South Africa: Beneficial Lessons From The Chinese Anti-Corruption Campaign For The African Investment Environment

Last Updated: 16 October 2015
Article by Kenny Chiu and Wil Huang

Most Read Contributor in South Africa, September 2016

It is well known that since new leadership was voted into government following the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, it has taken the world by storm in terms of its anti-corruption campaign. In the three-year period following the campaign's inception, the results speak for themselves. The campaign arose from the Communist Party's understanding that corruption's deep roots within Chinese society will eventually erode the foundations of good governance if not dealt with swiftly, and that rooting out corruption will not only improve the political landscape and win the approval of the people, but will also create a suitable political environment to stabilise the economy during turbulent times.

In a globalised world, anti-corruption principles are a global standard and are not limited to China. Thousands of miles away, Africa is similarly plagued by corruption and faces the same difficulties in creating a suitable environment to nurture economic development. There are, however, experiences that the Chinese government can share that may be beneficial to its African counterparts in the fight against corruption. These include:

  1. The effects of anti-corruption measures must be fully understood in relation to the benefits and importance of such campaigns. Thoughts lead to actions and, in eliminating corruption, its dangers need to be identified and acknowledged before the problem can be dealt with effectively. Although African countries are rich in resources, have strong labour capacities, possess good geographical locations, and are active in joining the global community, many are experiencing difficulties in uplifting their economies, with corruption playing a major role. Corruption stifles social upliftment, negatively affects the political environment, disrupts social order and, worst of all, destroys investment. African countries must, therefore, take corruption seriously if they are concerned about their future, and they must push for anti-corruption measures to show their determination to eliminate corruption.
  2. Worst offenders should be dealt with first, making an example of them as a form of deterrence. In today's world, corrupt activities are often systematic and occur at many levels. To borrow from the Chinese experience, big-impact corruption cases that are likely to attract the attention of the general public are the most harmful and must be dealt with quickly and effectively. Dealing with these high-profile cases and bringing the individuals concerned to justice serves as a deterrent and instils fear in those who are contemplating corrupt activities. High-profile cases that result in prosecution clearly communicate the government's political will and resolve to stamp out corruption.
  3. Use the law to limit the powers of public officials. Western political scholars have long recognised that absolute power can lead to corruption. One of the reasons why corrupt activities occur is because there is often little limitation on power. As such, African countries can build on the experience of the Chinese in developing legal frameworks while concurrently tackling important and major corruption-related cases. By strengthening the relevant regulatory frameworks to limit power, one of the foundational conditions for corruption can be eradicated. Indeed, limiting public power is a modern approach to fighting corruption and if left unchecked, widespread corruption is likely to continue.
  4. Implement methodical reform of the political system to aid anti-corruption measures. History has shown that democratic governments generally have fewer corruption-related problems, as their level of transparency exceeds that of dictatorial regimes and even centralised governments. While China is fighting corruption, it is also effecting systematic reform of governmental institutions, focused on changing its duties, regulating the government by rule of law, simplifying administration and trimming down institutional powers. African countries generally have low levels of democratisation, thus making it easier for corruption to take root. As such, African countries should aim to increase the pace of democratisation, build a government elected by the people, and make the government and its officials accountable to the people in order to root out corruption in its early stages.
  5. Increase international cooperation in fighting corruption. In today's world, corruption also has an international aspect. Accordingly, African countries must not only focus on corruption occurring within their borders, but, as with the Chinese approach, they must also rely on international bodies, such as Interpol, and improve cooperation with Western countries such as the United States and Canada in order to arrest fugitives and bring them to trial. Likewise, China frequently makes reference to the anti-corruption experiences of Western countries and adapts them to build anti-corruption mechanisms suitable for its context.

Fighting corruption is a long and difficult road for many developing economies, but for African countries in particular, it is an essential component in developing and improving their economies. Only with the right political resolve will a country be able to reduce corruption, restore its economy, uplift society, improve the living standards of its people, and build an effective political environment.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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