The fight against corruption in Africa

Oct 26, 2015

> Paulus K. Noa

African States strive towards regional integration with the primary objective to boost the region’s economic growth potential and industrialise the region. 

No doubt, the pre-condition to the realisation of this noble dream is commitment to the unwavering fight against corruption.

A strong determination and commitment by African governments to combat this phenomenon consolidates democracy and the rule of law which are the hallmarks of good governance.  Corruption is a crime against the well-being of society.  Corruption impacts on respect for human rights, since members of society are deprived of basic services and amenities which they are entitled to.  Corruption is a barrier to economic growth.  It undermines good governance and exacerbates poverty. Political instability experienced in some regions including the African region may be attributed to poor governance due to corruption.  Surely, corruption is the cause of many quagmires.  No matter how good on paper the regional economic programs African Heads of State and Government may develop, if the primary focus is not on combatting corruption, such programs will not be successfully implemented.

African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption

African Heads of State and Government under the umbrella of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) acknowledged the corrosive dangers posed by corruption when they finally decided to set up a coordinated mechanism to effectively combat corruption.  The anti-corruption protocol called the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combatting Corruption was adopted by the 2nd Ordinary Session of the Union in Maputo, Mozambique, on the 11th July 2003.

The Convention contains sound principles required for a transparent, accountable, efficient and effective governance system.  If African governments could implement the articles of the Convention to the letter, there would be little chance for corruption to permeate and block the way for speedy regional economic integration and growth.

Notably, the Convention aims to promote and strengthen the development in Africa, through prevention, detection, punishment and eradication of corruption, fraud, tax evasion, money laundering and related offences.  It also aims to coordinate and harmonize the policies and legislation between States Parties in order to better prevent, detect, punish and in the process eradicate corruption.  Harmonization of policies and legislations is largely a better way to smoothly embark on implementation of regional integration programs.  Further, the Convention entrenches as one of its objectives, the promotion of socio-economic development by removing all forms of obstacles to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, inclusive civil and political rights.  It endorses the establishment of the necessary conditions that foster transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs on the continent.

The aforesaid objectives of the Convention are very fundamental to a system that upholds the values of good governance.

Adoption and ratification of the Convention is not enough

Adoption of the Convention, no matter how good the principles embodied in it, is not enough.  Just like the establishment of a national anti-corruption body alone is not enough to guarantee the fight against corruption effectively.

Political leaders at the highest echelons must be in the forefront of the battle against corruption. This way, the implementation of the Convention through domestication is ensured and the battle against corruption will yield results.  It is acknowledged globally that corruption is a governance factor, thus the problem of corruption requires a political solution.  When political authorities are fully committed to support and strengthen anti-corruption agendas, corruption hardly finds its way to deepen roots in the governance systems.

Laws and policies that govern the government of the day are initiated and passed by politically established bodies.  Therefore the same political power has the power in its hand to determine the effectiveness of anti-corruption drives.  The internationally acclaimed author and illustrious son of the African soil, Chinua Achebe, said it correctly that the problem of Africa is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibilities, to the challenges of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.

In this day and age, Africans must only admire political leadership that is committed to serve humanity and lift the communities from the pools of abject poverty.  The citizenry must demand to be served by leaders who see themselves as public servants and not mere politicians.  They must make a public pledge to commit themselves to the principles of democracy, popular participation, rule of law, transparency, accountability and good governance.  The political leaders the region admires should be men and women who are prepared to enter into performance agreement with the electorate to promote effective political leadership and transform development programs into reality.  The African region should no longer cherish leaders who are pre-occupied with self-serving interest.  Doing so will postpone the implementation of regional economic growth programs in a far distant future.

Africa must harmonize its anti-corruption policies and laws and speak with one voice against the vices of corruption.

Africa has abundant resources

The African region is endowed with many natural resources sufficient to develop the region.  It is equally true that Africa went through hardships of resource exploitation under colonial rules.  Today almost all African States are independent.  While colonialism has caused economic damage, it can no longer be a fair excuse for the region’s poor economic performance, many decades after colonial rules were terminated from the region.

The solution to economic woes and corruption in the region lies in the political leadership of the region.  If political leaders choose to eradicate corruption, nothing will stand in their way.  If leaders commit themselves to decisively add value to the natural resources of the region to develop the economies of the region nothing can stop their dream from becoming a reality. However, they need to speak with one voice in order to reach a common goal.

All vast natural resources such as oil, copper, gold, diamond, iron, manganese, water etc. are found on the African soil.  These are the resources that must be used to lift millions of African people out of poverty.  The resources belong to those living on the African continent and must be used to develop and industrialise the region for the benefit of all inhabitants of the region.  They should not be used to solely enrich the elites and develop the foreign economies.  Neither should the resources be used to oil the machinery of corruption.

Millions of Africans live under the poverty line of US$1 per day.  This is the case even in some of the supposedly rich African countries that produce oil.  Under transparent political leadership, African states ought to perform just as good as other oil producing countries.  Unfortunately, weaknesses in checks and balances created an environment for corruption to thrive.  Multinational companies found opportunities to loot the African economies through fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.  The trend cannot be allowed to continue.

There is a ray of hope

Before I comment on the present African political leaders, let me pay due tribute to the icons of African liberation against colonialism such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Abdel Nasser of Egypt.  These were selfless African leaders who had a vision for a united African region with a common African economy.  Their mission was to serve humanity on the African continent.  They did not put their personal interests above the national interests. May their spirit of Ubuntu continue to prevail over African continent.

History appears to be repeating itself.  Today, there is growing evidence that the present African political leaders commit themselves to what they promise their electorate in the election manifesto.  There are many demonstrable examples of determination to deliver services to the public in a transparent and accountable manner.  Some of the leaders went an extra-mile and publicly declare their assets and those of their family members. They have opted to lead by example of ethics and integrity.  Some have also signed performance agreements in terms of which they commit themselves to deliver services to the public. Support to the fight against corruption is today at the heart of many of the African leaders.   

They have showed commitment to their promises through the establishment of anti-corruption agencies, financial intelligence units and police units responsible for combatting drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering and asset recovery units.  These are units which were non-existent a couple of decades ago.  The support and funding given to many of these institutions are examples of leadership commitment in the region. It may not be fully adequate because of other challenges and programs to be funded but the funding has been relatively positive.

Though the region is still faced with economic challenges, the future is quite promising.  African leaders under the umbrella of the AU have developed sound regional integration programs for economic emancipation.  Chances to loot natural resources by either the foreign companies in collusion with the African leaders or their cronies are becoming slim and gradually a thing of the past.  Africans are no longer prepared to be ruled by autocratic leaders who ascend to power for personal gains.  They admire leaders who are prepared to declare war on poverty, unemployment and inequality in society.  They admire leaders who uphold, protect and defend constitutions and national laws of their respective states and regional protocols.  In this spirit, the convention on preventing and combatting corruption in Africa should not be taken lightly.

Finally, besides the positive gains thus far achieved, a lot more needs to be done in order to fully realize the region’s economic growth.  With the aspirations and commitment of political leadership, corruption can be defeated on the continent and living conditions of millions of Africans can be improved.

All components of the society of the African region must play their roles.  Greater cooperation by all African states against corruption, mismanagement of resources, looting of resources and poor services delivery will guarantee Africa’s bright future.

Long Live Africa!

*The author Paulus K. Noa, is the Director-General of Anti-Corruption Commission, Namibia

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