China Corruption in Africa

Africa has just turned 50. At this stage, it would be assumed that the continent is democratic, secure and economically stable.

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But the scourge of colonialism hangs loosely over it. Half a century later, Africa is still underdeveloped, heavily relies on foreign aid as it struggles to fight poor healthcare andinsecurity that have been perpetuated by corruption.

Bribery is Africa’s most cancerous problem. Its cost is very low while the profits continueto be high. The sin is so deeply ingrained in the region that it is seen African to be corrupt. Africa, therefore, needs unlimited energy and courage to uproot the mess.

Corruption continues to undermine institutions and economies in Africa. In the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index last year, about 90 per cent of African countries scored below 50 (100 representing a lack of corruption and zero for the most corrupt country). The unstable Somalia managed a meagre score of eight.

Beyond just sweeteners, kickbacks,bribes and contract manipulations, African corruption is actively driven by developed countries. In a shocking revelation in 2008, for instance, it was found out that a German multinational Siemens had put aside more than $1.7 billion to help win overseas contracts between 2001 and 2007. It was later fined about $800 million for bribe-taking, corruption and fabricating its books.

On the demand side has been Africa. In most occasions, its top leaders ask for bribes to enter into contracts with multinationals. This was the case with BAE Systems, a British multinational defence, security and aerospace company. The firm pleaded guilty to criminal charges regarding some contracts it had won in Tanzania and South Africa.

Now, the entry of China in the continent is complicating the already grievousmatter. World leaders blame the East Asian nation for propagating corruption in Africa. Its deep penetration relative to other developed nations in Africa has been pegged on its pragmatic approach to play to the tunes of the locals.

In Angola, a country with abundant oil, diamonds, gold and copper, China just proposed low-cost loans of about 1.5 percent to be paid back in oil.  The deal was sealed opaquely,devoid of public scrutiny.

Today, China’s nifty legal minds are tearing apart Africa’s public procurement, a key policy instrument that is most vulnerable to waste, fraud and corruption. Its complexity and the size of the financial flows the document generates have given Beijing an upper hand over the host countries.

Unlike their Western counterparts, Chinese companies go to Africa without any strategic plans. They go for quick gains. Seldom do they carry out feasibility studies or due diligence. Such a saggy operation has seen China enter into tainted contracts without competitive bidding. This is anapproachthe West abandoned over three decades ago.Beijingtightly blends aid and business. The transactions are usually carried out secretly between states.

Hardly a year after the completion of one of Africa’s most modern roads in Kenya, Chinese firms are practically constructing every road in the country. It is now putting money in the exploitation of the lucrative geothermal power as it awaits the award of the tender for the construction of an ultra-modern rail line linking Kenya’s port city of Mombasa and Uganda.

No one knows how these deals were reached at. The cover-up in them has seen the media and activists bring to the fore allegations of bribery in a country that loses nearly one-third of the national budget to corruption.

But China is not shaken by the assertions. Its principal goal, it has argued in the past, is to gain influence and business. Ethics, it seems, may follow later. Indeed such an argument is shared in a book titled “The Dragon’s Gift” where the author, Deborah Brautigam said that Beijing doesn’t particularly want a big scandal but their companies to get business.

While corruption is common across much of the world, it is difficult to argue that Africa is a victim of corrupt processes which is beyond its control.Rwanda has shown an archetypal example on the fight against corruption. The Paul Kagame regime has developed a masterplan, almost resembling that of Napoleon, where firms and people with filthy hands are mortified in public.

Perhaps, China must strive to conform to international tenets on procurement when running business in Africa. It must insist on transparency, should go through a bidding process and avoid inappropriate deals that call for kickbacks.

This way, its influence and business would grow, even faster.

By: Mark Kapchanga

Photo-MarkThe writer is an economist and experienced journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. Email: Twitter: @kapchanga



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