Of leaders’ personalities and proclivity to corruption

Friday, December 13th, 2019 00:00 |
Integrity Centre, Nairobi. Photo/Courtesy

Sandra Ochola

Over the past months, the country has witnessed a circus surrounding the arrest and prosecution of high-profile individuals on corruption allegations.

The dramatic events have been occasioned by varied legal and political eventualities that within the current constitutional dispensation demand for more accountability and transparency in running of public affairs. 

Years ago, no one would have imagined a day would come when a senior public figures would be dragged through the mud over matters corruption. Their proclivity for financial crimes were talked about in hushed tones. 

But all this is slowly changing as we see powerful figures arraigned in court and, in some cases, spending considerable time behind bars.

Our anti-corruption policies are increasingly being aligned and the electorate is resolute on the quest for improved service delivery. Most importantly, there is political will in the fight against corruption. 

Past corruption purges have been slighted by real and imagined relationships to power. The consequence has thus been that the powerful acquire even more power and become zealously corrupt.

The nexus between corruption and power should, therefore, be explored, especially now that we are experiencing a new phenomenon within our accountability structures. 

Lord Acton, the 19th Century British historian, gave us the renowned phrase “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”. He insinuated at the fragility of the human and the tendency to achieve personal goals.

Abraham Lincoln also affirmed that, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Interestingly, there are leaders who are handling their power responsibly. Yet, in the same environment, there are those in power that find it acceptable to oppress and plunder. 

In essence, what kind of leaders are more likely to act corruptly? What type of personality leads them to gain corruptly? Research shows that personality type, social upbringing and individual sense of morality in combination, determine whether a leader can be corrupt or not. 

The paradox of power further indicates that the very things that enabled a leader acquire control are the first to be discarded once they get to power.

Their ability to be polite, caring, honest and wise are fast replaced by apathy, rudeness and self-centredness. The sense of power makes it easier to rationalise lapses in personal judgement and ethics.

Psychologists have further centred on what they call the dark triad of personalities and explored their relationship with corruption.

They assert that personality traits such as Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy predispose one to acts of corruption.

When power is given to a leader with any of the personality traits, then that power does not so much corrupt them; rather it exposes and magnifies their existing fragilities that make them corrupt. 

There also exists a relationship between powerlessness and corruption. Powerless individuals are often in difficult situations and are unable to be influential.

In such circumstances, they are often corrupted by their struggles and are susceptible to being misused or engaging in corruption at a personal level. 

Consequently, how they handle their sense of powerlessness can have an impact on how they handle power when they finally achieve it. We hear stories of leaders who came up by their bootstraps.

They diligently walked through their poverty, and social strife to make a name for themselves.

From this group are leaders who have stood by their moral identities and there are those whose social upbringing have warped their leadership ideals. 

The moral of the above is that our current fight against corruption is more than a legal and policy venture.  While both are necessary for social order, citizens must be aware of the psychosocial issues that determine the nature of leaders they elect.

—The writer is an Advocate of the High Court and comments on topical issues 

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