Panelists address corruption in Africa

Thursday’s Corruption, Accountability and Governance in Africa conference delved into the intricacies of contemporary African politics.
Thursday’s Corruption, Accountability and Governance in Africa conference delved into the intricacies of contemporary African politics. Photo by Emma Goldberg.

Experts from the fields of policy and academia came from across the country to present their research at a conference on corruption in Africa this Thursday.

The panelists addressed issues including recent elections, local government accountability and transparency in natural resources in Africa. The Corruption, Accountability and Governance in Africa conference, funded by the Hendel Fund for Innovation in Africa, drew a diverse crowd ranging from political science scholars to students of African origin. Elizabeth Carlson, a Yale lecturer in African Studies who organized the event, said the conference aimed to inspire discussion on the complexities of African politics.

“We wanted to take the most sophisticated and nuanced issues and make them more accessible,” Carlson said.

The conference featured a panel on local government accountability with California Institute of Technology professor Jean Ensminger, Georgetown University professor Andrew Zeitlin and Kenedy Opalo ’09, a doctoral candidate at Stanford. The three scholars explained that local district funding in Africa is often squandered by politicians rather than invested in services that support low-income constituents.

Opalo presented strategies used to combat government corruption, though he warned that simply telling communities that elected officials are misusing government funds is not always an effective technique.

“It turns out that telling voters that their members of parliament are corrupt makes them more apathetic to the political process,” Opalo said.

Opalo’s presentation on local corruption was particularly engaging to audience members from Africa who have seen firsthand the challenges he addressed. One audience member addressed the panelists during their talk to say that, as someone who grew up in Africa, he was not surprised by their findings. The audience member added that he appreciated that they took the trouble to document evidence of corruption carefully.

The conference’s third panel focused on transparency in the natural resource sector, addressing the tendency of oil and mineral industries to spiral into corruption. Revenue Watch policy analyst Juan Carlos Quiroz told audience members that few governments are willing to tell the public how they generate revenue from natural resources and conduct business with extractive companies.

“Only one country is willing to publish timely reports of its sources of revenue, and that’s Morocco,” Quiroz said. “And there, the companies operate for the benefit of the king.”

The conference also linked political issues in Africa to other fields. Angelo Izama, a writer for the Daily Monitor, explored the connections between different types of corruption. Misuse of funds in the natural resources sector could encourage injustices in legal institutions, Izama said.

Audience members interviewed at the conference said they enjoyed the opportunity to engage in discourse about the newest developments in African Studies research.

“These are the people on the forefront of examining institutions and corrupt governments,” economics professor Christopher Udry said. “It’s exciting to hear about recent work in my field of study.”

Assistant political science professor Ana De La O Torres canceled lecture for her class “Challenges of Young Democracies” and told her students to attend the conference instead. Rudi-Ann Miller ’16 said it was interesting to hear where the research presented differed from what she had learned in Torres’ class.

Fodei Batty, a political science professor at Quinnipiac, said he valued the interactions between speakers and audience members, as they highlighted areas for further research.

“These are such complex issues, and I just wish we had more time to explore the questions we raised about the panelists’ research,” Batty said.

Yale’s Council on African Studies ran the conference.

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