Along with war, piracy, and chronic hunger, here’s another reason not to live in Somalia: corruption.
According to a new report released today by the Germany-based anti-corruption group Transparency International, Somalia ranks as the most corrupt country in the world. Its closest competition – Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Iraq – are either also mired in war, or run by military leaders.
The annual Corruption Perceptions Index highlights a truism among experts in development: Conflict creates the kinds of shortages and desperation that breed corruption, making ordinary citizens prey to government officials, shopkeepers, and rebel warlords. Corruption even works its way into the very institutions set up to alleviate suffering among non-combatants, such as peacekeepers and aid workers.
“These results signal that significantly greater efforts must go into strengthening governance across the globe," said Huguette Labelle, chair of Transparency International. “With the livelihoods of so many at stake, governments' commitments to anti-corruption, transparency, and accountability must speak through their actions.”
Not surprisingly, the loudest cries against corruption tend to come from business lobbyists and economic reformers, who argue that corruption punishes everyone by scaring away the investors who could possibly create jobs.
"It is widely acknowledged that corruption scares away foreign investment and development aid," Pino Arlacchi, Executive Director of the Vienna-based United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (ODCCP), was quoted as saying. "Obviously, it is wiser to invest in countries with more transparency, independent and well-regulated banks and strong court systems."
Yet it is the poor who suffer the most from corruption.
In India, for instance, a 1000-rupee bribe to get a new drinking-water connection effectively excludes poor people from access to drinking water. Overall, corruption in Africa costs the continent an estimated $150 billion, or 10 times the combined GDP of Ghana, Kenya, and Uganda.
For Somalia, where half of the population is dependent on foreign food aid shipments, corruption is arguably a form of mass murder.
According to preliminary report by a United Nations monitoring group in Somalia, up to half of all food aid meant for hungry people is siphoned by the warlords who control territory where most of the country’s displaced people live. The UN's World Food Programme, which handles logistics for getting that food into Somalia and to the displacement camps, disputes those numbers, however.
Whatever the real numbers, Somalis can ill afford to have food aid stolen. Two consecutive years of bad rains have left 2.6 million Somalis dependent on food aid for survival, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.