Today’s guest post is from Selemani Kinyunyu, Senior Policy Officer for Political and Legal Matters at the African Union Advisory Board on Corruption. The views expressed in this post are his own.
The African Union (AU) has declared the year 2018 is the African Anti-Corruption Year, and the fight against corruption was a central focus of the 31st Summit of the AU, which was held this past July 1 and 2 in Mauritania. The Summit, along with other recent developments, have made clear that there is an emerging African voice on this issue, one that emphasizes certain issues of pressing importance and that articulates a distinctive perspective on these issues. The AU Summit in particular highlighted four notable issues:
- First, the Summit criticized the labeling of corruption as an African phenomena, and challenged the conventional wisdom that Africa is corrupt while Western countries are ethical (a perception reinforced by the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) rankings). Rather, the Summit recognized that corruption as a universal phenomenon, and that Western countries and their multinational corporations (the “supply side” of corruption) have played in key role in abetting corrupt practices—even though this is not captured by the CPI rankings.
- Second, the Summit also recognized 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. On this issue, the Summit paid close attention to the report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows, which revealed that Africa loses at least $50 billion a year to illicit financial flows. Interestingly, a large portion of this loss (close to 60%) is due to unethical business practices such as transfer pricing and other aggressive tax avoidance, while according to the High Level Panel corruption is responsible for only about 5% of the total illicit outflows. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the OECD is pushing back on the High Level Panel’s work, questioning the methodology and findings by attempting to focus more on the illegal dimensions of illicit financial flows.
- Third, the Summit declared asset recovery to be a key priority for African countries. Many African countries have suffered the massive theft of state resources by former leaders, and encountered severe difficulties and delays in tracing, freezing, and returning these stolen assets. Nigeria’s nearly 20-year quest to recover the assets looted by former President Sani Abacha from the Swiss authorities is a revealing example of the perils African governments face is the recovery of stolen assets. At the Summit, a number of priorities on the asset recovery issue came into clearer focus: working with international partners to adopt a transparent and efficient timetable for the recovery and return of stolen assets, pushing for an end to the practice of attaching unnecessary conditions on the return of assets, and developing a Common African Position on Asset Recovery.
- Fourth, the Summit recognized that, in a continent that is growing younger, investing in the younger generation will be crucial to stemming corruption and developing new methods to fight this vice. Thus, it is important to emphasize anticorruption education and public awareness campaigns targeting young people, in order to catalyze attitudinal change.
These four points will likely serve as the foundation for the African discourse on the corruption topic in the coming years, and key features of the uniquely African voice in the global corruption debate.