Is small no longer beautiful? And Africa has a new star as global corruption ranking released

Big may be back in vogue, according to Transparency International's 2015 list, which for the continent is a bag of surprises.

FOR a long time, geographically speaking, Africa’s least corrupt countries have tended to be the small island nations—Cape Verde, Mauritius and Seychelles. 

The reasons offered for this have been varied—but the argument is that because of their small markets which deter investors they have to work hard to be more attractive, so they tend to have more honest governments, more open trade regimes and to be relatively more highly integrated with the global economy.

Because they also generally have smaller populations (Seychelles has just over 90,000), the state is also closely tied to society and those who make decisions are more likely to personally know who will be personally affected and think through their impact.

The United Nations Development Programme  has found that as a group, small island states are almost 40% richer than other states, although this is not homogenous—because of small populations, patronage politics are more likely to exist, for example.  

Continuing with this “tradition”, the three island states this year kept their place atop the rankings—along with Botswana and Rwanda – they are the continent’s least corrupt five nations, according to Transparency International’s latest  Corruption Perceptions Index.

The beauties fall

Furthering the argument, the smaller nations that were less under pressure from geography generally recorded a fall: Guinea-Bissau lost the biggest ground with an eight-point drop, while Lesotho dropped five and The Gambia six. 

But when compared with 2012, the base year for which data from the anti-graft watchdog is available in the report, second-placed Cape Verde actually lost six points over the four years.

In the same period, fifth-ranked Mauritius has fallen back four, while Seychelles has steadily dropped three points from its 2012 score.

One hundred points is the highest possible “clean” score on the ranking, while a score of zero denotes total corruption.

Data from the World Economic Forum has also  drawn a correlation with land area—the smaller a country is in terms of land mass, the less wasteful with resources its government tends to be, the argument being that bigger countries have more “cracks” to leak money.

And this might appear to be true— the larger countries of Angola, Tanzania, Libya also lost ground in 2015.

But beating back geographical determinism, countries with vast spaces were well represented in the top half of the ranking, including Botswana, which while actually losing four scoring points since 2012, remained the overall leader. 

Namibia, Zambia and surprisingly Mali and Niger performed well in reducing the space for politicians and officials to benefit privately from public resources. 

Botswana is also in a group of five land-locked countries in the top 15 least corrupt.

It suggests that while small island states tend to have a head start, at some stage their weaknesses start to catch up with them: diseconomies of scale, too many politicians per capita, smaller talent pools and taking long-term painful but beneficial decisions under less personal pressure are just some of them.   

A new star

The continent also has a new anti-corruption star: Senegal has since 2012 gained six points to its current position of 10th on the continent, after the West African country recently introduced a set of anti-corruption measures.

Fourth-ranked Rwanda also gained five points, the same as Namibia.

In another indicator of trends, Egypt has gained four points over the last four years, a period that encompassed the turbulent post-revolution years. Two other countries in the region with strong rulers—Algeria and Morocco—are also ranked in the top 20.

Burkina Faso, which translates loosely to “land of upright men”, also placed a healthy 13th as it takes stock of its own revolution, just pippingTunisia which is, seen as the North African country that has best consolidated the revolution. 

Further surprises come in the near wholesale low ranking of East Africa, with Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda all in the bottom 20.

Central Africa also ranked poorly, but this could in part be traced to the lingering effects of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and the Central African Republic.

Despite a new start under president Muhammad Buhari, Nigeria remained constant, moving only one point last year to attain a global position of 135th, and 37th on the continent.

Another “sweep-clean” new leader, Tanzania’s John Magufuli, will also have his work cut out as the country has notably tumbled five points in the last four years to place 117th globally.

For watchers of South Africa, perceptions of both grand and petty corruption have shot up in recent years, but the country has largely maintained its ranking since 2012. 

The continent’s richest economy held steady at 44 points in the last two years, with criticism more likely to centre more on the lack of improvement.

Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Angola and Libya prop up the African ranking and all fall in the bottom seven globally, interrupted only by North Korea and Afghanistan. 

Overall 40 of the 46 countries ranked in the region by Transparency International have a “serious corruption problem, the organisation said.

The rule of law and justice are the poorest performing indicators for the region, while the best was that of transparency in financial management, the Berlin-headquartered organisation said. 

“If corruption and impunity are to “be a thing of the past” as stated by the African Union in Agenda 2063, “The Africa We Want”, governments need to take bold steps to ensure rule of law is the reality for everyone,” Chantal Uwimana, the watchdog’s regional director for sub-Saharan Africa, said.

“Prosecuting corruption will restore faith among people who no longer believe in the institutions that are supposed to protect them.”

Globally Denmark, Finland and Sweden lead the pack.

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