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US-Africa Summit: tackle corruption now

When more than 40 African leaders went to Washington D.C. in early August to meet with President Obama, the underlying concern that touched all the topics discussed – trade, jobs, governance and security – was corruption.

The leaders recognised that the US$14 billion pledged by US businesses, which together with additional money from multilateral organisations for a total of US$33 billion, would only bring maximum benefits to Africa’s citizens if corruption was curbed.

That’s why they agreed to form a high level working group “recognising the losses to the continent and its people from illicit finance flows and corruption.”

In 2012 the African Union and the United Nations also announced a high level working group to investigate ways to curb illicit financial flows. It is expected to report recommendations this year.

All these initiatives are encouraging, but what we need now is action.

Unmask the corrupt

Transparency International launched a campaign in June to Unmask the Corrupt. Criminals and corrupt politicians stash billions of dollars that could go to fund African schools, healthcare and development in secret companies with anonymous owners and bank accounts across the world and then use these illicit gains to pay for luxury lifestyles. This must be stopped.

Collaborating to catch a thief

It was British courts that eventually jailed former Nigerian state governor James Ibori in 2012 for 13 years for money laundering and conspiracy to defraud. Governor of the poverty-stricken, oil-rich Delta state, Ibori stole as much as US$250 million of public money during his time in office, according to British police estimates.

Sentencing him to 13 years in prison, the judge said that his recorded fortune of £50 million (US$83.5) could be a “ludicrously low” estimate of his true wealth. Much of it was funnelled out of the country into overseas accounts, shell companies and investments. It ended up paying for UK real estate, cars and even private school fees. Delta state, though rich in oil, is one of the poorer regions of Nigeria.

According to Global Financial Integrity illicit financial flows sapped 5.7 per cent from the GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade, resources that could have been used to help the lives of the more than 413 million people living on less than US$1.25 a day.

Transparency International believes that only if leaders and civil society work together to enforce tough laws and share information on illicit financial flows will these latest commitments stop the pillaging of Africa. This requires more than a commitment from all countries affected and an affirmation of the role of civil society.

Civil Society: no place at the top table

Too often world leaders believe that inviting civil society to major events is enough. They set up separate events, shut off from the power-brokers.

There were parallel meetings in Washington D.C. with African civil society representatives, including from Transparency International’s chapters in Ethiopia and Liberia. Thomas Nah, the executive director of Transparency International Liberia who attended was not impressed:

The need for transparency

Africa’s great wealth in natural resources, for example, has for too long enriched the few and not the many, as lawmakers in Africa stood by and western economies accepted illicit funds. The stories of exploitation and corruption are well-rehearsed.

Greater transparency can help ensure that the wealth that belongs to the people benefits the people. This will also be true of sectors, such as telecommunications and construction, which have seen an influx of investment in the past decade.

Transparency International has advocated a series of measures that both the Group of 20, the world’s biggest economies, and the countries where they do business, should adopt to stop corruption. These include:

Thirty-five countries out of 54 members of the African Union have ratified the 2003 African Union Convention on Preventing and Combatting Corruption though many have not taken action to implement and enforce the necessary legal frameworks.

The leaders of African nations should ask themselves whether they were able to critically evaluate their anti-corruption efforts after the adoption of the AU Convention to combat corruption and related offences; and what major steps they have taken in order to ensure that their civil society organisations also support their efforts in their respective countries.”

– Eyasu Yimer, Transparency International Ethiopia delegate at US-Africa Summit

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