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AU must up its game if it wants to engage Africans on corruption

An All Africa Anti-Corruption Court, exercising its jurisdiction on the basis of complementarity, could rapidly develop into an effective institution for recovery of Africa’s wealth that has been lost to the corrupt. Giving the court powers to prevent the dissipation of assets acquired corruptly and to require reparations from the corrupt could change the entire trajectory of transformation in Africa for the better and is a matter for agreement between states that subscribe to the notion of a continent-wide approach.

The invitation was mouthwatering. Three days of powerful input on the intractable challenges posed by endemic grand corruption, kleptocracy, State Capture and even plain “traffic cop” level corruption in Africa with illustrious presidents and former presidents setting the tone in a panel discussion “TV style”, as the programme put it. Then experts, academics and those in the trenches of anti-corruption civil society work rounded off by an interview with the investigative journalist and lawyer from Ghana, Anas Anas, who can, with his penetrative methodology involving hidden cameras and undercover operations, boast the corrupt scalps of judges, politicians and even healthcare workers in a mental asylum.

The reality of the event, held in a grand but musty international conference centre in Gabarone, did not live up to its promise. The programme started more than an hour late, without apology, explanation or any accounting for the delay on a hot day in a warm hall. Other than the President of Botswana,our host, none of the heads and former heads of state put in an appearance.

Instead, a late change to the programme, distributed by hand in glossy form after the arrival and registration of delegates, listed a Vice President, from Namibia, and some cabinet members from nearby countries as the substitutes for the absent superstars. Once again, no apology, explanation or accounting for the absence of the drawcard speakers was tendered.

The delegates voted with their feet, with numbers dwindling markedly at each successive session. The AU is going to have to up its organisational game if it wishes to continue to engage Africans on the thorny topic of corruption. It seems to know, from the theme of the conference, that “Winning the fight against corruption” is key to “a sustainable path to Africa’s transformation”.

The AU needs to do more about it, with greater clout, verve and more organisational efficiency. The notion of “bait and switch” came up too frequently among networking delegates.

The unpalatable and, somewhat surprisingly, unmentioned truth is that UN estimates reveal that by mid-century the population of Africa is expected to double. Yes, in about 31 years there will be roughly as many people under 31 years old as there are now people in Africa. It has taken all of history to reach the 1 billion mark and will take only the next 31 years to reach two billion.

This has implications for sustainable transformation. The hordes of young Africans will need to be fed, housed and educated. They will need healthcare in hospitals and clinics not yet built. Indeed, it is estimated that during this century, the African century, some 200 new cities will need to be built to accommodate the increase in population and to ease the lot of the currently informally housed in mainly urban settings.

No wonder that there is a need to “assess and explore normative, structural and implementation enablers for sustainable anti-corruption efforts in Africa”, to quote the outcome statement of the conference. The continent is doomed to a nasty, brutish and short Hobbesian future if the current trends in corruption are allowed to continue unabated. It is certainly not sustainable to continue to pour great and increasing quantities of the wealth of Africa into the pockets of the corrupt.

Corruption is a crime, a violation of human rights that often takes the form of what amounts to theft from the poor by snakes in suits in both the private (think transfer pricing) and public sectors (think nepotism), with overlap on procurement of public goods and services with public funds that are all too often misappropriated in all manner of malfeasance of the corrupt kind.

The delegates noted that there is a shortage of credible and reliable data to enable all of us to fully appreciate the true cost and impact of corruption. While weaknesses in national statistical functions and “the flooding of Africa with ideologically laden data” were blamed, it is safe to work from the assumption made by the SA Chief Justice in a judgment concerning corruption when he remarked that the “malady is in danger of graduating into something terminal”. 1

Fourteen countries in Africa have not yet adopted the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption. Those that have are not particular about implementing it properly. The national and regional domestication of rules requiring effective, efficient and adequately independent anti-corruption machinery requires a degree of political will, including the willingness to forego control of corruption busters by the executive branch of government that is absent all too frequently and widely in Africa.

The African struggle for freedom has been supplanted by the struggle of a small well-connected elite to satisfy its greed in a manner that undermines the rule of law and hobbles sustainable transformation. In all of history it has not been possible to carry on in this way – a collapse will become inevitable due to the unproductive and cancerous nature of corruption in all its forms.

The delegates in Gaberone recommended the strengthening of institutions of state and the creation of an enabling environment to enhance citizen participation in policy formation and governance. These steps would include the strengthening of accountability mechanisms, with block chain technology and a World Bank type sanctions systems to deal sternly with miscreants who are unable to account for their expenditure of public funds coming under the scrutiny of delegates.

The nurturing of a Pan-African partnership against corruption requires urgent attention, given the globalisation of corrupt activities. The delegates urged the strengthening of co-operation between and among all kinds of corruption busters. These recommendations dovetail with the noted need in Africa to demand and secure the return of looted funds and stolen assets, both of which will come in handy as the population grows and the longing for peace that is secure, progress that is sustainable and prosperity that is equitably shared can no longer go unrequited.

Recommendation Five, headed “Towards an equitable global approach”, holds the most promise for ordinary Africans. It is certain that the corrupt will not volunteer to give back their ill-gotten gains. The global reach of the corrupt is also beyond dispute. Suing for the return of the proceeds of corruption, for the payment of taxes evaded and punishment of those involved will require the establishment of an International Anti-Corruption Court to deal with matters that are not properly addressed at national level. Africa can lead the way in this regard.

An All Africa Anti-Corruption Court, exercising its jurisdiction on the basis of complementarity, could rapidly develop into an effective institution for recovery of Africa’s wealth that has been lost to the corrupt. Giving the court powers to prevent the dissipation of assets acquired corruptly and to require reparations from the corrupt could change the entire trajectory of transformation in Africa for the better and is a matter for agreement between states that subscribe to the notion of a continent-wide approach.

The idea of an All Africa Anti-Corruption Court is not new. The notion is being championed by Integrity Initiatives International on a global scale. Africa can steal a march on the other continents by boxing smart and recognising the need for a mechanism and institution of this kind.

To refuse to do so is to surrender the initiative to the corrupt. Those who resist either haven’t understood the concept or have smallanyana skeletons in their own corruption cupboards. Arguments that the ICC and ICJ will suffice as international courts miss the point that neither of these august institutions has the jurisdiction nor are they equipped to try the corrupt.

It is an idea that should be explored at the highest level in the AU with a view to promoting awareness of the need for what the delegates identified as “an equitable global approach” to fighting corruption.

Women delegates pointed out during the conference the uncomfortable truth that the corrupt are overwhelmingly men and that the victims of corruption, especially in the public sector, are mainly poor women and their children.

Perhaps the women of Africa should formulate their discontent over these unfortunate phenomena into a list of their demands on the AU and those who lead in Africa. A strike, if demands are not timeously met, that takes the form of women abstaining from sexual intercourse will certainly get the attention of most men. In this way the enhancement of public participation in confronting the corrupt in Africa will be achieved, swiftly. DM

Paul Hoffman SC is a director of Accountability Now, a member of the International Committee of Triple I and the author of Confronting the Corrupt.

Op-ed published by Daily Maverick on 4 December 2018

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