Notable is the dedication of 2018 by the African Union (AU) as the African Anti-Corruption Year on the theme “Winning the Fight Against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation” The dedication of 2018 as the African Anti-Corruption Year closely follows the 24th Ordinary Summit of the AU which also considered the report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows (IFF’s) and adopted a declaration on IFF’s. The report of the High Level Panel revealed that Africa loses at least $ 50 billion a year to Illicit Financial Flows, a large portion of which (close to 60%) is through unethical business practises such as transfer pricing and aggressive tax avoidance practises. Interestingly, the High Level Panel found that corruption only constitutes 5% of the total illicit outflows.
The seminal work of the High Level Panel has played a crucial role in recalibrating the global debate around corrupt practises, shining the spotlight on western countries and their multinational corporations and the role they play in abetting corrupt practises. This could be said to go against conventional opinion that has largely depicted Africa as corrupt and western countries as ethical. An examination of the Transparency International rankings reinforces this perception with a country like Somalia ranking poorly, while Switzerland is rated highly despite being a secrecy jurisdiction that facilitates the concealment of the proceeds of corruption. This has led some to argue that such corruption indices do not place sufficient focus on the supply side of corruption.
Unsurprisingly, indications suggest that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is pushing back on the work of the High Level Panel and has been attempting to question the methodology and findings by attempting to focus more on the illegal dimensions of Illicit Financial Flows.
With these developments as a backdrop, an emerging African voice can be distilled from the recently concluded 31st Summit of the AU which was held on 1 and 2 July, 2018 in Mauritania’s desert capital Nouakchott. Three issues are notable;
First, taking que from the tone of the High Level Panel, the summit criticized the labelling of corruption as an African phenomena.
Instead, the summit viewed corruption as a universal phenomenon and that the fight against corruption constitutes part of the broader debate around global economic and tax justice including the progressive elimination of tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions both within and outside Africa.
Secondly, the summit also noted importance of asset recovery as a key priority for African countries. Countries like Nigeria whose president Muhammadu Buhari was appointed to champion the African Anti-Corruption year have suffered from difficulties in tracing, freezing and returning stolen assets. The close to 20 year journey to recover the Abacha loot from the Swiss authorities is a good example of the perils African governments face is the recovery of stolen assets. On asset recovery, the priorities include ending unnecessary conditionality’s for asset recovery, developing a Common African Position on Asset Recovery and working with international partners to adopt a transparent and efficient timetable for the recovery and return of stolen assets.
Finally, corruption prevention remains a key priority with an emphasis on anti-corruption education and sensitization campaigns targeting young people as a means of catalysing attitudinal change. In a continent that is growing younger, investing in emerging generation of anti-corruption change agents will be crucial to stemming corruption and developing new methodologies to fight the vice. Youth-led organisations and movements such as YouthHub Africa, budgiT and JamiiForums are good examples of how social media and ICTs can be used to engage and mobilize young people on transparency issues.
These three pillars will likely serve as thrust for African discourse on the topic in the coming years and are reflective of the uniquely African voice in the global anti-corruption debate.
An abridged version of this post was featured on the Global Anti-Corruption Blog
Selemani is Legal Expert specializing in African Governance trends. He currently serves as Senior Policy Officer for Political and Legal Matters at the African Union Advisory Board on Corruption. He is also an advisor at The Maendeleo Group and a member of the Pan African Lawyers Union Expert Task Force on Illicit Financial Flows. The views expressed by the author are entirely his own and do not reflect the position of any organisation he may be affiliated with.