Last night I watched another episode of Ali Mazuri’s The Africans documentary series on the TV at James and Pauline’s house. A fascinating series, I wish I could have seen all the episodes. Last night he was talking about the search for correct behaviour in Africa: religious, legal and moral issues concerning correct behaviour seen from the perspective of the three major influences on the continent: indigenous belief systems, Islam and Christianity.
One section really appealed to me and James: Ali appeared in a village, clutching a chicken.
“If I sacrefice this chicken to God, just before praying for a good harvest”, he said, “Am I bribing God?”
He went on to explain that, in many indigenous African cultures, if he gave a gift of a chicken to the chief of his tribe just before asking for permission to graze or collect fruits somewhere (I cant remember exactly what), this would not be seen as corruption but as paying proper respect to the chief. It’s not a bribe but prior appreciation for the service he’s expecting to get.
At this point there was a commercial break, which is just as well as James and I were laughing loudly at the expression “Prior Appreciation” which seemed, at this point, to be a euphemism for ‘bribe’.
After the break, Ali was back, still clutching his chicken, but this time in a city, in front of a bank.
“What if I give this chicken to my bank manager, just before asking for an overdraft?”, he said, (or words to that effect. Appologies to Ali Mazuri for misquoting him). “Sometimes it’s hard to see where prior appreciation stops and bribary starts”.
I find this very insightful. Corruption is not an absolute, there are cultural aspects to it. Prior appreciation is a separate concept from bribary, although there may be times when the two overlap. On the way home I thought of the times I have written “Thanks in advance” at the end of a letter or email asking for assistance. Prior appreciation is, in general, not appropriate in, for example, Kenya’s legal system, government or businesses. But the reason for this is that those institutions have been inherited from the British colonial times. In Britian appreciation normally comes after (like tipping), and corruption finds other ways to surface.