Why Africa should throw people in jail – quickly

PUBLISHED: Mon, 19 Feb 2018 18:49:33 GMT

There is an old joke that used to do the rounds from the lips of journalists in Africa that goes something like this.

President Robert Mugabe invites Kenya’s President Daniel arap Moi to Zimbabwe to show him the wonders of his country’s infrastructure.

“See that bridge?” says Mugabe. Yes says Moi.

Mugabe pats his pocket”

“Twenty per cent.”

The following week Moi invites Mugabe to Kenya and asks him to look across a river outside Nairobi with wretched poor people fording it in the rain.

“See that bridge?” says Moi.

“I see no bridge,” replies Mugabe.

“One hundred per cent,” says Moi with a pat of the pocket.

Now we laugh at these jokes because they’re funny and sadly because they have a ring of truth as they encapsulate the cost of corruption to Africa. It is the so called public servants who get the pleasure and the poor of Africa that get the blame. It is the people wading through a swollen river who pay the price of corruption. The people who profit from corruption usually spend their ill-gotten gains on houses they don’t live in and cars they don’t drive; at the expense of people who have neither.

That is why I was pleased when I heard the new South African president’s pledge to stamp out corruption in his back yard. He has an independent judiciary that will make it easier to get credible convictions to punish the guilty and encourager les autres.

Yet it’s going to be tough; Cyril Ramaphosa will have to see many of his comrades put behind bars in bruising, public, trials that are likely to open up wounds that will last a lifetime.

READ: Atul Gupta challenges South African asset freeze

Sign Up for Our Newsletter Daily Update

Get the best of CNBC Africa sent straight to your inbox with breaking business news, insights and updates from experts across the continent.
Get this delivered to your inbox, and more info about about our products and services. By signing up for newsletters, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Right now, many of the people of South Africa are behind Ramaphosa and are sick of the waste of their country’s coffers through corruption. Cyrilmania appears everywhere; it may be many a moon before we see the opposition give the president a standing ovation in Parliament.

Well that is my point. Time is the enemy of politicians who want to make decisive change. For Ramaphosa needs to push hard, while his stock is high, to see the prosecutions though and tighten the gaps to make sure corruption cannot happen. He could take a leaf out of neighbouring Botswana’s book if he wants a model of how to control tightly pubic funds. The leaf may come in triplicate and signed by three people – but that is how Botswana guards its public money.

Overall Ramaphosa needs to move fast before the forces of corruption can organise and fight back. Corruptors are cunning people, that is how they get away with it for so long.