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December 13, 2012

New Study Says Attitudes May Be Key to Tackling Graft in Guinea

by Nancy Palus

As Guinea struggles to put decades of autocratic rule and mismanagement firmly in the past, corruption - at all levels of society - remains a serious drag on development in the mineral-rich country. 

But a new study by local anti-corruption groups and the Open Society Institute for West Africa looks to get at Guineans' attitudes about corruption, an important step, Guinean activists say, in tackling the phenomenon.
 
Ask just about any Guinean and they’ll say corruption is part of nearly every transaction of daily life. But the new study shows that most Guineans don’t necessarily see the link between corruption and the socio-economic woes they cite as most pressing, like unemployment or poor access to electricity and safe water.
 
Governance and anti-corruption activists say understanding this gap and better educating citizens will be critical in fighting corruption.
 
Researchers asked people in 980 households in urban areas across Guinea what they saw as the most serious socio-economic problems.  Most people cited unemployment, a high cost of living, and lack of access to water and electricity.
 
While Guinea has abundant mineral resources and huge agricultural potential, infrastructure is poor and most families in the capital, Conakry, struggle to eat two solid meals a day.  But while people surveyed said corruption is rampant in Guinea, their responses indicated they did not see it as a barrier to development -- in other words, they did not necessarily link corruption to their difficult living conditions.
 
Mathias Hounkpe is with Guinea’s office of the Open Society Institute for West Africa, which funded the study.

He says that while nearly all of those surveyed said corruption exists, they don’t see corruption as partially to blame for high unemployment and lack of access to basics like water and electricity.
 
He says the results of the study show that going forward, it will be important for Guinean civil society groups to work on educating the public about the link between corruption and underdevelopment.  Hounkpe says once citizens have a better understanding of this link, they will be more inclined to demand accountability from elected leaders.
 
In the latest index by the corruption watchdog group Transparency International, Guinea scored slightly better than last year.  Guineans and experts say since a civilian government came to power in 2010 there have been important fiscal reforms, but much work lies ahead and corruption must be reined in.
 
Mohamed François Falcone is director of Guinea’s Agency for the Fight Against Corruption and Promotion of Good Governance, which conducted the study.   
 
He says the results of the study will contribute to Guinea’s efforts to reduce poverty.  He says reducing corruption not only encourages investment, but also improves the functioning of local and national institutions, thereby improving living conditions of the poorest in society.
 
Falcone said his organization plans to use the results of the study as a baseline and measure corruption and governance on a yearly basis.
 
Kabiné Komara, a former prime minister of Guinea and once head of the African Export-Import Bank, says that in Guinea, as in most underdeveloped countries, corruption holds back development in two ways - not only by its direct financial impact, but in that it saps the morale of citizens, the very people who must be standing up for good governance.