Why corruption is holding Africa back

Story highlights

  • A new report has found that over half of Africans think corruption is increasing
  • Transparency International says 75 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa paid a bribe in 2014

(CNN)If you live in Liberia, arranging to see a doctor might unfortunately not be as simple as booking an appointment.

Seven out of 10 people in the country say they have had to pay bribes to access basic services like healthcare and schooling, according to Transparency International, a global watchdog.
    This number is the highest in Africa, but in the latest poll -- which the NGO conducted with Afrobarometer, an organization which publishes surveys on African governance -- 58% of people said they thought bribery was increasing.

    "Poverty and exclusion"

    "Corruption creates and increases poverty and exclusion. While corrupt individuals with political power enjoy a lavish life, millions of Africans are deprived of their basic needs like food, health, education, housing, access to clean water and sanitation," said José Ugaz, chair of Transparency International, in a statement.
    The NGO estimates that around 75 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa have paid a bribe in the past year. The poor fare the worst -- they are twice as likely as the richest in the region to have had to make payoffs according to the report.
    "This might be because poor people feel powerless to stand up against a corrupt official, or because rich people use their connections to avoid paying such bribes," says Coralie Pring, corruption surveys research coordinator at Transparency International.
    The police and courts -- institutions which exist to safeguard citizen's rights -- are seen as the most corrupt, with over a quarter of those who had dealings with them saying that they had paid a bribe.
    "When coming into contact with the police, more than a quarter of people told us that they needed to bribe either to get assistance from the officer, or to avoid a problem like passing a checkpoint or avoid a fine or arrest, which is further evidence that graft is undermining the rule of law and allows people to get away unpunished for their crimes," says Pring.

    One in five

    Nearly one in five Africans paid bribes to obtain official documents, and access to medical care is sometimes negotiated through an unofficial fee, gift or favor.
    The survey, which polled over 43,000 people in 28 Sub-Saharan countries, also found that half or more of those who paid bribes did so multiple times a year.
    "Corruption is the single biggest threat to Africa's growth," says Ali Mufuruki, CEO of Tanzania's Infotech Investment Group and member of the International Monetary Fund's Group on sub-Saharan Africa.
    "The solution lies in good, ethical leadership, strong and enforceable laws against corruption, severe sanctions for corruption crimes underpinned by a national culture of promoting ethics from family to national level, "he adds.
    Most governments are seen as not doing enough to combat the problem, but citizens of the continent's biggest economies expressed the most pessimistic outlook. In South Africa more than four-in-five people said they have seen corruption rise recently and in Nigeria the figure stands at 75%. However the two countries have diverse bribery levels -- South Africa stands at just 7% while Nigeria is at 43% according to Transparency International.

    Encouraging signs

    It's not all doom and gloom. In Mauritius and Botswana only 1% of public service users say that have paid an official off, which is on a par with low bribery rate countries in Europe and North America.
    The report also highlights the example of Senegal which created a National Office for the Fight against Fraud and Corruption, and passed a law in April 2014 which requires elected officials to declare their assets.