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African Anti-Corruption Day 2021: Will governments enable citizens to join the fight?

Photo: i_am_zews on Shutterstock

By Paul Banoba, Africa Regional Advisor at Transparency International

Jacob Zuma, former South African president, is currently sitting behind bars in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. Facing corruption charges, Zuma defied court instructions to testify as part of the state capture inquiry, triggering a 15-month prison sentence.

Zuma is one of the few African heads of state to have faced corruption charges in their own country. His resignation in 2018 and subsequent investigations are the victory of the people of South Africa, powered by civil society, courageous media and vigilant courts. The events unfolding in South Africa therefore contain lessons for the whole region.

Corruption, especially high-level and grand corruption, has been a significant barrier to democratic governance, human rights protection and sustainable development across Africa. Recognising this threat, on this day 18 years ago, the African Union adopted the African Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) in Maputo, Mozambique. Since 2017, countries across the region have marked 11 July as the annual African Anti-Corruption Day.

Transparency International’s 28 national chapters in Central, East, North, West and Southern Africa commemorate the fifth African Anti-Corruption Day with a call to action to the governments and the African Union.

See their letter

Progress to date

Judging by the anti-corruption commitments of the African Union, governments across the region appear keen to address corruption. So far, 44 out of 55 African countries have ratified the AUCPCC. As required by the Convention, countries have established national anti-corruption laws and institutions.

Almost every country now has a dedicated government agency responsible for fighting against corruption. Furthermore, many countries have specialised agencies for specific anti-corruption areas like financial intelligence to address money laundering and illicit flows; integrity agencies to address conflict of interest and illicit enrichment, among others.

Corruption, however, appears unmoved and Africa remains as the region most burdened with it. Unscrupulous public officials across the region have been exposed as the easy targets of multinational companies – like Glencore, Odebrecht and Semlex – that resort to bribery in exchange for lucrative government contracts and license deals. Further, the region continues to suffer massive outflows of its resources through illicit financial flows, reducing the ability of African governments to provide basic services to their citizens.

With the little resources available, public service provision is also rife with corruption. More than one in four African citizens have to pay a bribe to access basic services.

On African Anti-Corruption Day 2019, Transparency International released the tenth edition of Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) – Africa. The survey, conducted in partnership with Afrobarometer, revealed that more than half of all citizens surveyed in 35 African countries thought corruption is getting worse in their country. Fifty-nine per cent of people think their government is doing badly at tackling corruption.

Explore the findings

These trends have a long-term impact on Africa’s stability, and on her efforts to reduce poverty among her population. Projections indicate that Africa will keep lagging behind all other regions. The latest World Bank report on global poverty trends indicates that extreme poverty will be a predominantly African problem in the coming decade.

Priority action areas

Commemorating Africa’s fifth Anti-Corruption Day, the African Union is calling on regional economic communities and other stakeholders, including civil society and media, to support the implementation of the AUCPCC. This is a welcome development. Some of Africa's regional economic communities have regional anti-corruption measures that complement and reinforce provisions of the AUCPCC.

The African Anti-Corruption Day provides a good opportunity to reflect on progress so far. This reflection should involve citizens.

Notably, the AUCPCC requires the countries that have ratified the convention to report annually on their progress in implementing anti-corruption measures.

Transparency International recently conducted a comparative review on the implementation and enforcement of the AUCPCC. Our findings indicate that most African countries do not report on their implementation as required. Furthermore, only a few exceptions – like Ghana and Rwanda – have established dedicated processes to involve civil society in their reporting measures.

Our report assesses the state of implementation of the AUCPCC in 10 countries: Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Tunisia. It focuses on four key areas of the convention: money laundering, illicit enrichment, political party funding and civil society and media.

Implementing and enforcing the AUCPCC: A comparative review

Moving forward – with citizens

African citizens are willing and ready to contribute to the fight against corruption, provided they are safe in doing so. According to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer – Africa 2019, 53 per cent of citizens believe that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption. In countries like Eswatini, Lesotho and the Gambia, between 65 and 71 per cent of citizens believe that their voices matter.

Citizen activists, journalists and whistleblowers play a crucial role in the anti-corruption fight. They help expose weak points that require government action, and sometimes uncover evidence of corruption that requires follow-up actions from the state’s anti-corruption agencies. Given the governments’ stated commitment to anti-corruption, they should only welcome their contribution.

Despite citizens’ readiness to contribute to the fight against corruption in Africa, 67 per cent of African citizens fear retaliation if they report corruption. It therefore becomes urgent that African governments address legal protections of these willing citizens, activists, journalists and whistleblowers as crucial partners in this joint fight against a common challenge.

While most people in Africa feel corruption increased in their country, a majority also feel optimistic that they, as citizens, can make a difference in the fight against corruption.

Citizens speak out about corruption in Africa

States should also engage with their citizens on how to contribute to solutions. The AUCPCC requires States Parties to “create an enabling environment for civil society and the media to hold governments to the highest levels of accountability in the management of public affairs." It further calls on States Parties to "ensure and provide for the participation of civil society in the monitoring process of the Convention."

Furthermore, Article 9 of the AUCPCC requires States Parties to adopt measures for citizen’s right of access to information in order to assist in the fight against corruption. To-date, half of the member states of the African Union have not enacted specific laws on the right of access to information. This substantially limits public engagement.

On this African Anti-Corruption Day, governments should take the opportunity to tell their people what they are doing against corruption. Proactive publishing of relevant data on corruption can serve to inspire citizens to hold their governments to account.

What measures have been taken? What are the achievements so far? Which public resources have been so far recovered in this fight? What are the amounts involved? Who was held to account? Where are they now? People need answers to meaningfully join the fight against corruption.

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