- As this year's Corruption Perceptions Index was released, several of the last years' shamed countries such as Nigeria and Kenya are moving up the ladder as the still very small confidence in them is growing. Guinea Conakry, surveyed for the first time, takes over Africa's bottom place. Botswana, while declining, keeps Africa's top position. Most importantly, Africa does not dominate the bottom anymore.
The Berlin-based anti-graft organisation Transparency International (TI) today released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index - the world's leading reference to the different level of corruption in states around the globe. With its high publicity and the many references made to TI's index, governments are highly aware of avoiding bad publicity by being ranked low, which automatically leads to decreased investments.
Equally, joy is great when TI gives a positive assessment of the graft environment in whatever country. As has become a tradition, Botswana's presidential spokesman Jeff Ramsay uses the occasion to release a statement underlining that "Botswana once more been rated as the least corrupt country in Africa and among the world's least corrupt countries by TI." Botswana had even been placed "above twenty-one states in Europe included in the survey, including eleven of the member states of the European Union," Mr Ramsay proudly pointed out.
For Botswana, the TI ranking is important PR to achieve a continuous positive image among foreign investors. Being a small and relatively little known African country, one is automatically associated to poor governance and corruption, making the annual occasion an important one for the Gaborone presidency. No wonder than, that Mr Ramsay avoids mentioning that Botswana is slipping from a confidence score of 5.9 (where 10.0 is the best and 0.0 the worst) last year to 5.6 this year.
But it is not only Botswana that is making a positive show on TI's index among African countries. South Africa is also far above average, at a 4.6 points score, making small but notable advances from year to year. Jumping most quickly is Mauritius, from 4.2 last year to 5.1 this year, surpassing South Africa and closing onto Botswana. Mauritius was already known as one of Africa's least corrupt countries, and government efforts to fight the evil have shown results.
And it is exactly government policies that affect the changes in rating, which are so important for national prestige and investments. During the last year, several of those African countries ranked very low by TI have made considerable progress through aggressive anti-graft policies. The most famous cases are Nigeria - with heavy-handed actions by its Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) - and Kenya, which is rolling up the Anglo-Leasing and related scandals.
At least for Nigeria, this dedicated policy translates into greater confidence. Last year, Africa's most populous country was on 152nd place - out of 158 - gathering a score of only 1.9. This year, Nigeria is moving quickly upwards from the quagmire to 142nd place - now out of 163 - with a score of 2.2. While one still cannot speak of confidence, there is at least optimism that the cancer of corruption is being treated.
Kenya is moving upwards at a very much slower paste - from 2.1 till 2.2 - and has now been caught up with by Nigeria. The promise of President Mwai Kibaki to heavily fight corruption was believed in his first year of governance, thus resulting in fast advances, but confidence is now only slowly improving.
Also others of the African bottom lights are slowly progressing. The notoriously corrupt regimes of Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire have moved slowly upwards the ladder, following reforms that promote transparency. Not even in Equatorial Guinea, Dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema is able to continue his former policy of keeping budgets secret to fill his own pockets.
This year's TI index also includes several African countries that had not been indexed earlier, and that make a more positive entry than had been expected. Newcomers include Gabon, which is rated 90th with a score of 3.0, despite decades of poor governance that the Omar Bongo regime now is reacting to. Further, Mauritania enters 84th with 3.1 points and both Togo and the Central African Republic enter at 130th with a 2.4 points' score.
Given the positive trends, for the first time in many years, the bottom of the TI index is no longer dominated by African states. Last year, the world's most corrupt country was Chad, with a score of only 1.7, which now has moved up several places to a score of 2.0. Before that, Nigeria held the shameful position for several years. This year, it is the American country Haiti, followed by Asia's Burma and Iraq.
Only one newcomer shames the African list of states on the TI index. Guinea joins Burma and Iraq with a confidence score of only 1.9 on the second last place. The Conakry government of ailing President Lansana Conté is famed for not engaging in reforms while a power struggle over the presidential succession is unfolding. Guinea's failure to address corruption, poor government and lack of transparency has cost it bitterly, with the IMF and development agencies shying away from Conakry.
While it generally seems that Africa at large is moving away from the worst distortions of corruption, there are of course negative exceptions. Countries as Sudan and Congo Kinshasa (DRC) are moving slowly towards the bottom. And well-reputed Seychelles is the fastest sinker on this year's index. The island nation has been falling since the government of President James Michel came to power, from 48th place in 2004 to 63rd place this year.
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