Regardless of where it occurs, corruption harms poor people most, serving as a barrier to development by stifling economic growth and diverting funds from infrastructure, education, healthcare and other public services. Corruption can aggravate inequality and injustice, fuel frustration and violence, and undermine stability, especially in the most vulnerable regions in the world.
African citizens consistently place corruption amongst their top concerns, with many indicating that they have lost faith in many key institutions, including legislatures, police, courts, and national electoral commissions. In terms of impact, the High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, led by Thabo Mbeki, estimates that more than $50-billion illicitly flows out of Africa every year.
Recognising the ruinous impact of corruption, the African Union (AU) chose 2018 as the year of winning the fight against corruption, with the potential to place Africa on the path to becoming a global norm setter in combating corruption.
While there was scepticism on the impact that such a theme could have on the resolve of African leaders and institutions to make progress in the fight against corruption, a review of some of the outcomes of various activities at the continental and country levels in 2018 provides some insights on what is required to gain traction in the coming years in the fight against corruption on the continent.
After the official launch of the theme of the year in January 2018 at the 30th Ordinary Summit of the AU, and a debate at the 31st Ordinary Session of the Assembly – which saw more than 25 heads of states report on the status of the fight against countries in their countries in Nouakchott, Mauritania in July 2018 – African leaders acknowledged that corruption is a major hindrance to development across the continent and that something must be done about it.
Prior to the Summit in July 2018, 157 CSOs from 37 African countries signed an open letter to the AU calling for concrete anti-corruption commitments and urging African leaders to move from rhetoric to concrete actions. The adoption of the Nouakchott Declaration served as an important public statement on priority areas in the fight against corruption in Africa, which included combating illicit financial flows through measures such as: the establishment of effective company ownership registers, country-by-country reporting of financial information, participation in automatic exchange of tax information agreements, and support in strengthening tax authorities through the work of the African Tax Administration Forum. Leaders also agreed to implement inclusive development planning and policy making at the national level that includes participatory and transparent budgeting processes that allow citizens to participate in budget development and monitoring.
The receipt of three new ratifications from Angola, Mauritius and Sudan – bringing the total number of states parties to the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) to 40 in 2018 – was also significant for the year. Other states including Morocco and Tunisia also expressed their willingness to ratify the Convention. The ratification of the AUCPCC is the minimum level of political will that African governments must commit to to show seriousness in combating corruption. Critically, governments must now implement and enforce the convention’s provisions .
The African anti-corruption year also enhanced citizen participation and engagement in the fight against corruption. Most notably, over 1 000 youths were engaged during the course of three AGA regional youth consultations held across the continent and the African Anti-Corruption Youth Congress that took place in Abuja. This was strategic in boosting the capacity and coordination of the next generation to combat corruption. In addition, African celebrities in attendance, like 2Baba of Nigeria and Black Queen of Senegal, urged youths to mobilise in the fight against corruption.
The year also provided an opportunity for the AU to reflect on the effectiveness of the continental approach to fighting corruption. In order to report more realistic processes and measures in the fight against corruption at the national level, there was agreement to review the current questionnaire through which current state parties to the AUCPCC report their level of compliance. Also, there was consensus on the need to improve the capacity of the AU advisory board on corruption, including review of the tenure of board members and staffing the secretariat through the ongoing AU reform process. This process is led by President Paul Kagame to make the AU more effective in serving the needs of African citizens.
At the national level, Senegal took a significant stride forward by joining the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and is currently taking steps to develop a national action plan under the management of the ministry of good governance and child welfare. Kenya’s anti-corruption reforms are currently reaching new levels with President Uhuru Kenyatta leading the campaign to expose corruption, encourage honest public service delivery through the launch of the Huduma Halisi (“honest service”) campaign and the launch of its 3rd OGP national action plan. This plan will outline commitments to improve governance through increased openness, engagement of citizens and specific measures to fight corruption. Nigeria launched its national anti-corruption strategy with similar commitments to transparency and a multi-stakeholder engagement mechanism for monitoring progress. Nigeria also hosted the largest gathering of African youths to stimulate youth participation in the fight against corruption.
Looking ahead, African countries that are not currently parties to the AUCPCC need to ramp up ratification and implementation of the convention while those who are parties should prioritise its implementation. The AUCPCC is a robust agreement that, if fully implemented, would help address a number of corruption issues across the continent. Yet its implementation has been slow and uneven.
African leaders must also implement the commitments made at the 2018 AU summit, as well as commitments made at the 2016 anti-corruption summit in London, while OGP members must issue and implement robust action plans.
Important progress was made in 2018 in the fight against corruption, but much more remains to be done. To shift the norms in the fight against corruption, it is now time to consider key aspects of transparency that enable African citizens to have a voice and can demand accountability in the management of their common wealth as well as prevent illicit financial flow out of the continent. African leaders have committed to do just that – now they must follow through and transform those rhetorical commitments into action.
Rudo Kwaramba-Kayombo is the Africa Executive Director of the ONE Campaign.