Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

International Conference on: Institutions, Culture and Corruption in Africa

29th–31st October 2008, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Number of visits: 4194

The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the Council
for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) are
pleased to announce their joint initiative to host a major conference on the vexed
question of the causes and consequences of corruption in Africa and to invite
interested researchers and policy intellectuals to submit abstracts and paper
proposals for consideration for presentation at the conference. The conference is
one of the major activities being organized to mark the 50th anniversary of
UNECA. It will be held at the United Nations Conference Center in Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia, from 29th to 31st October, 2008. The working languages for the
conference would be English and French.

In conventional development discourse, corruption has been identified as a major
obstacle to the promotion of effective governance, sustained economic growth
and national development in the developing world, especially Africa. In the
governance arena, corruption is seen as undermining the capacity of the state and its institutions to function efficiently and deliver public goods and services. It is
also thought to compromise the electoral process whilst eroding trust and
legitimacy in a polity. In the economy, corruption is blamed for encouraging
wastage, promoting the wrongful allocation of scarce resources, distorting
markets and competition, producing revenue losses, decelerating investment
opportunities, privileging non-productive rent seeking activities, and fuelling
economic policy distortions. In the social sphere, it is thought to generate intergroup
tensions and, sometimes, political conflicts. In other words, the view is
widespread that corruption has an overall corrosive effect on national

Given the apparent pervasiveness of corruption in different regions of the world,
it has come to occupy a frontline position on the global agenda, with international
and regional institutions, national governments, the research and knowledge
community, and civil society organizations taking it up as a major policy,
political, advocacy and research challenge. The United Nations, the African
Union (AU), the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB), and other
multilateral institutions have made it a priority area of attention, although there
are marked differences in their perceptions and understanding of the problem. The
UN and the AU have designed anti-corruption conventions which provide
international and regional frameworks and mechanisms for combating the
problem. The AfDB is developing codes and standards in the financial sector
aimed at addressing the problem, while the World Bank has developed a
governance and anti-corruption strategy.

In a 2004 report, the World Bank estimated that public officials worldwide
received more than USD1 trillion in bribes each year. In the UNECA 2005
African Governance Report (AGR), corruption ranked amongst the three topmost
national problems that were identified besides poverty and unemployment. In
countries like Cameroon, Morocco, Nigeria, and Tanzania, more than 25 per cent
of the households surveyed in the report indicated that corruption is a major
national problem. In all the 27 countries surveyed in the report, 35 per cent of the
expert panels assembled to discuss the challenges of governance took the view
that the Executive arm of government is corrupt. The police and judiciary were
severely indicted in the survey result as two of the most corrupt public
institutions. In the 2007 Transparency International Perception Index, out of the
52 African countries covered by the report, 36 scored below three, indicating a
high rate of corruption, while 14 scored between three and five, indicating that
corruption is perceived to be a serious problem. Only two African countries
scored above five, suggesting minimal levels of corruption.

While there may be consensus on the severity and consequences of corruption,
there is disagreement on how to understand its roots and dynamics, and on the
policy solutions for combating it. Amongst the theoretical explanations of the
problematic in the African context, the institutional, public choice and cultural
theories are easily the most prevalent. The institutional theory focuses on what it
considers as the weak institutional structures, processes and capacities of African
countries, arguing that Africa operates more through informal structures and
processes, with an ‘economy of affection’ that allows for flexible and
manipulative rules of political and economic transactions in which negotiations
through bribery are a major means of securing agreements, contracts and political
consent. The rule of law is feeble, the contract regime is weak, the judiciary is
incapacitated, procurement systems are compromised, public financial
management is weak, and oversight institutions are either in themselves havens of
corruption or ineffectual. Even when anti-corruption institutions exist, they mimic
a dysfunctional public sector. The recipe lies in building institutions and
invigorating them.

The public choice theory is rooted in the neo-liberal paradigm. According to this
perspective, the “over-bloated” nature of governments provides incentives for
corruption in which public officials, in the absence of restraining powers, behave
as rational actors who maximally exploit the system to their benefit. Policy
makers manipulate macroeconomic policies for pecuniary ends and promote
various forms of rent-seeking activities. As such, in order to combat corruption, a
wholesale restructuring of the state would be required, including measures aimed
at downsizing it and prosecuting second generation of neo-liberal reforms. Of
course, there is an affinity between the institutional and public choice theories:
Public officials exploit the system to their advantage because of weak restraining
institutions. Where the two approaches diverge is with regard to the policy
options they promote.

The cultural theory contends that embedded in Africa’s social structure - its
values, mores and social organization - are normative traits that are conducive for
corruption to thrive. The “traditional” mode of social relations, of kinship and the
extended family system encourages patron-client relations in which political
power is usually appropriated to benefit family, group and ethnic ties. Corruption
thrives in this social milieu. The Weberian capitalist culture of “modern” social
values of achievement, depersonalization and formalism in social interactions are
mostly absent in the public sphere in Africa. The solution that is proposed is that
Africa must “modernize” its traditional culture and social values to make them
conducive to social development and “good” governance.

In criticism of the institutional, public choice and cultural perspectives on the
sources and consequences of corruption, the neo-Marxist approach suggests that
the problem is a structural one embedded in the capitalist commodity production
process and the social relations woven around it. The unidirectional push for
profit, which constitutes the motive force of a capitalist system, generates rentseeking
behaviours of various kinds and promotes a Machiavellian approach to
general economic transactions. Underhand or more subtle corrupt practices
constitute a locomotive force of the system. However, within the context of global
capitalist hegemony, the neo-Marxist paradigm receives little or no attention or
interrogation in intellectual and policy discourse on corruption issues.
The issue of corruption requires a critical, nuanced and historicized analysis,
which takes on board the trajectory of Africa’s development experience, the
political and ideological context, the institutional, social, cultural and political
forces, the conflicts and contradictions in global development encounters, and
Africa’s place in the global economy. In other words, the corruption question
could benefit from more innovative theoretical/conceptual perspectives and policy
interventions that could provide a more comprehensive basis for understand its
basis, dimension, impact and consequences. The proposed conference is an
invitation for the pursuit of this need for innovative and imaginative thinking for
effective policy-making and meaningful advocacy.

Objectives of Conference:

- Promote knowledge generation and knowledge sharing on corruption as a
major governance issue;
- Review and critique extant theoretical paradigms on corruption, especially
from the perspectives of institutions and culture, and facilitate a better
understanding of the problematic in the African context;
- Assess the manifestations and dimensions of corruption in Africa;
- Locate the historicity, contexts, and dynamics of corruption in Africa;
- Review existing international, regional and sub-regional frameworks for
combating corruption and their efficacy;
- Identify best practices in anti-corruption programmes at the local, national
and international levels; and
- Engender new policy orientations for combating corruption in Africa.

Conference Sub-themes for Papers:

- Conceptual and theoretical approaches to corruption in Africa
- History, social structure, culture, and corruption in Africa
- Leadership and corruption in Africa
- Institutions, state capacity and corruption (Parliament, civil service,
judiciary, executive, police and local governments)
- Civil society and corruption
- Poverty, social inequality, and corruption
- Globalization, multinational corporations and corruption
- Experiences of national anti-corruption institutions and programmes
- Money laundering networks, assets repatriation and foreign banks,
institutions and governments
- International development partners, the aid regime and corruption in
- Evolving international, regional and sub-regional frameworks and
mechanisms on anti-corruption in Africa.

October 10 2008