. Don’t route it through the government. Set up a matching investment/grant fund with the African Union and other pan-African institutions. Help African customers and producers move out of the informal sector — where they are most vulnerable to abuses of power.

We should promote what’s already working: African solutions to African problems in an African context. Last year a Nigerian police officer was filmed on a cell phone camera asking for a bribe — why not support the development of mobile-web services to report and document corruption? Keep the tools to fight corruption in the hands of those most affected by the consequences.

And for more ideas, host a forum where Africa’s watchdog groups discuss what U.S. companies and agencies can do. Not the other way around.

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