Published by The Citizen on 31 October 2006

As South Africa prepares to host the Fifth Global Forum on Fighting Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity, to be held in Johannesburg next year in April, many observers would be curious to find out what good practices the African continent would showcase during this important global gathering.

Our critics will be quick to remind us about the "rampant" state of corruption on our continent, to quote Transparency International, the international Non-Governmental Organisation whose corruption measurement studies have repeatedly found most African states at the bottom of its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).

In its latest CPI, published last year, Transparency International ranked South Africa at position 46 out of 158, with Botswana being the only African country ahead of us at position 32. Most of the African states feature at the bottom of the CPI, thus emphasising the notion that Africa is a very corrupt continent.

Questionable as the Transparency International's CPI may be (as it only reflects on the perceptions of business people and country analysts), its findings will come handy to our critics, who'll reinforce the notion that corruption is deeply rooted in systems of governance.

In analysing the scourge of corruption on the African continent, observers often make several mistakes, such as:

Pessimists may find it hard to accept this, but Africa is truly neither short of progress in its fight against corruption, nor should the continent be at any dilemma on what to showcase as good practices at next year's Fifth Global Forum on Fighting Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity.

As one of the signatories to the African Union (AU) Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, among other international anti-corruption protocols, South Africa has put several innovative measures in place, such as the formation in April 1999 of the National Anti-Corruption Forum (NACF).

The formation of the NACF, which comprises of government, civil society and business representatives, is a proudly South African initiative for the co-ordination of sectoral strategies against corruption and the sharing of information and best practices on sectoral anti-corruption work, among other objectives.

The AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption requires countries to "promote and strengthen the development in Africa by each [signatory] of mechanisms required to prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption and related offences in the public and private sectors".

This is one of the areas in which South Africa has been proactive, hence the formation of the all-inclusive NACF, which has successfully brought together various sectors of our country in a common struggle against corrupt and fraudulent activities.

Many African countries have been accused of lenience towards corruption, of not proving that greedy practice does not pay. A simplistic analysis of the scourge of corruption in Africa would have many a commentator accusing the continent of letting wrongdoers get away with it, without asking whether the continent has the necessary institutions and resources to punish and eradicate the scourge.

Our critics often find it more convenient to sweep aside the fact that corruption is an international practice, not immune to the African continent. Even the most economically powerful countries in the world are battling with corruption, though the impact of the scourge may not be as in Africa, where corrupt activities further rob the needy of the help intended for them.

On the occasion of the adoption of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in October 2003, Secretary-General Kofi Annan correctly described corruption as "an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies", adding that "it undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life, and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish".

As the most economically deprived continent, the impact of corruption in Africa is so severe that it further derails efforts (both local and international) to educate the illiterate, heal the sick, empower the disempowered, grow the economy, forge regional co-operation, etc.

Though some apartheid apologists would accuse me of not letting the so-called bygones be bygones, the reality is that the culture of present day corruption can largely be attributed to how previous administrations dealt with the matter.

Under apartheid, corrupt activities went literally unpunished. Today we are battling with making up for the apartheid government's negligence towards corruption. Under the watch of the pre-1994 previous regimes, there was little effort to set up institutions aimed at preventing, detecting and punishing corruption.

Elsewhere in Africa, some, like Dominic Nutt of the Christian Aid NGO, have traced the roots of corruption to as far back as the colonial era. As Nutt wrote in the Guardian newspaper of 05 July 2005: "As [former colonial powers] Germany, Belgium, Britain and Portugal pulled out of Africa they left behind a system of government based on elitism, patronage and power – fertile ground for the seeds of corruption".

With the full support of its African counterparts, South Africa is ready to host the Fifth Global Forum on Fighting Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity. We are ready to learn from our international partners on how best we can join efforts in combating corruption; and we are sure that this great occasion will provide Africa with an opportunity to showcase some of the many anti-corruption successes and challenges we face as the continent.

Ms. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi