South Africa takes aim at corruption

Tuesday, President Mbeki fired his deputy, Jacob Zuma, amid evidence that he took bribes.

High-level corruption - or at least the appearance of it - was dealt a blow in South Africa Tuesday when President Thabo Mbeki sacked his second in command, Deputy President Jacob Zuma, amid strong evidence that Mr. Zuma had taken bribes.

Zuma's firing comes at a time of increased graft-fighting efforts across Africa - and with the issue of corruption looming large. Rich nations like the US and Britain are preparing to pour billions of new dollars into fighting poverty on the continent, contingent on good governance by the recipients.

To be sure, corruption is still widespread: On Transparency International's global corruption index, 18 of the 50 worst nations are in Africa. But outside pressure and homegrown transparency efforts are making a difference.

As South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it in a recent speech about how graft threatens the desire of rich nations to help the continent: "I think most of Africa is aware that we are on the line, as it were."

• In South Africa, Mr. Mbeki's dramatic announcement came in a special speech to parliament: "Circumstances dictate that, in the interest of ... the government, our young democratic system, and our country, it would be best to release the honorable Jacob Zuma from his responsibilities."

The firing came six days after former Zuma adviser Scha-bir Shaik was sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption, including paying Zuma about $178,000 in violation of antigraft laws. Zuma hasn't been charged.

The move means Mbeki won't have to answer questions about high-level corruption in his African powerhouse nation at next month's G-8 summit, where aid to Africa will top the agenda. Critics of the G-8 plans argue that Africa's elites will skim much of the new money.

• Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo's recent anticorruption campaign has led to the sacking of several senior officials, although no big players have been prosecuted.

On Transparency International's index, Nigeria is the world's third-worst nation, behind only Haiti and Bangladesh.

• Kenya's government is apparently investigating 18 of 20 suspect officials fingered in a dossier presented to it by the British ambassador.

Donor nations estimate Kenya has lost $1 billion to corruption in the past three years.

There are bad examples, too: Charges against an ally of Zambia's president were recently dropped in what critics say is a case of the president covering for a friend. The former Health Ministry official had been accused of diverting AIDS-drug money for personal use.

But the corruption culture is abating, argues Cobus de Swardt of Transparency International in Berlin.

That's partly because of Mbeki's pet project, the New Partnership for Africa's Development, which does "good governance" audits of willing nations. There's also antigraft pressure from the African Union. "The major anticorruption forces are coming from within Africa," Mr. de Swardt says, "and governments are starting to say, 'Enough is enough.' "

Wire-service material was used in this report.

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