This paper analyses mechanisms and circumstances that facilitate and mitigate against corruption in African countries. We focus on governance indicators that strongly correlate with corruption and suggest that this phenomenon in Africa results from poor democratic practice enabled by asymmetrical concentration of power in governments and the rise of alliances between elites and corporate interests within neo-liberal economic systems. Countries with low corruption have processes in which citizens engage robustly in public governance and public accountability, suggesting that solutions to corruption can originate from within existing governance practices in Africa. We explore African countries that manage to mitigate corruption by reviewing processes of citizen participation in governance occurring through innovations in contemporary mechanisms of decision-making and reintegration of traditional practices in public governance institutions and processes. We argue that corruption in Africa is not a ‘cultural’ phenomenon, but rather that long-standing cultural practices provide innovations in governance that reduce corruption. This paper concludes that wider citizen engagement in public governance strengthens ‘voice and accountability’, balances power asymmetries in decision-making processes of governments, and promotes ‘socially conscious’ leaderships committed to greater transparency and accountability in government.