Navigating the culture-corruption conundrum

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Culture has often been described as the way of life of a group of people. It influences what they eat, wear, their customs and social behaviour. Many African cultures involve the act of gift giving. You give a gift as a sign of gratitude when someone helps you, even if the help they offered was their job. For example, a student who aces an exam may give his or her a teacher a gift as a way of saying thank you for your guidance through the exam period. The student may even visit the teacher with his whole family in tow.

The sense of community spirit and looking out for the next person also encourages you to use your networks to help someone in your circle. Gifts may be given in anticipation of a favour or even to obtain support. In some cultures, you cannot go and see someone in authority without a small token.

However, when do these elements move from being an aspect of culture to blatant corruption? It is when the gifts are given in the wrong context and as a way to influence a decision. It also becomes corruption when the goodwill is taken out of the process and the giving comes with specific demands or stipulations. For example, a contractor visits the Minister of Roads and Highways with the gift of money a week before a national bidding. The minister should be able to say no to this gift and allow due process in order to ensure that the right person for the job wins the bid.

The purported fuzzy area of culture and good governance is one that any good leader must operate in without crossing the line. This is why institution building is very important. In his article, Institution-building is nation-building, NS Rajan writes, “institutions are ‘identified with a social purpose and permanence, transcending individual human lives and intentions, and with the making and enforcing of rules governing cooperative human behaviour.’” When systems are set up, it ensures that an individual does not hold all the authority and cannot influence what happens in an organization by themselves.

Institutions also provide checks and balances where a person in authority is monitored and held accountable for what he or she does. ALU Founder, Fred Swaniker alludes to this in his 2014 TEDGlobal talk when he says that “when societies have strong institutions, the difference that one good leader can make is limited but when you have weak institutions, just one good leader, can make or break that country.”

Good leaders have the ability to navigate the culture-good governance conundrum where they do not allow the aspects of culture and tradition that may encourage bad behaviour to get in the way. What elements of culture in your country affect good governance?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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