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Rescuing Africa from the Jaws of Corruption

The fight against corruption in Africa has been slow and arduous. So, when the African Union marked the first African Anti-Corruption Day on 11 July 2017, declaring its commitment to fighting corruption, it is no surprise that not many were excited about the declaration. Linus Unah looks at the attempts by various countries to combat corruption to figure out if these governments are serious.



Africa, with its estimated population of about 1,263 billion, or 16,41% of the global population, is one of the most corrupt places in the world. Corruption has been identified as the continent’s greatest impediment to development. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation, an institution that aims to promote good leadership and governance in Africa, has stated that corruption costs Africa more than USD148 billion per annum. This is equivalent to 50% of the continent’s tax revenue and 25% of its gross domestic product (GDP). Experts have argued that even though it might not be possible to completely eradicate corruption from society, it can be reduced to the barest minimum.

In 2015, the African Union’s high-level panel on illicit financial flows (IFFs) estimated that over the last 50 years, Africa has lost in excess of USD1 trillion in IFFs. Annually, the continent loses USD50 billion through IFFs – this is roughly double the official development assistance (ODA) that Africa receives every year.

“If Africa fails to stop corruption, corruption is most likely going to stop Africa,” wrote Professor Akin Oyebode, a professor of International Law and Jurisprudence at the University of Lagos in an article for the Journal of Political Reform and Economic Recovery in Nigeria in 2001.

However, efforts to combat corruption globally have been on the rise in recent times. According to experts, this could be tied to the fact that corruption has drastically slowed world economic development, especially in poorer countries. In order to achieve its own sustainable development, the continent has finally joined the fight.


Read: Report yourself: the citizen v. corruption

The 2018 benchmark

On 11 July 2017, the African Union (AU) expressed its commitment to the fight against corruption by adopting the AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) to mark the first African Anti-Corruption Day.

Africa keeps gasping for air. Cartoon: Mike Asukwo

The Assembly of the AU also declared 2018 ‘African Anti-Corruption Year’ with the theme, “Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation”.

“We need to wage an aggressive fight against those who practice corruption and [the] institutions that benefit from the proceeds of corruption to restore public trust in our institutions on the continent,” said Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC) at the inaugural celebration.

The AU first adopted the convention on 11 July 2003, in Maputo, Mozambique. Mahamat urged all member states of the AU to ratify and accede to the convention, in order to solidify the continent’s political commitment towards a corruption-free and democratically governed Africa, as envisioned by the AU’s Agenda 2063. All countries ratifying the convention would be expected to domesticate all their national legislative and policy instruments aimed at combating corruption. President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria was endorsed by the AU to champion the fight against corruption on the continent ahead of 2018.


A slow and thorny fight

Recent elections across the continent, in which many electorates have voted for political parties whose manifestoes are woven around the fight against corruption, have signalled a hankering for change among Africans. In the last five years, President Buhari of Nigeria, President Alpha Condé of Guinea, President John Magufuli of Tanzania and President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo of Ghana, among others, were all elected on anti-corruption tickets. All have taken a hard-line stance on corruption. In the past decade and a half, nearly all African governments have put some policies and strategies in place to fight corruption.

President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 03 February 2016. Photo: ANP/EPA Patrick Seeger

In Nigeria, President Buhari issued a directive in August 2015, shortly after his inauguration, that all revenues due to the federal government or any of its agencies were to be paid into a Treasury Single Account or a designated account maintained and operated in the Central Bank of Nigeria, except where otherwise expressly approved.

Read: Data vs Corruption

He also inaugurated a seven-man Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, headed by Itse Sagay, a prominent professor of law and a civil rights activist. President Buhari has also mandated that public servants declare their assets before assuming office to ensure greater transparency in government. However, many have accused the president of using his anti-corruption drive to witch-hunt his opposition since not one of the public office holders arrested for corruption during the exercise has been prosecuted or jailed.

Many have accused President Buhari of using his anti-corruption drive to witch-hunt his opposition.

Shortly after President Condé’s election in Guinea, he launched an investigation into all mining licences, vowing to cancel those obtained through corrupt practises. A number of current US Department of Justice enquiries have also been opened due to these allegations of corruption in the extractive industries. Mining companies wishing to invest in mineral-rich Guinea must now sign an ‘extractive industries transparency initiative’.   


Mining companies wishing to invest in mineral-rich Guinea must now sign an ‘extractive industries transparency initiative’.   

In Ghana, President Akufo-Addo’s New Patriotic Party (NPP) had promised an anti-corruption policy based on three key pillars: institutional reform, legislative reform and attitudinal change/public education during the election campaign. However, many allege that the new president has not met even half of those promises.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli joins a clean-up event outside the State House in Dar es Salaam on December 9, 2015. Photo: ANP/AFP Daniel Hayduk

President Magufuli of Tanzania, who was christened “the bulldozer” for his style of leadership, demonstrated his commitment to ridding the country of corruption with a series of high-profile firings and arrests in his first few months of office.

The Tanzania Daily News reported that in addition to cutting costs and taking administrative action against incompetent and corrupt public servants, some 596 cases related to corruption were currently before the courts.

In November and December 2016, six senior officials in the Tanzania Revenue Authority, including Commissioner General Rashid Bade, were fired. Also suspended was the director general of the Tanzania Ports Authority, Ephraim Mgawe, over a scandal involving the non-payment of USD40 million (€35,1million) in import taxes. Magufuli also sacked Edward Hoseah, the long-serving director-general of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB), due to the slow pace of their fight against graft.

“Magufuli has actually acted on his words,” Rwandan researcher and political commentator Christophe Kayumba told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in a 2016 interview. “He has suspended corrupt officials and reduced public expenditure.”

In North Africa, Tunisia adopted a new constitution in January 2014 which established the Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Agency, tasked with the detection of corruption. Likewise, Morocco has taken steps to constitutionalise its own anti-corruption body.


However, many analysts say the fight against corruption is usually not backed by serious action. A 2017 Afrobarometer, a Pan-African, non-partisan research network survey, revealed that “out of 36 surveyed countries, a majority (55%) of Africans say corruption [had] increased ‘somewhat’ or ‘a lot’ over the previous year. This is the majority view in 23 of 36 surveyed countries.”

Politics weakens anti-graft campaigns

Experts say that countries such as Liberia, Rwanda and Tanzania have made substantive progress in reducing corruption, while Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa have made only paltry progress.

Liberia, Rwanda and Tanzania have made substantive progress in reducing corruption.

Recent measures to curb corruption in Africa have not yielded the desired results because of many reasons. The first of these is politics. The fight against corruption in Africa is often a political one; most leaders use it as a campaign gimmick to amass votes during elections. This creates a disconnect between their utterances and their actions.

Ugandan anti-corruption sign. Corruption greatly undermines government effectiveness. Photo:

In addition, those in power hardly ever grant the relevant institutions, such as anti-corruption agencies, the autonomy they need to execute their activities. In Nigeria, for instance, President Buhari had insisted on the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), despite a damning report by the State Security Service (SSS) and the rejection of Magu – twice – by the National Assembly. The report said Magu had failed the SSS integrity test and accused him of making ‘false allegations’ against individuals ‘for personal reasons’. 

Anti-corruption attempts in recent years have also been plagued by a lack of enforcement and willpower by the anti-corruption agencies themselves and the absence of strong institutions in the countries where they operate. For example, the agencies in Kenya and Tanzania do not have prosecutorial power; that resides in the directorates of public prosecutions.


A study on the effectiveness of anti-corruption agencies in southern Africa, which included Angola, Botswana, the DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, revealed that corruption in the region is the result of deliberate executive machination – as is most corruption in Africa. Agencies such as the judiciary, legal enforcement institutions, police and other such official legal bodies are the biggest part of the problem of corruption, rather than the solution. A National Corruption Survey published by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in August showed the police, judiciary and customs officials were among the country’s top bribe takers.

More needed to fight corruption in Africa

In truth, winning the war against corruption in Africa will require a societal transformation. As Transparency International noted: “Lower-ranked countries in our index are plagued by untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions like the police and judiciary. Even where anti-corruption laws are on the books, in practice they’re often skirted or ignored.”

In truth, winning the war against corruption in Africa will require a societal transformation.

Any renewed efforts against corruption in such countries have been frustrated by the dearth of critical elements required for their success. These elements, as listed on, include:

– a transparent and accountable legislative framework;


– political will and a commitment to fight corruption;

– a strategy that is systematic, comprehensive, consistent, focused, publicised, non-selective and non-partisan;

–  the protection of whistleblowers;

–  political reform;

– reform of substantive programmes and administrative procedures;


–  mobilisation for social re-orientation with the participation of civil society and faith-based organisations;

–  effective parliamentary oversight;

–  an independent media;

–  adequate remuneration for workers, as well as a living wage; and

–  a code of ethics for political office holders, businesses, CSOs, and independent institutions


As 2018 closes in, many believe that until strong institutions are created in African countries, the continent will need a miracle to tackle corruption.