Monday, January 17, 2011

Corruption Studies.

So, I was linking from the Beeb in my last post and I noticed another link in the sidebar. It's an interesting to investigate the relationship between voting habits and general malfeasance.

Not to be cynical or anything, but why on earth would general elections directly and permanently affect something as deeply embedded in our social system as corruption? Patronage and "borrowing" public goods is a way of life for us, as burdensome and inescapable as the rules that govern our wedding planning committees and our propensity to garland new graduates in Christmas tinsel. It's not like we can conjure a clean government out of thin air and stick them in the corridors of power (where their morality is likely to decay anyways). Because the new government would be made up of Tanzanians and we like to keep our ethics loose and easy.

I would contend that corruption per se, while immensely annoying, isn't really why most of us are pissed off at the government. The chafe, the burn comes from observing inequality which is aided in no small part by the growth of our economy. Someone somewhere at one time or another told us we are all entitled- entitled!- to "development" and prosperity. Schools, roads, fair wages and straight roads, western medicine, the works. Heh. As Tanzania discovers more and more ways to exploit her natural and human resources, she's also discovering all the classic methods of avoiding redistribution: dodgy contracts, overpaid politicians, a shameful lack of public accountability, obfuscating language, brown-envelope journalism, pyramid schemes, briefcase NGOs, the bottomless pit of donor funds, our predatory Tanzania Revenue Authority...

Man, in the 1980s and early 1990s when no one had anything of course we got along well. Nyerere did get that right as rain: across-the-board poverty makes for excellent social cohesion. No one was going to snitch on the one person in the street who had a TV/VCR because we'd all go there to get news of the world/watch smuggled tapes of The Cosby Show.

These days Tanzanians are learning that it's hard to love thy neighbor when thy neighbor has managed to accumulate enough money to be oppressively rich while you flail around in your maze of economic destitution lamenting every rise in the price of petrol. Does it matter to you if thy neighbor's money was earned legitimately? No, because the socialist hangover means that we don't believe in such a thing as legitimate wealth. Besides, until TV and edutainment came along there was a certain element of invisibility to our inequality. Now we can watch each other and simmer with resentment. And the downside is, that socialist hangover has given us a sense of entitlement that is stupendous in its scope. No one milks a relative/slight acquaintance/complete stranger with less shame than a Tanzanian. Many of us believe that actually working for your money is an oppressively bourgeois capitalist exploitative concept. Squish the rich, let us all languish in egalitarian mediocrity seems to be the underlying philosophy.

Here's a bit of fun. Next time you are sitting next to someone who is frothing at the mouth about corruption, ask them politely when was the last time they bribed a traffic cop/bought goods that "fell off the truck" at Shoprite or Game, got an obscenely lucrative contract or job because their uncle's cousin's sister's best friend was in the selection committee... and watch the diatribe fizzle out. We're all in the mix somehow, complicit to the teeth and guilty as charged. It's a particularly fun game to play with civil servants, by the way :) No one squirms harder than a Tanzanian government employee deflecting insinuations of dirty deeds...

There is an obvious cure for corruption actually. We could all live a little more ethically and stop blaming the nebulous "They" for our troubles. The cumulative effects would probably be quite radical. But thousands of years of religion, philosophy and politics haven't managed to iron out the kinks of human nature and social competition so... maybe science will manage it?Bring on The Matrix!


  1. This is incredible. How can we jump start this "cumulative effect?" do we have a credible social institution that will work tirelessly to make decency and civility more appealing choices than kutoa kitu kidogo? Or top leadership has to inspire us?.

    Following up on your fun game. If your car get towed (in TZ), u will have to pay jiji la Dar something like Laki moja na ushehe, but the most popular choice is to bribe the guys for elfu ishirini and you are off the hook. And this is happening everyday in our beloved country. Now tunapopiga makelele kuhusu grand ufisadi and then at the microlevel we do this ufisadi--collectively we are costing this country too much. And we lose the moral authority kukemea Dowans, Richmond and the rest.

    As the matter of fact, it should be a rule. Mtanzania yoyote aliyewahi kupokea au kutoa rushwa at any level should not be allowed kukemea ufisadi wa viongozi. That would be a good start.

  2. Anonymous, thanks for that. I think that generally we're all besmirched by the system we live in, no clean hands. I'm not excusing the behavior, just enjoying the hypocrisy of it all.

    Whether this means that we don't have the moral authority to speak out against Grand Corruption is debatable- I think that that no matter how we behave the onus is still on public servants to have some professional ethics...


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