How does the African family contribute to corruption?

We talk about corruption a lot. Sometimes we even discuss its causes, but often in very abstract, macroeconomic and historical terms. We talk about corruption in a very “big picture way.”

However, for a time, I’ve wondered why we don’t zoom in. But not too far so that we are looking only at the psyche of the singular corrupt-or, but just far enough that we look at his family too.

How does the African family contribute to corruption?

This year we were given front row seats to the breakdown of football legend Emmanuel Adebayor’s family. In a move that many disapproved of, the Togolese player who has moved from one European team to another, used his Facebook page to regale his thousands of followers with tales of his family woes. These woes had much to do with his relative’s attitude to his money.

Now, “his money” might make some of you uncomfortable, if you are overly self-aware. This is because in many African societies, the idea of one person owning resources is unheard of. And if I was in a different mood, I might spin this so that it fills us both with the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes with recognizing humanity.

But right now we’re talking about corruption. And Adebayor did something we have never seen before: he gave us full view of the African family that surrounds a rich and powerful man. The squabbling over his finances, the complete lack of gratitude and the naked entitlement to his money. We got to see it all and it was heartbreaking. The pressures of being rich and famous in the midst of a community that is starving and forgotten.

Now, I’m not saying all African families behave like this around a successful relative. But we would be stupid to leave this idea unexplored. We think of corrupt leaders as selfish and unthinking. But are they merely that? Or are they stuck in a web of family entitlement?

Now I ask that you imagine a politician who gains power and access to public funds having to continually tell his pushy and entitled relatives “no.” If he started off clean, I don’t imagine it lasting for very long, particularly in a place where many people are perfectly accepting of the idea that curses are real, and those put upon you by suffering relatives, particularly unrelenting.

What I am saying is, what if we looked at the relationship between individual leaders and their families? What if we explored the idea that abusing their offices and powers may not be an idea that occurred to them in a vacuum?

Adebayor is not a politician, nor is he really in any position to abuse the funds of an African state, but he has shown us what is possible when family thinks it is entitled to one’s individual successes.

Think of the first people who benefit from a politician’s corrupt practices. Are they not his own family? Does that circle not grow slowly to encompass cousins and neighbors and fellow tribes-people? What if we are looking too far, when the inspiration of his desire to steal more and more may be coming from closer than we think?

What can be said about the very structure of our families and communities in discussions about corruption? Is there no way to see that the very attitude of no-man-is-an-island, the very idea that one’s family is just as entitled to the sweat of a man’s hard work as he is may be contributing to our biggest problem?

Adebayor’s account of his family’s greed might be just what we need to see our relationships for what they can be: parasitical and in some situations, inherently corrupting. I am not saying this is a particularly African phenomenon. And if it is indeed not, I admit that I do not care. Right now, I want us to think about what our societies have sewn in our minds. And what the consequences of those ideas might just be.

Not all corrupt leaders are pushed to it by family and not all families push leaders into corruption. But some do, and I think that is worth exploring.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa is a 22 year-old writer living in Botswana. Contact her at, or follow her on Twitter: @siyandawrites.


5 thoughts on “How does the African family contribute to corruption?

  1. nie ma zadnigo tlumaczenia na zlodzejstwo i korupcje pomysl o tym jak bys sie poczul gdybys byl oszukany okradziony????i dlatego nie czyn zla drugiemu kazdy niech zyje na wlasna rekie a nie wywiera presji na nikim i na to zadnigo usprawiedliwienia nie ma to jest podlosc nieuczciwosc i nigdy kradzione pieniadze nie dadza ci szczescia nie mozna sie cieszyc ludzkom krzywdom pokropionom lzami sprobuj sie znalesc na miejscu okradzionej osoby,to jest lobuzwrstwo dranstwo igoizm i powinna byc bardzo mocno karane

  2. Reminds me of a story I was once told – if you were a minister, and you showed reservations towards corruption, they would approach your family members. Your brother would get a lavish house, or something similar. All this would be done without your information.

    They would then come back to you, with your evidence of how your family had eaten as blackmail.

  3. The article offers a pertinent analysis on the subject of corruption in the African context, particularly the family-leader nexus and dilemmas.
    Let me start by giving a synopsis of our societal expectations in general, as Africans. In most African societies, the poor in particular, there is always an expectation that when one of the family members becomes successful in life, she/he ought to elevate the livelihood in his family through remittances, building a house, buying grocery etc. she/he is also expected to ‘assist’ family members and close relatives to ‘find’ jobs, business opportunities etc. It is this sort of culture, expectations that manifest a sense of entitlement. The Adebayor example is classical. It is also manifested when, for example, a husband dies and his family start fighting with his wife or fiancée over his assets. The family feels entitled.
    Now, let me comment on this issue by attempting to answer your pertinent questions: “are they [leaders] stuck in a web of family entitlement?” My answer is a definite yes, and this is where the weakness manifest. This web is a problem for most leaders especially in Africa. The person, or leader, has a moral obligation to elevate his family to a better life, as per ‘societal expectations’ and ‘culture’. Therefore, once such a person has power and access to resources he will utilise them for the enrichment of his family. In most African families, the family and relatives would sacrifice a lot and try by all means to take, for example, a promising kid in the family to school and so on. When that kid becomes successful, becomes a leader that is where the sense of entitlement creeps in.
    “…what if we looked at the relationship between individual leaders and their families?” in most cases the relationship is that of “we did this and that for you, for your future, now that you are a leader you MUST help us too”. It’s like a debt, on the other hand, it’s like an investment by the leader to his family. Leadership positions are not permanent, therefore, “I must eat and give to my family whilst still in power”. That is to safeguard ones/family’s future beyond that one is a leader.
    Norma Smith, in Heidi Holland’s book ‘Dinner with Mugabe’ captured this family nexus thing aptly on Maurice Nyagumbo of Zimbabwe: “Ten months later, it was Maurice who came back to me, saying he now needed a favour. ‘Can you buy back the farm?’ he pleaded, explaining that 50 of his relatives were living there and expecting him to look after them. So I went back to the Land Bank and the chairman arranged the farm to be sold to someone else…The story illustrates a big problem in Africa. Maurice was a successful; among a lot of poor relatives and so he was expected to support them all. It’s a recipe for disaster and feeds into corruptions, nepotism and all sorts of problems not experienced by Westerners.”

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  5. Sure,the story is true and makes sense but then we are forever using silly excuses such as family squabbles and so on, I have no suggestions for how we can fight corruption but hosting pity parties is also just covering up for their actions,we have well mindsets,we also have our pasts but how you deal with them is what shows what kind of person you are! What is stopping other people from doing the same,we cannot prove his stories true! Sure African societies expect things from us but why should we always follow in their footsteps,why do we settle with expectations from societies? At the end of the day,it is your life! You won’t be killed just because you couldn’t do what was expected of you! We keep on making excuses like our pasts and expectations from the societies,big deal!

    sorry for getting so worked up,am just a furious 14 year old girl who can’t bear hearing excuses that she’s heard all her life

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