One turnaround story to watch in Africa these days is Gambia. Three years ago, the small West African state ousted a corrupt regime. It has since greatly improved its democratic governance. In a new survey by Transparency International, more than half of Gambians say their government is doing a good job in the fight against corruption. By contrast, more than half of all Africans say corruption is getting worse in their country.
“After 22 years of patrimonial rule, where the misuse of state resources was normal, Gambians seem to have placed their trust on their new democratically elected representatives, who have vowed to uphold political integrity and deliver results for ordinary citizens,” concludes Transparency International.
Gambia’s relative success helps break the myth that corruption in Africa is endemic. In fact, the same survey reveals this note of progress: 53% of Africans believe ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption.
The few African countries doing well against corruption, such as Gambia and Mauritius (which has the lowest bribery rate) can serve as role models. Yet other factors, such as new digital watchdog tools and a rising middle class, also account for the new optimism that individuals can bring about honest and accountable leadership.
The most important factor is integrity in the election process. Only 41% of citizens are satisfied with how democracy works in their country. The survey found 15% of Africans have been offered a financial incentive to vote for a particular party or candidate.
Still, says Richard Jurgens, editor of Africa in Fact, Africans’ approval of their leaders has slightly increased over the past 20 years. He cites better economies, internet activism, and urbanization as reasons. These trends compel citizens to ask questions about the motives of officials. They expose “cracks in leadership capabilities, the quality of public administration, inconsistencies in the rule of law and breaches of basic liberties,” he writes.
Africa is home to many of the world’s most corrupt nations. Yet “naming and shaming” countries or their leaders may not be enough. One alternative is to “name and frame” examples of success. Gambia is now one. The speed of its turnaround sends a message of a new moral norm. Just knowing what is both good and possible can motivate Africans to expect better of themselves and their leaders.