Côte d’Ivoire – A Snapshot of its Journey against Corruption
In 2011, Côte d’Ivoire emerged from years of protracted civil conflict and political turmoil. Over the last decade, President Alassane Ouattara’s administration has made significant progress in rebuilding and strengthening the criminal justice system, not least with the ratification of the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) in 2012. The country has generally seen improvements in rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression since then.
The main anti-corruption agency in Côte d’Ivoire is the High Authority for Good Governance (HAGB). Together with special regulatory and law enforcement units, it coordinates strategies to fight corruption. Despite significant legal and political commitments, enforcement of anti-corruption measures in Côte d'Ivoire is lagging. Even when cases are brought to court, the investigations and resulting convictions are not sufficiently publicised. This would partly explain the sharp decline in Ivorians’ faith in their government’s ability to tackle corruption. The 2020 Afrobarometer Index showed that 69 per cent of people in the country felt the state was performing “fairly badly” or “very badly” in the fight against corruption, compared to 59 per cent in 2017.
With President Ouattara entering a controversial third term in 2021, there is growing concern that democratic and anti-corruption gains are backsliding.
Quite a number of corruption related cases have been determined in court but they need to be publicised to sensitise the public and achieve deterrence. By communicating the rulings in corruption cases, the High Authority for Good Governance would be seen as effective. This would boost Ivorians’ trust in the government’s commitment to prevent and root out graft.
The African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption
The AUCPCC is a shared roadmap for member states to implement good governance and anti-corruption policies and systems. Côte d’Ivoire ratified the AUCPCC in February 2012 and has made substantial steps towards implementing the provisions under the convention. Under the TEA-CAC project, Transparency International’s chapter in Côte d’Ivoire, Social Justice, conducted research into the status of implementation of the AUCPCC, focusing on the provisions for tackling money laundering (Article 6), illicit enrichment (Article 8), political party funding (Article 10) and civil society and media (Article 12). Based on results of this research, Social Justice has been working on raising awareness of the AUCPCC with civil society and the media. They are also working with state institutions to further anti-corruption measures through a wide range of capacity building and advocacy initiatives.
Convening power and connecting stakeholders
Social Justice has capitalised on having high-level access to policy-makers by sharing findings and recommendations produced under the TEA-CAC project directly with key state institutions such as the HABG, the Senate and relevant ministries. These recommendations were noted by the HABG as “integral” in the process of setting up the National Integrity Strategy. In fact, not only did the HABG invite Social Justice to help develop the strategy, they have also committed to supporting the training and capacity building of journalists, thus acknowledging the media as a key tool and ally in the fight against corruption.
Social Justice’s close working relationship with the government has also been key in bridging the gap between civil society and government institutions. In Côte d’Ivoire, there are only a few civil society organisations working in the anti-corruption space. Historically, the level of cooperation between civil society and the government has been inadequate. To address this issue, Social Justice – backed by the HABG – has created a platform, the PACA-225 (Plateforme d’Action Civile Anti-corruption de Côte d’Ivoire) as a framework through which civil society, as well as the media and other stakeholders, can coordinate, share best practices and work together more closely and more effectively with anti-corruption agencies.
Bringing together all these actors in the fight against corruption will be important for holding the government accountable for keeping its promises in the fight against corruption, and in pushing the vitally important issue of whistleblower protection. Côte d’Ivoire does not currently have a law that provides clear protection for whistleblowers. Experiences in other countries have shown that protecting whistleblowers is one of the single most effective tools in fighting corruption. For Côte d’Ivoire this is especially important because journalists have recently faced significant fines for reporting on the corrupt actions of powerful individuals. Social Justice has met with the newly formed Ministry of Good Governance on several occasions to discuss how to offer better protection for people who come forward to report cases of corruption.
Strength in numbers
Along with working to strengthen whistleblower protection, Social Justice has also made great strides in empowering the Ivorian media to detect and report on corruption cases and to gain a better understanding of the legal frameworks, such as the AUCPCC, for their investigative work.
What we need are bold and committed journalists who are empowered to expose the wrongs in our society, to hold those in power accountable and get us on the right track. This is the focus of my work with Social Justice. Not only to help journalists to expose cases after the fact and report the effects of corruption but to enable them to detect corrupt behaviour as it happens – this is where the real deterrent lies.
In addition to training workshops for print and broadcast journalists from all over the country, Social Justice also mentors journalists through their investigations and follows up with them to measure the impact of their work. To encourage more reporting on corruption and to reward the lengthy – and often costly – process of doing so, Social Justice launched an award for the best anti-corruption media production in 2021.Out of the 75 applications received, many were by journalists who had participated in Social Justice’s training and workshops, including the journalist who was awarded the second position.
I think it’s fair to say that we have helped change the writing structure and improved the investigative skills of journalists in Côte d’Ivoire. Rather than reporting on the effects of corruption, many of them are now committed to detecting and preventing it. It’s such a good thing because it has a whistleblowing effect and it helps inform the public. Before, most people were not aware of how direct an impact corruption has on their daily lives, sometimes they would even participate in corrupt behaviour without realising it. Now, they’re becoming aware that corruption is everywhere, and they are realising that we can all be agents in the fight against corruption. It will take a long time to get everything on the right track – maybe even a generation – but I’m hopeful that things will get better.