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Before we condemn Africa as the black sheep of the world, it is important to understand the international dimension of conflicts on the continent and examine Western rationales that drive it. I have no sympathy for African despots; treasuries are treated as a personal piggy bank, public officials take bribes and elections are rigged. This is publicly known. This opinion acknowledges a strong interface between corruption and conflict. Nonetheless, for a number of reasons, this relationship must be understood within the continuing context of geopolitics.
There is a concerning trend in sub-Saharan Africa of the internationalisation of internal armed conflicts, including civil wars. Over the past decade, the region has become fertile terrain for geopolitical competition among great powers and for further penetration by middle powers.


For instance, 12 so-called internationalised-internal conflicts (civil wars with external intervention by a State) were recorded in the two decades between 1991 and 2010. In the following 11-year period (2011–21), 27 such conflicts were recorded. Most of these conflicts were recurring. In 2021, there were 17 internationalised civil wars in sub-Saharan Africa; more than twice the number of internal conflicts without external intervention. Most African States have lost the capacity to decide when they wage or end wars, and recurring rebellion and large-scale banditry now define a State of chronic instability and insecurity rather than war. And yet wars may be intentionally prolonged by belligerents through corrupt practices related to defence contracts and through corruption. That conflict and insecurity can cause corruption is common knowledge. And while the link between African conflicts and international actors is only slowly starting to unravel, it remains less obvious how those States that are involved in conflicts in Africa can maintain their places high on the list of clean countries on indexes such as the CPI.

Western States involved in African conflicts have earned higher ranking statuses on the CPI. The United States, United Kingdom, France and Italy were perceived favorably in the CPI. Some scholars believe the CPI, although presented with an aura of impartiality and ostensibly as an apolitical project, masks a series of deep and abiding controversies and debates relating to the proper place of social and cultural factors in the international anti-corruption industry.


Beyond the controversies and critical discourse of the CPI, the second factor key to understanding the reason Africa is perceived as the most corrupt continent is found in the notion of conflict itself. While this year’s CPI report treats conflict as a time-bound rapture, it does not look at the deep and complex political and historical roots of conflict. For instance, how the absence of corruption on the rebelling side can foster its capacity and popular support (for example, the Eritrean Tigray People’s Liberation Front at its beginning). Nor does it take into consideration conflict between those enjoying the status quo and those who want reforms. An example would be the ongoing backlash against French soldiers in Mali and Burkina Faso, which can also be understood as an antidote to corruption given that six decades have passed since most of France’s African colonies gained their independence. And yet France has intervened militarily more than 50 times on the continent, including dispatching troops to protect dictators.

The principal contention of this opinion is that if the dynamics that produced conflict and insecurity in Africa are poorly understood, creating a distorted narrative of the corruption-conflict nexus that relegates the role of international actors to the background, may in turn limit and skew the range of policies imagined to be necessary to address the problem.
Grounding the fight against corruption in such misconceptions would be one way of helping to push the scepticism against corruption measurement indices. And that the leading instrument for asserting the state of corruption or non-corruption, the CPI, should be subjected to scholarly scrutiny, deconstruction and critical analysis. There is an urgent need to decolonize the anti-corruption policy and the so-called anti-corruption industry.

Prosper Maguchu

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