Fighting corruption to end poverty


There is a village in the midst of a city which is home to many Malawians, Malawians that have different dreams to be fulfilled by their immediate community and the nation as a whole.

This is a village with grass-thatched houses and only one house has iron sheets. This one house is hope for the village during the rainy season as people get clean water from it. It is in this village that Mbambadi Ndzalemera (not real name) comes from.

Mbambadi Ndzalemera grew up in this village within the city. He went to primary school and a community day secondary within the same locality. He had hopes that one day he would be like his teachers who were his role models. His hopes began to fade when he was told to contribute some money to pay the invigilator who was invigilating his primary school examinations. It was the same scenario during subsequent exams.


After finishing secondary school, he did not pass very well to embark on his dream to become a teacher. A window of opportunity, however, opened for him in the military where people were being recruited to be trained as soldiers. He followed all the procedures only to be told that he had to give some money before he could be included in the group of young men aspiring to become soldiers. His question was: will the poor succeed? Will they be helped to end their poverty by a society that wants money for each and every service rendered? If he has failed to penetrate, will his siblings, sons and daughters achieve anything?

Development is like a river: prosperity is on top and destitution at the bottom. Powerful currents churn the water, especially in the river’s deeper reaches. Many people are caught in those currents and dragged down into poverty’s whirlpool, but most of those people are eventually released from the downward pull and can climb higher, at least temporarily.

Indeed those who are in poverty at any given point are always immersed in poverty. Many more families move in and out of poverty than are perpetually trapped by it. Reforms that specifically target the poor are less likely to help them than are measures to strengthen the upward flows and lessen the pressures pushing people downwards.


As we look forward to chart a course for ending poverty and ensuring sustainable development, one thing is certain: stopping corruption must be on the top of the agenda. Poverty is defined as the state of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; a condition of being poor. On the other hand, corruption is defined as dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.

In 2000, global leaders made eight development promises to be reached by 2015, known as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We are now in the final year but only four of the MDG targets have been achieved globally with Malawi lagging behind. Findings from Transparency International (TI) show that high levels of corruption, especially in poor countries like Malawi are one of the factors to blame for this.

If we really want to end poverty, anti-corruption, which was not included in the original MDGs, should be considered as a goal in the new commitments. Malawi, being a country which is not free from corruption, should meet this goal.

Access to information, strong rule of law and anti-corruption legislation have a positive effect on efforts to achieve a poverty-free generation, a generation with low mortality rate and access to clean water in communities immersed in dire poverty. High levels of corruption, however, correlate with many of the targets being missed. This relationship holds across all the development goals related to poverty and hunger, education, maternal and child health, communicable diseases, water and sanitation.

Research by TI in more than 100 countries clearly shows that the level of corruption in any given country has a direct and significant correlation with that country’s development. For example, in countries where more than 60 percent of people report paying a bribe, almost five times more people live on less than US$1 a day than in countries where less than 30 percent of the population reports paying bribes.

In countries where more people paid more bribes for basic services, more women died during childbirth, fewer children lived beyond five years of age, more people went without clean drinking water or toilets, and fewer girls finished secondary school.

Bribery also wipes out the benefits of economic growth. For example, any gains made in improving conditions of living when family incomes rise are offset by the negative effect of bribery.

Many different forms of public sector corruption can hurt development. Many school children do not complete primary school in countries where bribery is common. Teacher absenteeism, unavailability of textbooks due to corruption and the poor quality of facilities such as classrooms – often left in disrepair because funds for building get diverted due to corruption – prevent children from finishing primary school.

Ensuring a more comprehensive, comparable and timely data for all post- 2015 indicators, including developing indicators that measure levels of transparency and accountability, is key to success. And developing a monitoring system for post-2015 goals that is based on and promotes transparency, accountability and participation is equally important.

We cannot win the war against poverty without first winning the battle against corruption. We have to make sure that we have succeeded in ending corruption before we can have success in ending poverty.

Poor dressing, poor diet, failing to pay school fees, many grass-thatched houses are some indicators of a nation immersed in poverty and failing to move forward. If my parents are poor today, most likely I will be poor and my children’s children will be entangled in this cycle of poverty. How can we be redeemed when the society is busy uplifting those who already have through dubious and corrupt means?

Corruption that causes poverty is sometimes a sin that is in the structure itself known in Christian ethics as structural sin. The only way to end this sin is by wiping out the entire structure and bringing in a new crop of leaders to the community, organisation, and even to a country. How can we end poverty when the same people are just changing positions and holding the grip on power? If an engine of a vehicle is misbehaving, there is need for overhauling. Why not an organisation, let alone a country that is determined to end poverty?

Again, significant challenges that lie ahead in ending poverty remain toward building a more inclusive formal financial system that can spur economic growth and reduce poverty levels. There is a proven demand for financial services at all levels of income, but for a variety of reasons the market has failed to meet those demands.

Human trafficking industry is an illegal business that is thriving largely because of corruption. It is the third largest illicit economy in the world, after drugs and arms smuggling. And it is on the rise. It is a very rapidly growing industry.

Human trafficking is quite complicated. It is different in every locale, but it involves a diversity of people. A group of people, as reported by, aiming at bringing businesses together to fight human trafficking, lists the following players in the industry: investors, recruiters, transporters, corrupt government officials, informers, support personnel, debt collectors, and money launderers.

Human trafficking is detrimental to development. It accelerates poverty as people who could have been educated and assist in the development of the nation are unjustly taken away from their community and put in inhumane conditions of life. Even if they are rescued from the situation, their memories are bitter and can hardly be innovative in life.

The poorest people in the country live without basic services like electricity and clean water and certainly no education for young girls. Often, trafficked women are sold for a song into slavery by their parents or close family members. It is an economics decision.

The family is poor, and they cannot afford to keep raising a girl. Maybe they have a large debt to pay off. They sell their daughter to pay off the debt, or maybe a recruiter comes and promises a job in a big city. Maybe the family knows this means prostitution, maybe they do not. Maybe they think that their daughter will actually be better off. The point is, when a girl comes from a very poor family, she is at a high risk of being trafficked. It is just too easy for recruiters to convince, or bribe, or blackmail, or outright kidnap her and funnel her into the sex trade.

While good wishes may be there by developmental partners like World Bank, as far as corruption is rampant, poverty will still be our neighbour in Malawi. There will be no future for Mbambadi Ndzalemera. There will be no future for many girls and no future for the nation. The success in ending poverty will be determined in the success in ending corruption.

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