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Paul Clark Investment Manager

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African politics shakes off the blight of corruption

16 Aug 2018
A global survey by Transparency International earmarks political parties and elected representatives as most corrupt, based on perceptions. They are closely followed by police. Could this viewpoint be changing across Africa as we see the political careers of some of the continent’s longest-serving leaders coming to an end?

Throughout most of 2017 the four longest-serving rulers in the world (except for royalty, of course) were from Africa. By the end of the year one of these strongmen, Jose Eduardo dos Santos from Angola, had stepped down and another, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, had been forced to resign. These men had ruled their respective countries for 38 and 37 years and their incumbencies had been characterised by allegations of corruption, especially in their latter years.
Although South Africa limits its presidents to two five-year terms, the administration under President Jacob Zuma had also become tainted with a level of corruption dubbed state capture. Under pressure from the ruling ANC party, Zuma resigned in February 2018 and was replaced by ANC leader, Cyril Ramaphosa.

In Botswana we witnessed another peaceful and orderly transfer of power as President Ian Khama stepped down after 10 years in office, the maximum period allowed under the country’s constitution, and handed the reins to his former Vice-President, Mokgweetsi Masisi, on 1 April 2018.

Liberia faced a test of its constitution recently when the first elected president after its two civil wars, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, came to the end of her two six-year terms. Elections were held in the last quarter of 2017 and, in January 2018, President George Weah, the former professional football playerturned- politician, was sworn in.

Except in Botswana, which has a very low corruption score based on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2017, these changes have heralded in hopes of significant improvements, greater levels of governance and reduced corruption. As an indication of how strongman politics has dominated the African political landscape, these changes have been widely celebrated in spite of the fact that, in most cases, the appointment of a new leader has not been accompanied by a change in the ruling party. Nonetheless the reactions have been profound: In South Africa, the relief at the end of the Zuma administration has been called ‘Ramaphoria’ and in Zimbabwe the population celebrated in the streets when Mugabe’s resignation was announced.

Bold steps

In an encouraging development, these new leaders have been quick to move against corruption once in power. Although Angolan President Joao Lourenco was handpicked by his predecessor, he didn’t waste any time replacing leaders in key sectors across the Angolan economy, including the diamond and oil sector where he sacked the former president’s daughter as head of the staterun oil company. Lourenco also replaced the heads of the central bank, police and military intelligence, seemingly tearing up the pact he negotiated with Dos Santos.

In South Africa, the Gupta family, which has deep connections with the former president, were soon facing immense pressure following the change in leadership. Dawn raids on their homes and asset seizures by the police and state legal teams coincided with Zuma’s resignation. Some members of the family are now fugitives from the law and have fled the country.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe in November 2017, has allowed the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission to intensify its anti-graft drive, with some of the most corrupt former cabinet ministers being arrested.

With these positive changes to leadership and term limits becoming more entrenched across the continent it certainly seems as if a new dawn has arrived for African politics. The recent signing by African leaders of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) also signals a positive step forward in terms of political co-operation at an economic level. The CFTA envisages a single continental market for goods and services, which allows for the free movement of business persons and investments. Ultimately this paves the way for an African customs union. The further integration of the continent and increased influence of the African Union will certainly mean that more countries will be under pressure to improve governance and reduce corruption.

Warning lights

Of course, Africa isn’t a country and some areas of concern do persist. In Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda we have seen recent changes that have allowed political leaders to extend their terms of office and it must be noted that Cameroonian President Paul Biya continues to hold the dubious distinction of being the world’s longestserving leader, with almost 43 years at the helm.

Despite these warning lights, the continent as a whole is improving and becoming more democratic. If one considers the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU’s) extremely comprehensive Democracy Index (which considers 60 different indicators for each country), African nations have reduced their gap with the global average from 0.70 to 0.14 over the past eight years (see sidebar for more detail). The recent momentum of better government has not yet been factored into the latest EIU numbers, so this trend bodes well for the future.

On balance, it seems a new dawn has indeed arrived in Africa, and this trend is being driven by a flurry of positivity linked to improved political scenarios across the continent. 

Improving democracies

There is a rising sense that democracy is improving in Africa. This trend is aided by improved communication and a younger generation who hanker for better economic management. This perception is confirmed by The EIU, which publishes a comprehensive Democracy Index that rates 168 countries on a scale of 0 to 10. A country’s score is based on ratings for 60 indicators grouped in five categories: electoral process and pluralism; civil liberties; the functioning of government; political participation; and political culture.

In terms of this analysis, even countries that hold elections can be classified as ‘authoritarian regimes’ (yielding a score below four) if the environment is not regarded as conducive to fair vote taking place. African examples of this type of regime include Zimbabwe and Egypt.

The chart below shows the data for the last eight years, indicating the percentage of Africans living under each type of regime.

Governance regimes

Based on the EIU’s 2017 calculations, Mauritius – regarded as a full democracy - is Africa’s most democratic country, ranking 16th out of 168 countries, significantly ahead of the United States at 21. Cape Verde (25th), Botswana (28th), South Africa (41st) and Ghana (52nd) make up the rest of the top five African states. All are classified as ‘flawed democracies’.

It is important to note, however, that over the last eight years, the improvement in democracy across the continent means that less than 50% of Africans now live in authoritarian regimes, down from 74% in 2010. The average score is also improving for Africa, especially compared with the global average. Sadly half of the world’s 52 authoritarian regimes are still found in Africa, so there is still much work to be done.

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