The emptiness of anti-corruption politics

This week on AIAC: Wangui Kimari and Benjamin Fogel on the politics of anti-corruption, and then the particular case of Tanzania with Sabatho Nyamsenda and Elisa Greco. Subscribe to our Patreon for the podcast archive.

African Union Summit in Malabo, Equitorial Guinea. Image via the Embassy of Equitorial Guinea on Flickr CC.

Corruption is always in the global spotlight. Just last week, Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) postponed a hearing by former president Ernest Koroma over findings into alleged corruption during his tenure after Koroma’s supporters gathered outside his residence to stop officials from questioning him. In South Africa, anti-corruption protests led by the labor movement have happened in recent weeks. To be sure, corruption is a serious problem– but is anti-corruption a serious politics?

This week on AIAC Talk we have contributing editors Benjamin Fogel and Wangui Kimari. Ben, who is also a contributing editor at Jacobin, once argued over there that “If the Left is serious about wielding and transforming state power, it needs to go beyond a moralistic understanding of state power.” In our correspondence to bring her onto the show, Wangui summarized anti-corruption politics as “a kind of vacuous politics taken up by so-called leaders at the cost of a substantive people-centered politics/issues.” Ben is also a historian of Brazil and South Africa, finishing off a PhD at NYU, and Wangui is a participatory action research coordinator for the Mathare Social Justice Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, using that experience to help put together our series on life in Nairobi, “Capitalism in My City.” As scholars of social movements in South Africa, Brazil and Kenya, we hope that Ben and Wangui can help us make sense of anti-corruption, and if it isn’t the answer– then what is to be done?

But, one leader whose anti-corruption policies were once lauded is that of Tanzania’s president John Magufuli. Nicknamed “the Bulldozer” after coming to power in 2015, Magufuli’s support will be tested on the 28th of October when Tanzanians vote in a general election. Despite their initial popularity, Magufuli’s anti-corruption efforts are now also seen as providing cover for a sharp authoritarian turn involving a crackdown on dissenting journalists and opposition parties. Many are questioning the freedom and fairness of the upcoming elections, but are these fears warranted or overblown?

Joining us then in the second half of the show to discuss Tanzania’s electoral politics are Sabatho Nyamsenda and Elisa Greco. Sabatho is an assistant lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam and a founding member of Jukwaa la Wajamaa Tanzania (Tanzania Socialist Forum). Elisa is an Associate Professor in International Political Economy and Development at the European School of Political and Social Sciences conducting ethnographic research in Tanzania and Uganda.

Stream the show Tuesday at 18:00 SAST, 16:00 GMT, and 12:00 EST on YoutubeFacebook, and Twitter.

If you missed our program last week, we had on literary scholars Bhakti Shringarpure, Lily Saint and Mukoma wa Ngugi to discuss African books– reading them, teaching them, and what would constitute the decolonizing of particularly literatures in English. You can watch clips from that show on our YouTube channel, and the whole thing on our Patreon along with all the episodes from our archive.

Further Reading