Alagi Yorro Jallow

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki has rattled Africa’s corrupt leadership.

In his words, “We want an Africa that is free from poverty: What kind of leadership do we need to end that poverty? We need a critical assessment of ourselves as Africans. Have you provided a kind of leadership that is suitable? Where did we go wrong? We need to sit as peers and speak frankly: The President, you are misbehaving. You are stealing public resources. You have accessed power to put money in your pockets. This is not the leadership we want. We are not doing that sufficiently because we are afraid to speak frankly about the wrong things we are doing”.

The African Union’s 2018 theme, ‘Winning the Fight Against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation’ AU Summit held in Mauritania is both welcome and timely to combat the cankerworm of corruption in Africa.

In the immediate sense, this initiative assembled together the cream of Africa`s leaders spurred on by the conviction that the time is now, to strike a decisive blow against crime and corruption.It provides a critical opportunity to make progress in the fight against corruption and to mitigate its corrosive impacts on prosperity, growth, security and the fight against extreme poverty.

In the broad political context, it underscores the fact that our leaders had reached the collective conviction that the time for change had come to pass. African Union and Member States must seize this opportunity and deliver meaningful anti-corruption commitments as soon as possible.

 According to the Africa Union (AU) around $148 billion are stolen from the continent by its leaders and civil servants every year. The recent Forbes’ list of most corrupt nations had 9 out of the first 16 countries coming from Africa’.

The African Union’s focus on combating corruption comes at a critical juncture. African citizens consistently place corruption among their top concerns. Corruption among government officials and bureaucracies has increased over the last decade according to the Ibrahim Index of African Governance.

The Panama Papers and other recent investigative leaks have exposed numerous flaws in anti-corruption regimes across the continent. The 2015 report issued by the High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, led by former President Thabo Mbeki, estimated that more than US$50 billion illicitly flows out of the continent every year.

The AU’s Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, adopted in 2003, outlines a robust set of principles, including rooting out corruption, strengthening democratic principles, institutions, and the rule of law, and increasing transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs. Yet implementation of the Convention’s principles has been uneven and inadequate across the continent.

State effectiveness and legitimacy are critical for building African government systems that are responsive and accountable to the needs of their citizens. Yet these key ingredients of lasting development remain weak across the continent.

Thabo Mbeki

To rebuild citizen trust in governments and to enable citizens and governments to work together to build a better future, citizens must be able to track budgets and follow the money from resources to results, and citizens, an independent media, and appropriate judicial and legislative checks and balances must be able to hold leaders accountable.

Meaningful steps toward making this vision a reality must be taken NOW. It is imperative that concrete progress to combat corruption be made by all AU Heads of State without and combat corruption. Vague or rhetorical promises to fight corruption will be insufficient to rebuild citizen trust in government and ensure that all Africans have equal opportunities to thrive.

The African Union and Members States must deliver an ambitious declaration that includes concrete commitments to prevent further corruption, give credible anti-corruption bodies and law-enforcement agencies the arsenal needed to effectively combat corruption, and that ensure that citizens have the information necessary to restore confidence in government institutions.