Viewers from Nepal to Nigeria vote for the most honest civil servant.
25 January 2018
THE timing could not have been better. In the same week as two civil servants in Nigeria appeared in court for embezzling funds earmarked for International Anti-Corruption Day, the finalists of “Integrity Idol” were announced. In this reality television show, honest civil servants working in corrupt countries compete for glory, fame and, occasionally, a live chicken. The show is a hit: over 10m people have watched it and more than 400,000 have cast their votes in favour of their Integrity Idols.
“Integrity Idol” started in Nepal in 2014 and has since spread to Pakistan, Mali, Liberia, Nigeria and South Africa. Five finalists, vetted by a panel of judges, are chosen to be interviewed. They explain why they deserve the prize. “I come to work late. My boss could ask ‘Why are you late?’ (…) I say I slept a little longer. Say it the way it is! Face the consequences!” one nominee exhorts.
It is not always easy to find good contestants. The Nigerian nomination period was extended because of the poor quality of entrants. “People were nominating their auntie because she gave them money,” says Odeh Friday, who runs the campaign. Others thought they qualified because they came to work on time. One policeman was surprised by his nomination because, he explained, he was involved in shady contracts. Another nominee resigned after he realised that background checks might dig up old dirt.
“Integrity Idol” claims to steer clear of politics. Elected officials may not be nominated. Nor, in some countries, may people in the army. Even so, the show delivers a punch in the face to crooked politicians and their cronies, sometimes just by its timing: in Liberia last year, it aired while presidential elections were embroiled in fraud investigations.
It is difficult to know what impact the show is having, though the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has begun to measure it. Change may be gradual. Gareth Newham at the Institute of Security Studies in South Africa thinks its greatest contribution will be in changing attitudes. “Too many young people believe that you can only get a job if you belong to the [ruling party]. What has been missing is a focus on the ordinary people who do good work.”