Battle against corruption failing across Africa, survey finds

A survey released Wednesday of Africans in 34 countries finds that nearly one-third had been forced to pay bribes over the previous year. Sierra Leoneans, pictured here waiting to vote in Freetown in November 2012, were among the most critical of their leaders' failure to bring about clean governance.
(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)
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A survey of 51,000 Africans in 34 countries found that nearly 1 in 3 had paid a bribe within the previous year to obtain a government document, get medical care or settle a problem with police, the Afrobarometer polling group reported Wednesday.

Results of the 20-month study made clear that despite many African governments proclaiming the fight against corruption to be a top priority, a majority of those questioned said their leaders were doing a bad job of it.

Police came in for the lowest ratings by the citizens they are supposed to protect, with 43% of respondents across the continent saying that most or all of their their law enforcement officers were corrupt. In Nigeria, distrust of police was cited by 78% of those surveyed, and the distrust in Kenya and Sierra Leone, at 69% for each, was the second-most pronounced among the respondents.


Sierra Leoneans also reported the highest rate of bribe-paying, with 63% telling Afrobarometer interviewers that at least once in the previous year they had to pay government officials to obtain a permit, license or customs document.

And the poorer the country, the more vulnerable are its citizens to authorities with their hands out, the survey found. Of those who reported having gone without food at times in the year prior to being questioned, 18% said they had had to find money to pay off an official obliged to provide them with a document or service. Among those who said they hadn’t gone hungry, 12% said they had paid a bribe at least once the previous year.

Governments have pledged to root out corruption, but their perceived failure to do so poses daunting risks for countries emerging from poverty or colonial rule because it contributes to dissatisfaction with democracy, say the authors of “Governments Falter in Fight to Curb Corruption: The People Give Most a Failing Grade.”

While there were some improvements noted -- in Botswana and Malawi, for example -- the overall trend in Africans’ views of their leaders was negative, the study found, with 54% of respondents rating their governments as corrupt, up 8 percentage points from the 46% recorded a decade ago.

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Twitter: @cjwilliamslat