Corruption, Culture and National Development - An Interrogation of Africa’s Experience

Corruption, Culture and National Development - An Interrogation of Africa’s Experience

Dr. Paul Acquah-(Former Governor, Bank of Ghana)

Ph.D (Pennsylvania) MSc (Yale)  B.Sc(Ghana) 



The narrative about Africa’s development prospects has changed over the last decade, and it is now one of optimism; but not without an undertone of some skepticism. Recent growth rates and economic and social indicators show impressive progress and the benefits of years of economic reforms and engagement with development partners. However, low rankings in corruption-perception indicators in international surveys raise questions and concerns. Will corruption, weaknesses in institutions and governance diminish the capacity of governments to deliver improvements in well being for their citizens on a fair, equitable and sustained basis?

Corruption, once a matter for much whispering in private and public forums, is now at the centre of the development policy agenda for countries on the path of reform. It is prominent in research and discussions on governance and the role of the developmental state that some see in Africa.

Corruption is a global concern. But for Africa it is a critical issue of governance and arguably the x-factor, the toxin, in its economic performance. High Corruption is a flashing signal that something is wrong and there is an injustice. The use of public office for private benefit, and the prevalent violation of rules or norms of the society to gain private advantage can destroy the very fabric of society. Corruption takes a toll on the economy through various channels of decision making and economic and social interactions.

Africa’s development experience and position at the bottom of the corruption- perception scale after decades of nation building inevitably raise several questions. A fundamental one is what in the politics, economics, institutions and the norms fosters such high corruption? What foments persistent weak governance, limited accountability and transparency, and episodes of conflict that restrain progress and the possible achievement of development goals?

The lecture raises issues and questions, provocatively, whether Africa had a false start in nation building. The early years saw fierce competition for control and consolidation of political and economic power and redistributive policies. Would this have set the pattern of abuse of public trust and rent seeking behavior that has become embedded in the management of public affairs? Some of the many forms of corrupt practices occurring in secrecy and not disclosed in daily life, and public perceptions are considered. It is to underline the manner in which corruption can influence public attitudes and behaviour, and shape the economic environment. Furthermore, gleaning from the experience with anti-corruption initiatives elsewhere in the world, there is a conclusion that corruption is a complex and potentially intractable problem and an enormous challenge for policy-makers to fight.

Economic transformation is the grand vision that inspires African institutions and cooperation for prosperity, peace and security. That vision should mean breaking the cycle of high corruption and low growth and locking into the virtuous dynamics of a sustainable low- corruption high –growth environment. It is better to stay on the path of economic efficiency and a level playing field. It starts with a credible commitment to pursuing, with good faith and rigour, an effective anti-corruption policy embedded in law and practice as a central pillar of a comprehensive development strategy. It needs to be well aligned with the values and rules of the society with broad popular support. The voice of the citizenry can be a powerful force for change and sustainable development.


Dr. Paul Amoafo Acquah is a former Governor of the Bank of Ghana. He served for two four-year terms ending September 2009 and as the Chairman of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee. He was Chairman of the Committee of Governors of the Central Banks of Ecowas Member States from 2005 to 2008 under the Regional Monetary Integration and Cooperation arrangement. He served as a member of the Principles Consulting Group for the Principles of Stable Capital Flows and Fair Debt Restructuring in Emerging Markets established under the Institute of International Finance (IFF), Washington, DC. He was also a member of an expert group of External Advisors appointed for the study on structural policy issues for the 2014 Triennial Review of Surveillance (IMF).

Prior to his appointment as Governor, Dr. Acquah was Deputy Director in the African Department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He exercised responsibility for, and general oversight of operational work on African countries, including policy advice and program design, and relations with institutions and donors and creditors. He rose through the ranks after joining as an economist and led Fund negotiating missions to several African countries, and handled several complex cases such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo  (formerly Zaire), Nigeria, Zambia, and regional consultations with the BEAC (the Central Bank of the Central African States). He served as Assistant Director in charge of consultation practices and exchange systems surveillance in the   Exchange and Trade Relations Department (now Strategy, Policy and Review Department).

During his period as Governor, Dr Acquah received numerous awards, including the Emerging Markets African Central Bank Governor of the year 2005, the Banker’s African Central Bank Governor of the year 2007, and the African Banker awards Central Banker of the year for 2008, and a special honour in 2007 as the Innovative Financial Regulator by the Corporate Initiative Ghana for transformative policies in Ghana’s financial sector. Additionally, in July 2007 he was conferred the National Honour of Member of the Order of the Star of Ghana.

Dr. Acquah holds a B. Sc (Hon) in Economics from the University of Ghana, Legon, a Masters’ degree in Economics from Yale University and Ph. D in Economics from University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Economics. He was awarded a degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, by the University of Ghana in August, 2008. He is a graduate of St. Augustine’s College, Cape Coast.


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