IN SHORT: There’s currently no way to objectively rank the “top 10” countries with the world’s highest levels of public sector corruption. A video tries to, but its attention-grabbing list is misleading in many ways.
“Top 10 most corrupt countries in the world,” reads the in-screen description of a popular Facebook video posted on 4 February 2023.
Its caption adds: “Most Corrupt Countries in 2023.”
The video has had hundreds of thousands of views – some 240,000 in the 24 hours of 8 February alone. Many of those views were from South Africa.
The video counts down the “top 10” in reverse order. From one to 10, here’s what it claims are the world’s most corrupt countries in 2023.
- Somalia in Eastern Africa
- North Korea in Eastern Asia
- Afghanistan in Southern Asia
- Sudan in Northern Africa
- Libya in Northern Africa
- Iraq in Western Asia
- Uzbekistan in Central Asia
- Turkmenistan in Central Asia
- Syria in Western Asia
- Yemen in Western Asia
(Note: In this report, Africa Check assigns each country’s region – Eastern Africa, for example – according to the United Nations Geoscheme.)
Is the video’s list accurate?
Random claim with few sources
The video starts off well by citing Transparency International. This global organisation, based in the Western European country of Germany, produces an annual report of perceived public sector corruption across the world.
But it then veers to unnamed “recent reports”, UN studies and the World Bank as its sources. By the time it is naming its top most corrupt countries, it has abandoned any form of attribution.
Africa Check couldn’t find any credible and well-researched ranking that lists them in this order – at any time, and not in 2023.
The video’s most cited source – for four countries – is Transparency International.
So we took a closer look.
The Corruption Perceptions Index
Transparency International describes itself as a “a global movement working in over 100 countries to end the injustice of corruption”. It was set up in 1993 by retired World Bank official Peter Eigen and nine others.
Every year since 1995, Transparency International has produced the Corruption Perceptions Index, or CPI.
Transparency International explains the index on its website: “The CPI ranks 180 countries and territories around the world by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, scoring on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).”
Find out more about how the CPI is calculated:
List doesn’t fit any Transparency International ranking for three years
Is the Facebook video’s list of the “top 10 most corrupt countries in the world” – “in 2023” – sourced from Transparency International’s CPI?
There’s no evidence that it is.
First, the most recent index is for 2022. Transparency International is yet to publish its 2023 CPI.
Second, the CPI doesn’t list countries in this way – as a “top 10” of either least or most corrupt.
Instead, it gives each country a score out of 100. A low score indicates more perceived corruption and a high score less perceived corruption.
Some countries get exactly the same score, and so have exactly the same rank on the index.
In 2022, Finland (in Northern Europe) and New Zealand (in Oceania) both scored 87 out of 100, giving both countries the second-place ranking as the index’s least corrupt. (Denmark in Northern Europe got the top score of 90 out of 100, putting it in first place.)
Similarly, in 2022 five countries towards the more corrupt end of the index all scored 17 out of 100, giving all five a rank of 171.
Third, and despite the way the Transparency International actually ranks countries, the video’s list of the world’s “top 10” most corrupt countries doesn’t fit any CPI for the past three years.
Some countries are missing. Some seem to have been randomly added.
And fourth, the CPI is based on perceptions of public sector corruption – not data that proves any level of corruption in any country. (More on this later.)
The Corruption Perceptions Index for 2020, 2021 and 2022
Here are the 10 or so countries that appear at the bottom end of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2020, 2021 and 2022.
The score ranks corruption out of 100. The lower the score, the worse the perceived corruption.
The rank is from the least perceived corrupt to the most. The higher the rank, the more the country is perceived to be corrupt.
Countries that don’t appear in the video’s list are in bold.
Lower end of the 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index (11 countries)
- Score 11, rank 179 – South Sudan (in Northern Africa) and Somalia
- Score 14, rank 178 – Syria
- Score 15, rank 176 – Venezuela and Yemen
- Score 16, rank 174 – Equatorial Guinea (in Middle Africa) and Sudan
- Score 17, rank 173 – Libya
- Score 18, rank 170 – Democratic Republic of the Congo (the DRC, in Middle Africa), Haiti (in Latin America and the Caribbean) and North Korea
Lower end of the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (12 countries)
- Score 11, rank 180 – South Sudan
- Score 13, rank 178 – Syria and Somalia
- Score 14, rank 177 – Venezuela
- Score 16, rank 174 – Afghanistan, North Korea and Yemen
- Score 17, rank 172 – Libya and Equatorial Guinea
- Score 19, rank 169 – Burundi (in Eastern Africa), the DRC and Turkmenistan
Lower end of the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index (10 countries)
- Score 12, rank 180 – Somalia
- Score 13, rank 178 – South Sudan and Syria
- Score 14, rank 176 – Venezuela
- Score 16, rank 176 – Yemen
- Score 17, rank 171 – Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, North Korea and Libya
Four countries that feature in the lower 10 to 12 of the CPI’s ranking for the past three years – Burundi, the DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti and South Sudan – don’t appear on the video’s list of the world’s “top 10 most corrupt countries” in 2023.
And Iraq and Uzbekistan – listed at sixth and seventh in the video – don’t appear at all in CPI’s bottom 10 to 12 “most corrupt” countries of the past three years.
The problem with perceptions of corruption
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index is based on perceptions of corruption – not hard, well-researched data.
Corruption is a clandestine and criminal activity, so it’s difficult to research and measure. The CPI may be the best indicator we have of public sector corruption across the world.
But perceptions are still perceptions – not fact. And perceptions may be influenced by unconscious biases against, for example, a country or a culture.
They wrote: “Perceptions do not necessarily reflect reality: in fact, there is no shortage of evidence that, in relation to corruption at least, there is often a striking mismatch between perception and experience.”
The video isn’t based on data. It can’t claim to list the 10 most corrupt countries of the world in 2023. No such credible list exists.