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2018 African Union Summit: fight against corruption at the centre stage

The 30th African Union Summit that took place from 22-29 January 2018 has put discussions around corruption at the centre stage. The AU Summit, under the theme Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation, aimed at deliberating mechanisms for combating corruption and named Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari the African anti-corruption champion for 2018.

[su_highlight]Corruption, considered as a cancer that destroys the fabric of society, is defined by Transparency International as 'the abuse of entrusted power for private gain and can come in many forms such as bribery, embezzlement, extortion and nepotism'. Depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs, it can be classified as grand or petty corruption.[/su_highlight]

Besides the loss of public money, corruption weakens state institutions, has corrosive effects on public trust and hinders development and security. For example, as we highlighted in our 2017 Forum Report, Africa at a Tipping Point, corruption can facilitate terrorism as it allows for the collection and movement of funds by terrorist groups; for a weakened military; and for extremist groups to draw on deep public anger to radicalise and recruit, as Boko Haram did in Nigeria. There is strong data to back this up. The ten African countries that are most impacted by terrorism, according to the Global Terrorism Index, all perform poorly in corruption-related indicators in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG) when compared to the continental average.

As President Buhari states,

 It is evident that corruption has a devastating impact on marginalised communities, especially the youth, women and children. Corruption breeds unequal societies, renders vulnerable groups prone to human trafficking, as well as recruitment into armed groups and militia. In effect, corruption deprives our young citizens of opportunities to develop meaningful livelihoods.

Corruption levels on the African continent

The issue of corruption is cross-cutting to all dimensions of the IIAG, but it is the main focus of the sub-category Accountability. Worryingly, the African average score in Accountability is the lowest across all of the 14 sub-categories included in the IIAG (35.8 out of 100.0, with 100.0 being the best possible score). Barely any progress has been made since 2012 (+0.6), slowing even further in the last five years (+0.1).

Progress in Accountability is mainly held back by a large and speedy deterioration in Corruption & Bureaucracy. This indicator assesses the intrusiveness of bureaucracy in a country – the amount of red tape and the likelihood of encountering corrupt public officials. In the last decade, Africa’s Corruption & Bureaucracy score has deteriorated at an average pace of almost -1.00 points per year, increasing to almost -1.80 points per year in the second half of the decade. Nine countries declined by -5.00 or more points per year since 2012: Algeria, Central African Republic, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ghana, Libya, Mauritania and Mozambique. According to Afrobarometer, almost 40% of Africans feel that the level of corruption in their country has increased a lot. The most dramatic cases are those of Ghana, Malawi and South Africa.

Nevertheless, progress in Accountability should be highlighted for some countries. In the last decade, 27 countries have improved their scores, including Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Togo which have progressed by more than +15.0 points in total.

Corruption in Africa can come in many forms. Grand corruption in public procurement can be particularly problematic as it results in loss of public money and a reduction of quality, sustainability and safety of public choices. While public procurement equals to approximately 15% of global GDP, corruption is estimated to account for 20 to 25% of procurement budgets worldwide. Petty corruption and bribery in access to public services is also a worrying trend as it directly targets the citizens, limiting their access to public goods or services and eroding public trust. According to Afrobarometer, the police are most widely seen as corrupt in Africa: almost half of the interviewed citizens think the police are involved in corruption. The poor are most vulnerable to the immediate effects of having to pay bribes as they have fewer means to seek out services from alternative providers.

Institutional frameworks to fight against corruption in Africa

The IIAG indicator Fighting Corruption shows that African citizens are not satisfied with their governments' efforts to curb corruption. Throughout the last decade the indicator has shown an average deterioration of -1.50 points every year, falling to a score of 36.5 out of 100.0.

Despite the dissatisfaction of the citizens with governmental action, Africa has made significant strides in enacting legal and policy frameworks. Fifteen years ago, in 2003, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) was adopted and, so far, 37 countries have already ratified it. Additionally, the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which came into force in 2005, has been ratified by 50 African countries from which 18 have voluntarily submitted peer-reviewed country reports within the UNCAC Implementation Review Mechanism.

Other African regional or continental institutions such as the African Tax Administration Forum, the African Parliamentarians Network against Corruption, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa are also powerful instruments to root out corruption. Africa has put in place some legal and institutional frameworks but there is clearly still work to be done so that corruption is tackled completely and does not stop progress towards better governance. The fact that the AU’s recent summit focused on the issue is a crucial step towards that.