Episode 20: Corruption

Daniel Kaufmann and Mushtaq Khan debate the role and importance of tackling corruption as part of a development strategy.

Daniel Kaufmann and Mushtaq Khan

Download transcript (pdf)

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Hi Owen: thanks. Listened right through, interesting enough. Now feel inadequate


Great debate and really important issue.

The main question that I have is whether the involvement of international actors (development banks, aid agencies, UN) is actually supporting and sustaining the kind of destructive rent-seeking that Mushtaq described. A recent book by Steve Berkman (Gods of Lending) is only the most recent contribution to this literature. How long would Mobutu have lasted if the aid community hadn’t continued to pour funds into Zaire?

This was a fascinating discussion – thanks to Dani, Mushtaq, and Owen. The real puzzle for me, and one that Mushtaq alluded to very briefly, is why some leaders within the developing world are more corrupt than others? Suharto, for example, is reported to having stolen more than Marcos but yet is credited with helping growth in Indonesia. And history and whatever else you want to throw as explanatory variables looks very similar in the two countries, and more so when these two leaders were in power. Corruption under Suharto may have ‘greased’ the wheels of capitalist transition in Indonesia but possibly clogged those same wheels in Philippines. Why?

This was an excellent and fascinating discussion. For me Khan came across as having a far deeper and subtler understanding of the historical complexities of corruption and economic transition than Kaufman, who kept misunderstanding Khan’s arguments and concepts and calling him ‘lofty’ when he couldn’t counter his arguments.

While it would be a lot simpler if we could just prescribe Kaufman’s ‘good governance’ recipe (or ‘share information’ about it as he misleadingly argues) Khan is right in arguing that the history of capitalist transition does not tell us that this will work. Structural market failures embedded in the particular political settlements are more fundamental to economic development, and general conclusions from econometric analysis on the role of good governance are thus often unhelpful.

I have just stumbled over this interesting site. Having gone through few submissions made by development strategists, like Danny, Mushtaq and Owen on this subject, I am convinced about the place of the ideas, which dominated this web publication in my life course, as a student of Sociology of Comparative Development Strategies. To say the least, I hailed from Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa; very irritating, one of the richest in both material and human resources in the continent, but one of the most corrupt and poorest countries on earth. However, the 2007 UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI), which was released in 2009, recently favours Nigeria as a Medium Human Development and 158th of the 182 countries with the required data. This new ranking of Nigeria is incredible, seeing that for the past 20 years she has been vegetating on Low Income/Medium Low Income countries. Back to the theme of discourse, it is true that some slices of corruption are not only inevitable, constructive and functional to rapid qualitative and quantitative development in places like USA, UK, Canada, Australia et cetera, but it is also certain that most corrupt practices in Afro-Asiatic region (with exception of Japan, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam), especially sub-Saharan Africa have been the mainstay and goalkeepers of sustainable poverty in the region after the collapse of naked colonial exploitation of the region’s resources. The substantial level of corruption in Nigeria coupled with the holistic damages, which colonialism emitted and the reigning imperialists and neocolonialists’ influences on the country are just tips of icebergs of the banes behind the growing poverty and invariably low ebb of development in Nigeria. For example, why are the developed countries accepting Nigerians, who cooked public treasuries to be lodging the booties (stolen public monies) in their (foreign) banks, let alone to allow them to invest the monies in foreign businesses? The foreign business warlords and their governments are themselves beneficiaries of corrupt practices of Nigerians. Beyond doubt, there is a great deal of global conspiracy between the internationally known Nigerian leaders, whose lives are soiled in all versions of corruption and the foreign beneficiaries of their ill-gotten and blood-oriented wealth on the issue of sustainable poverty in Nigeria! Most of these corrupt Nigerian guys have accounts in developed and some developing countries, but how many times has the United Nations, Commonwealth of Nations, African Union or any development partner, including the demi-god of development USA repatriate the colossal wealth, which these corrupt leaders harboured in foreign lands or their regions? Until these are strictly enforced, correlation will continue to exist between corruption and poverty. To be candid, any developmental success, which is recorded in Nigeria is purely an accident, hence its sustainability will forever be in limbo.

While conceding not to have heard all of the recording, I have heard enough to arouse interest.

I have ‘found my way’ to these forums through my interest in the Millennium project, and through that to interest in FBOs, of particular relevance to me as I am a missionary in – what transpires from this recording to be one of the most corrupt of the world’s countries.

One omission of the commentators in reference to this issue seems to be to linguistics. It is apparent to me that a major causative factor in certain African corruption is language. That is, the West brings its proposals as to what to do that are shrouded in the ‘mysteries’ of Western languages. The economic equation is such that the African-poor countries have no option but to say ‘yes’. They then go about implementing what they do not, and cannot understand, so inevitably implement in a ‘corrupt’ way. I strongly suspect that a scale of countries on 1. level of use of a non-indigenous language and 2. degree of dependence on outside aid (amount of control from outside) would correlate strongly with levels of corruption.

I am certainly not the only one to advocate the use of indigenous languages as a pre-requisite for ‘development’ (for example see BROCK-UTNE, BIRGIT, and HOLMARSDOTTIR, HALLA B., 2003, ‘Language Policies and Practices – some preliminary results from a research project in Tanzania and South Africa.’ 80-101 In: Brock-Utne, Birgit and Desai, Zubeida and Qorro, Martha, 2003, Language of Instruction in Tanzania and South Africa (LOITASA). Dar-es-Salaam: E and D Limited) – but have been surprised how little this is taken up elsewhere.

One commentator suggested that it is only the rich in the poor countries who are corrupt. This has not been my experience. A linguistic difficulty in say Anglophone Africa is of course that the population spends the prime years of their educational lives learning how to ‘speak right’ even in a context that is ‘not right’. Because overseas researchers these days often rely on material written by nationals in English, this removes them a further step from what is actually happening on the ground.

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