Wednesday, December 7, 2011


The press has been awash with the tales of corruption and the corrupt -- the botched ID project, the shenanigans around the UBC land and masts and our government’s inability to import a few dozen bicycles for village officials.

It does not help that these stories are coming out when inflation has hit historic highs, loadshedding is getting on our nerves and the rains have washed away the few roads we had left.

The way our officials are snorting at the trough, it all just leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

But then there is a logical – however unpalatable, explanation to all this

The development of human society has followed a well charted path.

Society start as small bands of under 100 people often speaking one language, related by blood and with an egalitarian or consensus leadership. Through birth or assimilation of other bands this grows into a tribe with hundreds of people still one ethnicity and often characterized by fixed settlements. The next stage is chiefdoms with thousands of people and at this point we begin to see centralized oftentimes hereditary rule.

In addition to or as a consequence of this centralized power, we see the emergence of the kleptocratic state, defined as one, which through corruption, enriches its supporters and sustains itself. This it does by monopolising the instruments of violence and conflict resolution, keeping the population happy by redistributing tribute (taxes) and more controversially promoting ideology to justify the continued kleptocracy.

How else can you organize large populations, spread over vast territories without centralizing power and violence? How else can you sustain that power without extracting revenues from the people and distributing it to the elite? And once in power how do you guard against your supporters running amok, plundering resources with increasing impunity?

US President Barak Obama, UK Premier David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel governments grapple with the same question. These governments are all kleptocracies only varying in degrees.

By logic and description all governments are kleptocratic.

It is futile to think otherwise. And it is with this understanding that we may have a chance of addressing the challenge.

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