Earth & Conservation

Can Africa Overcome Its Corruption Problem?

In 2015, six African countries were listed as some of the world's most corrupt countries. So how can the continent curb corruption?

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The phrase is well worn, but the meaning behind it hasn't dulled.

Corruption is a problem worldwide. Bribery, embezzlement, extortion, graft and other abuses of power cost the equivalent of 5 percent of global GDP, or $2.6 trillion, with $1 billion alone paid in bribes every year, according to the Organization for the Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (PDF).

So what exactly can be done to curb corruption?

Corruption not only often comes out of poverty, but also thrives on it, which is why some of the world's poorest countries are also listed among the most corrupt in the 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International. The average GDP per capita of the top five countries on Transparency International's list is around $838.

WATCH VIDEO: How Corrupt Is South Africa?

Somalia, the most corrupt country on Earth, has a GDP per capita of just $145. Six of the top 10 countries in the 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index are in sub-Saharan Africa, a part of the world that has historically struggled with both corruption and poverty.

One potential antidote to systemic corruption is education, both in terms of general ed as well as teaching about government abuses to encourage social and cultural change. One study, conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank, of 30,000 students in Latin America found that those with more civic education were both less likely to tolerate corruption and less likely to break the law themselves.

Technology offers another possible avenue to crack down on corruption. Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum spotlighted a number of different technologies to aid in the fight against corruption, including data mining, mobile applications and various forensic tools. If people are the root of corruption, certainly taking them out of the equation and replacing them with machine or applications could be a step in the right direction.

Of course a $2.6 trillion global problem isn't going to have an overnight solution. But with corruption and poverty going hand-in-hand, any positive impact on one will surely affect the other.

-- Talal Al-Khatib

Special thanks to our partners at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at the UC Berkeley. Make sure to check out some of the incredible work on their website.

Learn More:

Transparency: CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS: INDEX 2015

Blum Center for Developing Economies: Do Higher Salaries Lower Petty Corruption?

UNDP: Building on Evidence: Corruption a Major Bottleneck to MDG Achievements