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Africa's Judiciary Said to be Corrupt

Transparency International, the global civil society organization that is leading the fight against corruption, says most Africans believe the judicial systems in their countries is corrupt. In its recent survey of eight African countries, the group says one in five people it polled said they paid a bribe in their interaction with the judicial system. Transparency says of the eight countries polled, Niger, Nigeria, Zambia, and Zimbabwe were the most affected.

Casey Kelso is Transparency International's regional director for Africa and the Middle East. He told VOA why people said they paid bribes to the judicial systems in their countries.

“There are two major reasons that corruption takes place in the judicial system across Africa. One is the lack of resources that provide room for corruption and often denies access to justice for the poor. The other major reason that we found was political influence. So across the continent of Africa, we found that from Zimbabwe to Algeria, Zambia, Niger, there was political influence over the selection of judges, there was political interference in the decisions such as in Zimbabwe to remove judges that were perceived as being ruling against the ruling party or the party of the day,” he said.

Kelso admitted that political influence over the judiciary was not unique to Africa. But he said Africa was unique because of the level of violence against judges.

“Certainly one of the things we found is that political influence is across the world. In the United States, the current controversy of the ruling party there where the Republicans selectively getting rid of some federal prosecutors because they are perceived to be too liberal in the interest or the ideology of the ruling party there in the United States. So it’s not an African problem per se, but the situation that really did seem to be different in Africa was the level of violent intimidation and outright threat against judges,” Kelso said.

From Nigeria to Uganda, judges have recently handed down major rulings against the ruling parties in those countries. Kelso said the judiciary in Africa has made some progress.

“Yes, certainly I would say Transparency International views both the positive elements as well as some of the negative elements. In Nigeria, the judicial reform has made the people believe in the Nigerian system of justice. In Ghana, several reform initiatives, including the fast track initiative and a judicial council review of judges’ behavior actually seems to have succeeded in reducing some corruption,” he said.

Kelso said Transparency International has been working to improve the African judicial systems.

“I think there’s a couple of different steps in terms of how we see judicial reform stepping forward. One of the things that Transparency has been doing is to try to monitor how have people interacted with the judiciary. I think also there’s an awareness raising that needs to be done as well. One of our initiatives in Madagascar, for example, helped put out in both French as well as the Madagascan language, brochures that tell people exactly how to deal with court procedures, how to file a court case and that you don’t need to file with a bribe for a court official,” Kelso said.

He also said part of the judicial reform being promoted by Transparency International is to make sure that judicial salaries reflect the performances and professional development of court officials who he said are often underpaid.