Trust in the political system is the single most important condition for the stability of a political regime. Political regimes that are unable, for whatever reason to be regarded as legitimate by their citizens, become unstable and often break down.

Scholars have often argued that corruption, in addition to misallocating resources, slowing down economic growth, and hindering development, erodes the legitimacy of political institutions.

The purpose of this article is to show whether and to what extent the legitimacy of African legislatures is affected by their perceived level of corruption.

The Afrobarometer regularly conducts surveys to monitor public opinion in Africa. The questionnaire developed and administered by Afrobarometer allow one to assess the legitimacy of various institutions, to compute the level of perceived corruption of such institutions and to test the relationship between corruption and trust.

Before exploring the relationship between corruption and trust, it is important to note that the data collected by Afrobarometer do not seem to have any problem in terms of validity. In fact, by correlating the percentage of respondents who report to have a great deal or some trust in parliament with the percentage of respondents who report to approve the performance of their Members of Parliament, we find a strong, positive and statistically significant relationship between these two variables. The correlation in fact yields a correlation coefficient of .677 (sig. = .000). The strength of this relationship, which can be observed by looking at figure 1, shows the extent to which these two variables validate one another.

Figure1. Percentage of respondents approving the performance of their MP and trust in parliament/legislature

fig.1

The data on perceived corruption do not display any problem in terms of validity. In fact, when we correlate the percentage of respondents who believe that some or all Members of Parliament are involved in corruption with the percentage of respondents who believe that parliaments are either corrupt or extremely corrupt, we find that these two variables are strongly, linearly, positively, and significantly related to one another. The strength of this relationship, which can be observed in figure 2, supports the claim that these two sets of data do not have any problem in terms of validity.

Fig. 2. Legislatures’ Perceived Level of Corruption

fig.2

Having established that the data collected by Afrobarometer are valid, we can proceed to test whether and to what extent trust in legislatures is affected by their perceived level of corruption. By performing a correlation analysis (see figure 3 and 4), it become immediately apparent that the perceived level of corruption of African parliaments (or legislatures), however measured, erodes their legitimacy, however measured.

Fig. 3. Perceived Corruption in legislatures and trust

fig.3

Fig. 4. Level of Corruption in legislatures and trust

fig.4

This finding has an obvious policy implication. Legislatures need to take strict anti-corruption measures and reduce their perceived level of corruption. Failure to do so will erode their legitimacy, will lead to higher electoral volatility, and could ultimately undermine the stability of the political systems of which they are an integral part.

To make African democracies work, parliaments need to fight corruption and regain citizen trust

Riccardo Pelizzo