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.