The Evil Spirits of Corruption in Zambia

Brown C. Kapika
Brown C. Kapika

There are many unresolved problems in Zambia, but the issue of the upsurge of corruption is troubling. And the damages it has done to the polity are astronomical. The menace of corruption leads to slow movement of files in offices, police extortion tollgates and slow traffics on the highways, queues at passport offices and gas stations, ghost workers syndrome, election irregularities, among others. Even the mad people on the street recognize the havoc caused by corruption – the funds allocated for their welfare disappear into the thin air. Thus, it is believed by many in the society that corruption is the bane of Zambia. Consequently, the issue keeps reoccurring in every academic and informal discussion in Zambia. And the issue will hardly go away!

Some writers say that corruption is endemic in all governments, and that it is not peculiar to any continent, region and ethnic group. It cuts across faiths, religious denominations and political systems and affects both young and old, man and woman alike. Corruption is found in democratic and dictatorial politics; feudal, capitalist and socialist economies. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist cultures are equally bedeviled by corruption. And corrupt practices did not begin today; the history is as old as the world. Ancient civilizations have traces of widespread illegality and corruption. Thus, corruption has been ubiquitous in complex societies from ancient Egypt, Israel, Rome, and Greece down to the present . This does not, however, mean that the magnitude of corruption is equal in every society Some countries  like Zambia are more corrupt than others! As George Orwell notes in his widely read book, Animal Farm: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others .

Since corruption is not new, and since it is a global phenomenon, it is not peculiar to Zambia. However, corruption is pandemic in Zambia (and in many other African and Asian nations); the political leaders as well as the followers are corrupt. Consequently, it has defied all the necessary medicines. If there is a lack of control of corruption in every sphere in the nation, it is then like the old saying: When water chokes you, what do you take to wash it down?

This article, therefore, adopts a new approach to tackle the menace of corruption in Zambia. And a broad definition of the phenomenon matters in the society for its effective control.

Definitions of Corruption

Perhaps, because corruption has received an extensive attention in the communities, and perhaps, due to the fact that it has been over-flogged in the academic circles, corruption has received varied definitions. Corruption has broadly been defined as a perversion or a change from good to bad. Specifically, corruption or corrupt behavior involves the violation of established rules for personal gain and profit . Corruption is efforts to secure wealth or power through illegal means private gain at public expense; or a misuse of public power for private benefit .

In addition, corruption is a behavior which deviates from the formal duties of a public role, because of private [gains] – regarding (personal, close family, private clique, pecuniary or status gains. It is a behavior which violates rules against the exercise of certain types of [duties] for private [gains] – regarding influence . This definition includes such behavior as bribery (use of a reward to pervert the judgment of a person in a position of trust); nepotism (bestowal of patronage by reason of ascriptive relationship rather than merit); and misappropriation (illegal appropriation of public resources for private uses . To the already crowded landscape  adds that corruption is an anti-social behaviour conferring improper benefits contrary to legal and moral norms, and which undermine the authorities to improve the living conditions of the people.

Even though some of these definitions of corruption have been around for over decades, the recent development in Zambia where discoveries of stolen public funds run into Millions of US Dollars and Zambia kwacha , make these definitions very adequate and appropriate. Corruption is probably the main means to accumulate quick wealth in Zambia. Corruption in Zambia occurs in many forms, and it has contributed immensely to the poverty and misery of a large segment of the Zambian population.

The Nature and Characteristics of Zambian Corruption

Some studies have taken a holistic (broader) approach in the discussion of Zambian corruption by dividing it into many forms and sub-divisions. These are:

  1. i)               Political Corruption (grand);
  2. ii)             Bureaucratic Corruption (petty); and

iii)            Electoral Corruption.

Zambian Political corruption takes place at the highest levels of political authority. It occurs when the politicians and political decision-makers, who are entitled to formulate, establish and implement the laws in the name of the people, are themselves corrupt. It also takes place when policy formulation and legislation is tailored to benefit politicians and legislators. Zambian Political corruption is sometimes seen as similar to corruption of greed as it affects the manner in which decisions are made, as it manipulates political institutions, rules of procedure, and distorts the institutions of government.

Zambian Bureaucratic corruption occurs in the public administration or the implementation end of politics. This kind of corruption has been branded low level and street level. It is the kind of corruption the citizens encounter daily at places like the hospitals, schools, local licensing offices, police, taxing offices and on and on. Bureaucratic petty corruption, which is seen as similar to corruption of need, occurs when one obtains a business from the public sector through inappropriate procedure .

Zambian Electoral corruption includes purchase of votes with money, promises of office or special favors, coercion, intimidation, and interference with freedom of election Our Nation is a good example where this practice is common. Votes are bought, people are killed or maimed in the name of election, losers end up as the winners in elections, and votes turn up in areas where votes were not cast. Corruption in office involves sales of legislative votes, administrative, or judicial decision, or governmental appointment.  Disguised payment in the form of gifts, legal fees, employment, favors to relatives, social influence, or any relationship that sacrifices the public interest and welfare, with or without the implied payment of money, is usually considered corrupt .


Other forms of Zambian corruption include:

  1. A) Bribery: The payment (in money or kind) that is taken or given in a corrupt relationship. These include kickbacks, gratuities, pay-off, sweeteners, greasing palms, etc.
  2. B) Fraud: It involves some kind of trickery, swindle and deceit, counterfeiting, racketing, smuggling and forgery .
  3. C) Embezzlement: This is theft of public resources by public officials. It is when a state official steals from the public institution in which he/she is employed.  In Zambia the embezzlement of public funds is one of the most common ways of economic accumulation, perhaps, due to lack of strict regulatory systems.
  4. D) Extortion: This is money and other resources extracted by the use of coercion, violence or threats to use force. It is often seen as extraction from below [The police and custom officers are the main culprits in Zambia].
  5. E) Favoritism: This is a mechanism of power abuse implying a highly biased distribution of state resources. However, this is seen as a natural human proclivity to favor friends, family and any body close and trusted.
  6. F) Nepotism: This is a special form of favoritism in which an office holder prefers his/her kinfolk and family members. Nepotism, [which is also common in Zambia], occurs when one is exempted from the application of certain laws or regulations or given undue preference in the allocation of scarce resources .

For effective control of corruption in Zambia, the society must develop a culture of relative openness, in contrast to the current bureaucratic climate of secrecy. And a merit system (instead of the tribal bias, state of origin and nepotism or favoritism, which have colored the landscape) should be adopted in employment and distribution of national resources, etc. More importantly, the leadership must muster the political will to tackle the problem head-on . Regardless of where it occurs, what causes corruption or the form it takes, the simple fact remains that corruption is likely to have a more profound and different effects in less developed countries, than in wealthy and developed societies. This is due to a variety of conditions, which cannot deviate significantly from the nature of  underdevelopment . Because of the corrosive effects of corruption in national development, and given the relative limited resources or poverty in the region, Africa, and indeed Zambia, can least afford to be corrupt.

The Effects of Corruption

The effects of corruption on a nations socio-political and economic development are myriad. The negative effects impact economic growth as it, among other things, reduces public spending on education , and on effect of growth is in part a result of reduced level of investment.. The effect of corruption on education comes from the fact that the government spends relatively more on items to make room for graft . And corrupt government officials would shift government expenditures to areas in which they can collect bribes easily. Large and hard-to-manage projects, such as airports or highways, make fraud easy. In addition, poverty and income inequalities are tied to corruption . Development projects are often made unnecessarily complex in Zambia to justify the corrupt and huge expense on it.

Despite the immoral aspect and pernicious effects of corruption, some scholars have argued that corruption can be beneficial to political development or “political modernization” . Political modernization or development means growth in the capacity of a society’s governmental structures and processes to maintain their legitimacy over time (presumably in time of social change) by contributing to economic development, national integration and administrative capacity, and so on..

The Evils of Corruption

Many studies have been conducted that show the evils or consequences of corruption. And corruption has taught the Zambia a dangerous and wrong lesson that it does not pay to be honest, hardworking and law-abiding. Through corrupt means many political office holders acquire wealth and properties in and outside Zambia ; and many display their wealth (which is beyond the means), but the society does not blink. This has made politics a big business in Zambia, because anything spent to secure a political office is regarded as an investment, which matures immediately one gets into office .

Corruption wastes skills as precious time is often wasted to set up unending committees to fight corruption, and to monitor public projects. It also leads to aid forgone. Some foreign donors do not give aid to corrupt nations. For instance, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has withdrawn development support from some nations that are notoriously corrupt. And the World Bank has introduced tougher anti-corruption standards into its lending policies to corrupt countries. Similarly, other organizations such as the Council of Europe and the Organization of American States are taking tough measures against international corruption (OECD, December 1997). Corruption is politically destabilizing, as it leads to social revolution and military takeovers. Most “post-coup rationalizations” in less developed worlds point to corruption.

Corruption causes a reduction in quality of goods and services available to the public, as some companies could cut corners to increase profit margins. Corruption effects investment, economic growth, and govern-ment expenditure choices; it also reduces private investment. Because of the widespread of “petty” and “grand” the international business community regard the whole of Africa as a “sinkhole that swallows their money with little or no return” (Callaghy 1994). With the recent changes in the political economy of East Europe, the attention of the business world has been turned to this area where they may reap quicker results from their investments.

According to one who has lived in Zambia , becoming corrupt in Zambia is almost unavoidable, as morality is relaxed, because to survive people have to make money.  

Corruption can destroy the legitimacy of a government . Corruption may alienate modern-oriented civil servants and may cause them to reduce or withdraw their service or to leave the country.  Corruption is one the reasons for the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon in Zambia (talented professionals leaving the country in search of employment some where else). In Zambia , you can hardly enter an office and get your ‘file signed except you drop’ some money. Even the security personnel at the door of every office will ask for (bribe) tips? In other words, corruption leads to slow moving files that get through the desk of officers once the interested parties have compromised themselves. It also leads to missing files that [would] resurface immediately the desk officer is settled, unnecessary bureaucracy and delays until fees are paid .


For Effective Control of Corruption

Some human ailments could require many doses of medicines to be treated. Similarly, the menace of corruption, which has eaten deep into the fabric of Zambia , would require all the necessary medicines to effectively control it. In other words, no single and simple remedies will do it; and the problem cannot be solved overnight, because, as we have noted, corruption has been ingrained into the fabric of the society. Zambia has, in theory, the solutions in the book to tackle corruption; but like other issues (poverty, etc) bedeviling the nation, implementations of the laws .

One of the authors whose work we reviewed noted (and rightly, we might add), that one of the reasons why the measures against corruption have not been fruitful in Zambia is that they have operated at a level of mere symbolism . Yes, corruption has defied all measures adopted to combat it in Zambia, apparently, because those wagging the corruption-wars are themselves corrupt. In the name of turning Zambia into a corruption-free society, the nation has experimented with many policies. It has tried the judicial commissions of enquiry, Anti – corruption commission . It had wrestled with the Public Complaints Commission to no avail., but corruption instead blossomed

Any society faced with the challenges of corruption will continue to find ways to break the circle. This  has argued elsewhere that Zambia cannot effectively control the menace of corruption in the nation by merely instituting probe panels, that the to tame the surge of corruption in Zambia , the general population should be re-orientated to a better value system. This is because Zambia have for long been living on the survival of the fittest and grab-whatever-comes-your-way mentality . The re-orientation of the youth in Zambia to a good value system could help in the war against corruption. The World Values Surveys of 1990-1993 has a lot of attitudes and values information, which notes a relationship between values and corruption (World Values Study Group, 1994). Preaching the gospel and practice of virtue is the ultimate solution to behavioral change and reduction in corruption. Their productivity could increase, which would mean enough goods and services, prosperity and economic growth, and which would in turn allow the citizens the freedoms to live a meaningful life.

Many  of our Political  leaders are doing everything they can to make the work of the police impossible. Political leaders  are the greatest criminals and except you go after the big criminals and bring them to book, the rate of crime may not reduce. [But] If you bring three or four of these Ministers  to book, the rate of criminal activities would reduce.

To win the war on corruption, adherence to ethical standards in decision-making must be the foundation of the nations policies. Without ethics (set of moral principles or values or principles of conducts governing an individual or a group) – Websters New Collegiate Dictionary, 1980, p.389, in the conduct of the affairs of the nation (public and business), the apparent wars on corruption in Zambia will not be successful. In other words, without ethics, any money budgeted toward fighting corruption in Zambia is a thing cast to the wild cat. Zambia has to make laws and implement them to the letters. And to win the war on corruption Zambia has to fortify the institutional checks and balances among the countrys major social forces and the separation of powers within the government . The nation has to make sure that those entrusted to execute the war on corruption are men and women of virtue – those who recognize and always do what is right. Virtue is an acquired human quality, the possession and exercise of which enables us to achieve those goods which are internal to practices, and the lack of which effectively prevents us from achieving any of such goods. Virtuous leaders [in government and business] are persons of honesty, integrity and trust .



Many laws are already on the book to fight corruption in Zambia (including those crafted by the international organizations). Every country has to determine it own priorities on the war against corruption. But each society should focus on concrete actions that can yield measurable results, and publicly report whether results are being achieved .

Above all, Zambia cannot be seen as secure and free until the people’s human rights are respected and protected by the government. As Mikhail Gorbachev points out, “the world cannot be considered secure if human rights are being violated.” And more importantly, the world cannot be considered secure if a many people lack the elementary condition for life worthy of man. Similarly, Zambia cannot be considered secure if millions of people go hungry, do not have a roof over their heads and to be jobless and sick indefinitely, with the most basic human right, the right to life is disregarded” (Morrison 1988). Through it all, to tame corruption, Zambia has to use words as well as actions a multifaceted approach. However, has Zambia been monitoring the effectiveness of her many (but not serious) anti-corruption strategies? Finally, good governance, transparency, accountability and the rule of law are the keys to tackling corruption in the society, as corrupt leaders cannot wage an effective war against corruption.


By Honourable Brown C. Kapika

President for Adedo – Zamucano Political Party (Zambia)

President for ‘Partij van de Burger-en Mensenrechten’ Political Party (Netherlands)