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By Valencia Talane

Malawian president Joyce Banda attributes her lessons on successful leadership to the late former South African president Nelson Mandela. Her journey to becoming the first female president and chair of the Southern African Development Community was influenced by Mandela’s courage, determination, love and passion for his people.

Banda, Malawi’s first female president, faces growing dissent from her countrymen who demand accountability from her government for millions of dollars lost to corruption under her watch. Although Banda fired her entire Cabinet late in 2013 after details of the Cashgate scandal surfaced through a forensic report she commissioned, it is her country’s donor-dependent economy that will feel the pinch of the corruption for a long time to come.

“I learned [from Mandela] that leadership is about… serving the people with selflessness, with sacrifice and with the need to put the common good ahead of personal interests,” said Banda at the statesman’s funeral in Qunu, Eastern Cape in December last year. 

Malawi’s Cashgate is a scandal in which about $32-million of Malawian state funds was allegedly stolen by government officials – it remains unaccounted for. A forensic investigation found that the money was looted in just six months between April and October 2013, during Banda’s second year in term.

It is, however, not the only African democracy facing the serious problem of corruption. In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma faces public scrutiny over the inflated costs of security upgrades at his private home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal. Taxpayers footed a R246-million bill for the upgrades and some residential upkeep that was – according to public protector Thuli Madonsela – unwarranted and deserving of recompense.

Is there hope for African countries, particularly in the south of the continent, in their corruption fight?

Some shining lights on the continent

Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index places Botswana ahead of its regional counterparts as the least corrupt country in Africa. The country’s score on the index has improved over the past two years from 65 in 2012 to 64 in 2013, ranking 30 out of 177 countries surveyed. At the bottom of the list of 177 countries, Somalia struggles to achieve a good score, while Zimbabwe holds the lowest position in the Southern African region.

South Africa and Malawi ranked 72 and 91 respectively in the 2013 index.

Botswana has a policy for its parliamentarians: they are not barred from receiving gifts from members of the public or private companies, but once the value of the gift exceeds the capped amount stipulated in the policy, it must not only be declared, but filed as a gift for the government entity for which that individual is in charge, so that it’s not only the individual who benefits.

Policies such as this one are drawn in good faith and with good intentions, usually to ensure transparency and accountability. But policies alone are not enough to drive a whole nation’s anti-corruption strategy.

Senior government officials getting away with misdeeds

A recent article on the Africa Report questioned the role played by members of parliaments across Africa. A 2012 Afrobarometer survey, quoted in the article, cited a 69% view amongst the public that parliamentarians, not presidents, should make the laws. The survey was conducted in 12 countries across the continent.

Lack of accountability by government leadership remains a sore point in most of the public accounts shared in the survey. In the case of Malawi, it was junior public servants who were arrested in relation to the corruption, while the ministers directly fingered in the forensic report commissioned by Banda have not spent a single day in court.

Zuma is in a similar situation to Banda. His popularity has gradually dropped in recent years. An opinion poll released in December shows the dissatisfaction of supporters of his party, the ANC, with his leadership. Zuma’s perceived unwillingness to hold errant senior government officials – some of them ministers in his Cabinet – accountable for wrongdoing, despite his repeated denouncements of corruption in the public sector, is one of the main reasons for the discontent. 

He was interviewed by veteran journalist Dan Moyane on eNCA and Zuma opened up about his part in the Nkandla process: “No president asks that question,” he responded after he was asked whether or not he had enquired about the details of the upgrades.

“When I was appointed the deputy president, many things were imposed on me. You don't ask. You don't debate. You're told.” He was referring to his tenure as deputy to former president Thabo Mbeki which ended in 2005 when Mbeki fired him. Zuma had been implicated in the corruption trial of his former financial advisor Schabir Shaik and charges later drawn against him that were dropped in 2009 by the National Prosecuting Authority.

Governments under fire

Just like South Africa, Malawi goes to the polls in May – it is the citizens who will determine their credibility rating for their existing governments through their votes. South Africa seems to be in need of a strategy to fix the problem of wasteful expenditure within government, which was put at an alarming figure of R30-billion by the 2012/13 auditor-general’s report.

In a 2012 interview with The Guardian, given several months after she took office, Banda had this to say about her plans for her country: “In five years’ time, I would like to see a Malawi where people can speak freely, human rights are respected, there is no corruption, no nepotism.”

Now, almost two years into her term, calls for her resignation make headlines in her country and internationally. Nyasa Times reported in February that civil society organisations have even gone as far as demanding that the Malawi Electoral Commission disqualify Banda as a candidate for the upcoming election by virtue of her refusing to step down after Cashgate.



South Africa and Malawi share a number of common factors. Both became republics in the early 1960s, both put new Constitutions into place in the 1990s, both had their first multi-party elections in 1994, both go to the polls this month for general elections – and the leaders of both countries are caught up in corruption scandals.
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