Njoya Tikum, United Nations Development Programme Regional Anti-Corruption Advisor for Africa and Yale University World Fellow, contributes the following guest post:
To achieve the aspiration for an inclusive and sustainable human development in Africa, as articulated in the Africa Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063 and reiterated in the Common Africa position on post 2015, African countries must reconsider their approach to the fight against corruption. In the last 15 years, the international community of anticorruption practitioners and advocates have induced African countries to establish anticorruption laws and bodies. With few exceptions, almost every African country—sometimes of their own volition and at times under immense pressure from international financial institutions—has embarked on wide-ranging reforms aimed at strengthening state accountability and eradicating corruption. However, these interventions have not resulted in any noticeable decline in corruption in most parts of Africa. Indeed, multiple indexes such as Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s Governance in Africa Report, and the Afrobarometer, indicate that corruption has been on the steady rise in Africa. The critical question, then, is why the legion of interventions aimed at combating corruption have not yielded positive outcomes.
With monumental trust deficit between the state and citizens in Africa, relying on Anti-Corruption Agencies (ACAs) to fight corruption can only yield limited results. For many countries, the establishment of an ACA was just another box to tick in order to get the next round of development assistance; the agencies themselves are mere window dressing, often suffering from institutional weaknesses and a lack of sufficient human and material resources. In several African countries, for example, ACA funding is tied to presidential benevolence instead of allocation through a transparent national budgetary processes. They are staffed by people with no technical expertise, sometimes including retired public servants who have no real zeal to rock the boat. In these countries, the modus operandi is to fight corruption in areas earmarked by the ruling political regime. In some countries, leaders have used the ACAs to further witch-hunts against political opponents.
How does Africa navigate itself out of this quagmire? To win the battle against corruption, Africa must move beyond offices and notepads to pragmatism and action, exploring new and innovative solutions:
- To begin with, anticorruption strategies must be comprehensive, and must include governance innovations such as open data, transparency and accountability in business, procurement, construction, etc. As part of this comprehensive approach, resources from the national budget must directly be allocated for anticorruption capacity building as part of national development plans (NDPs). As with other parts of NDPs, annual and biannual benchmarks and targets must be established to track the progress of anticorruption initiatives.
- In addition, African governments can and should make use of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) and citizen social accountability tools. For instance, a number of web based applications have been developed to report instances of corruption in real time, providing an opportunity for cheap, affordable solutions to citizens and quick responses/actions by anti-corruption agencies and integrity institutions. See, for example, the Huduma, Ushahidi in Kenya and Frontline SMS campaigns on drug stock outs in the region.
- Civil society organisations (CSOs) must play an increased role as the true watchdogs of the people. Given these responsibilities, and the need for CSOs to be autonomous and sensitive to local needs, it is unfortunate that almost 90% of anticorruption CSOs in Sub-Saharan Africa are funded by international donor agencies. The funding strategy must be adjusted, with national governments and other non-state actors taking up more responsibility for supporting anticorruption CSO activities.
- Speaking of the international community, development partners must switch from playing a hypocritical role where they condemn corruption in the public sector in Africa but do little to stop corruption by private sector groups from their countries. They must embrace a new form of partnership where the private sector, including banks and transnational companies, are held to the same standards as public institutions.