Friday,24 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)
Friday,24 November, 2017
Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Corruption in Africa

Dictatorship, terrorism and civil war, often driven by corruption, continue to blight the African continent, writes Haitham Nuri

Corruption in Africa
Corruption in Africa
Al-Ahram Weekly

Eight African nations have supported Kenya’s proposal to withdraw from the Rome Statute of 1998 that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). Many African leaders see the court as a neo-colonial institution exclusively targeting the continent and its leaders.

The proposal comes as the former president of Côte d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo , faces trial for crimes allegedly committed during the brief civil war that followed his rejection of election results in 2010. Former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré also faces trial in Senegal for crimes committed during his rule.

The Kenyan proposal was made at the 26th session of the African Summit, held in Addis Ababa 30-31 January, chaired by Chadian President Idriss Déby, who succeeded Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Déby said that the world is witnessing many conflicts and crimes, but that the ICC only sees Africa.

The eight countries most receptive to the Kenyan proposal were Sudan, Libya, the Central African Republic, Uganda, Mali, Democratic Congo, Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire, according to Nigerian writer Cynthia Okoroafor. All of them currently have cases pending before the ICC, which was established following the massacres in Rwanda and Burundi and the Balkans war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, the summit did not reach a decision on the Kenyan proposal, leaving it to the individual initiative of the 34 of 54 African nations that have ratified the Rome Statute. African nations constitute nearly one-third of the 123 member states of the ICC and are the largest single bloc; the court has 19 members from Asia, 18 from Eastern Europe (including Russia), 27 from Latin America, and 25 from Western Europe, North America and elsewhere.

Explaining the response to the proposal, Okoroafor said that African leaders stand in solidarity with one another, knowing that they could be next in the dock. Many of them are implicated in violations that may amount to crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction.

Since 2007, the date of the establishment of the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership — which has the largest honorarium of any prize in the world — only five former African leaders have been recipients, the latest being the former president of Namibia, Hifikepunye Pohamba, in 2014. Recipients of the prize must have willingly relinquished power and have a record of political and development achievements in their countries.

Laurent Gbagbo  is the first former African president to appear before the ICC since it began operations in 2003. He faces four charges, including organising rape campaigns and carrying out extrajudicial executions.

The events took place after Gbagbo , then a candidate for a second presidential term, refused to accept the results of the 2010 presidential elections that gave the presidency to his opponent, Alassane Ouattara, the current president. Some 3,000 people were killed in the post-election violence, which lasted for months before French forces, supported by a mandate from the UN Security Council, intervened to depose Gbagbo . Ouattara assumed the presidency and Gbagbo  was referred to the ICC.

Gbagbo ’s most prominent aide — 44-year-old Charles Blé Goudé, known as the Street General — is sharing the dock with him, while none of Ouattara’s supporters are on trial.

Gbagbo  cooperated with French journalist François Mattei to produce Pour la vérité et la justice. The book tells Gbagbo ’s version of events, concluding that his tribulations were a result of his standing up to France and its greed in his country.

Many in Africa believe that the West is targeting the continent’s leaders who refuse to yield to the West, according to Chadian journalist Hussein Antari, who lives in Senegal.

Gbagbo  still carries considerable political weight in his country. His ongoing prosecution and a heavy sentence could again set off events in Côte d’Ivoire, which is only now starting to recover from the civil war.

It is for this reason that President Ouattara supported the Kenyan proposal to withdraw from the ICC, fearing the return of tension to the country.

In his visit last week to France, President Ouattara said that his country would never again turn over one of its citizens to the ICC — a reference to Gbagbo ’s wife, Simone, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a high court in Abidjan, the Ivoirian capital.

But the fact that none of Ouattara’s supporters are appearing before the ICC bothers the Ivoirian government. A lawyer for the victims, Habib Toure, told Reuters that the credibility of the ICC is called into question by the fact that no government supporters were accused of crimes during the 2010 events.

The press of many countries ruled for decades by leaders accused of crimes against humanity by the opposition see Gbagbo ’s appearance before the ICC as “justice victorious,” as the Zimbabwean The Herald proclaimed in an editorial. But in the face of bitter criticism of the ICC, African legal minds have devised another solution: an exceptional African court where African dictators and warlords could be tried by other Africans. The first application of the idea was in Senegal, which established special circuits to try Hissène Habré, the former dictator of Chad.

The trial began on 20 July 2015 but was adjourned several days later to allow the former president’s lawyer to prepare his defence. Final arguments are expected to be heard between 8-12 February, with lawyers representing the victims making arguments from 8-9 February. (The court allowed 4,500 victims as civilian parties in the case.) The final argument of the prosecution is scheduled for 10 February, while the defence will make its final argument on 9 or 10 February.

Although he was present every day, Habré rejected the court and refused to answer any of the judges’ questions. His defence counsel was appointed by the court.

According to Human Rights Watch, Habré is charged with mass killing, abduction, extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual slavery and rape. Habré’s court-appointed lawyer, Frenchman François Serres, said: “African judicial circuits are unlawful institutions. We do not recognise them or their legitimacy.”

He added that the exceptional court “is funded by a Chadian politician who carried out a coup with the sole objective of getting rid of Mr Habré,” a reference to current President Idriss Déby. Before removing Habré in 1990, Déby had allied with him in the coup of 1982.

Until Macky Sall assumed the presidency of Senegal in 2012, Habré lived as a refugee in the country and faced no charges. It was then that the case began to take shape, and an instrument was devised to prosecute former African leaders before African courts.

According to Sarah Williams, law professor and member of the Australian Human Rights Centre, in a study published by TrustAfrica, the exceptional African courts are an African solution to an African problem. The Senegalese government could not turn Habré over to the ICC since most African leaders oppose the institution.

This recalls South Africa’s refusal to arrest Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir during his visit to Pretoria for the 2015 African Summit, despite an ICC warrant for his arrest. Pretoria justified the move saying that it placed South Africa in a difficult position with the rest of the continent, which it has long claimed to lead and represent.

Jeanne Elone, a programme officer for TrustAfrica, believes that the African instrument is an attempt to involve victims in the prosecution of African dictators and warlords.

The exceptional African tribunal, formed under the Court of Appeals in Dakar, is made up of an investigating circuit, composed of four judges, and a charging circuit, composed of three judges. All judges in both of these circuits are Senegalese. There are also two courts — a first-instance and appellate court — composed of Senegalese judges and each chaired by a judge from a member state of the African Union.

The president of the trial chamber in the Habré trial is Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkino Faso.

But the conflict between justice and peace continues to impede the search for the truth, no matter what instruments are created. Supporters of dictatorships have proven to be a force to be reckoned with. They will no allow broad justice for victims who are striving to reclaim their rights.


African politics was noted in the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the Tunisian Quartet for its effective and assertive role in maintaining and continuing the democratic path in Tunisia, after the Jasmine Revolution overthrew dictator Zein Al-Abidine Bin Ali on 14 January 2011.

However, this historic Arab and African victory did not make the continent a better place in terms of combatting corruption, according to the 2015 report by Transparency International, the US-based corruption watchdog that has issued reports since 1995 and now cover 168 countries.

In sub-Saharan Africa, 40 out of 46 countries have serious problems resulting from corruption, with the exception of very small states such as the Seychelles, Mauritius, Cape Verde, Botswana, Namibia and Rwanda. According to the report, larger countries (Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt) did not make any notable progress that would lead Africa to what can be described as a “focus on combatting corruption”, which is deemed rampant. Corruption impacts one-fifth of all Africans (22 per cent, according to Afrobarometer in 2015).

Dictatorships, civil wars and terrorism are the main reasons for the poor rating of African countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2015. The study, conducted in cooperation with Transparency International revealed that 75 million African citizens are forced to pay bribes in return for basic services, some of which are for legal or illegal procedures. Liberia is at the top of the list, followed by Cameroon, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

The study, which focused on 43,243 people in 28 countries south of the Sahara, stated that the police were the most corrupt sector, followed by businessmen, then government officials, tax offices, judiciaries, parliamentarians and finally “chiefs of staff”.

Bribes are found in almost all sectors of society. However, the poor are more impacted by them than the rich because of their vulnerability, according to Afrobarometer.

In Ghana, a most unusual incident happened when a journalist called Anas Aremeyaw Anas, who covers his face in public, produced a film called “Ghana in the Eyes of God: Epic of Injustice” about corruption in the judiciary. Anas filmed 500 hours over two years of undercover investigative journalism that showed 24 judges and dozens of court employees asking for and receiving bribes or sexual favours.

Sammy Darko, the BBC’s correspondent in the capital Accra, said the film is a compilation of recordings submitted to Minister of Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, who began investigations of the judiciary.

According to reports in Ghana, the judges include 12 members of the Supreme Court and 22 from first circuit appeals courts.

All month, Ghanians lined up in front of movie theatres to watch Anas’s film that, along with corruption of the judiciary, was the talk of the country in September and October. It forced the regime to issue constitutional and legislative amendments to fight corruption.

Interrogations of junior judges began at the Supreme Court without media presence, and the justice minister asked accused senior judges to respond to investigators in writing, as required by the constitution.

Although Ghana ranks high on the 2015 Corruptions Perceptions Index (sixth out of 61 countries worldwide), the country has not improved its anti-corruption or good governance record in the past five years, according to the Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG). Ghana dropped by about 0.5 per cent since 2011 on the index, which includes security and law enforcement, participation, human rights, stable economic opportunities and human development.

According to UN Human Development Reports and Global Peace and Global Terrorism indices, less corrupt countries have fewer armed conflicts and terrorism, while development rates are medium or high. Rarely do they have low development rates. Among the 12 countries (ranks 10, 11, 12 are tied), only three have low development rates (Lesotho, Senegal and Burkina Faso), while another three have high rates (Tunisia, the Seychelles and Mauritius).

The remainder have medium-rate development. Even in countries with low development rates, the average income of citizens is more than $1,000 annually --with the exception of Burkina Faso. Meanwhile, none of these countries have civil wars or violent conflicts, contrary to the average on the continent. Only Tunisia and to some extent Senegal suffer terrorist attacks.

The democratic process reduces corruption in general, as seen in Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, compared to dictatorships that sometimes push viable countries to the bottom of the list, such as oil-rich Angola.

In Senegal, the election of President Macky Sall in 2012 gave hope to many that conditions would improve after they deteriorated under his predecessor, Abdoulaye Wade. Legislation was passed to combat money laundering and a commission was created to combat corruption, especially in state sectors, even though fighting corruption in the private sector remains ambiguous.

The surprise was the incarceration of Karim Wade, son of the former president, for six years for influence peddling and illegal accumulation of wealth. Concluding the case, which began in April 2013, the court said Wade hid hundreds of millions of dollars in safe havens in the British Virgin Islands and Panama. Press estimates in the capital Dakar put the figure at $230 million, which he accumulated during his father’s two-term tenure of 12 years.

The opposition claimed that it was a political trial because the younger Wade was the opposition’s presidential candidate in the coming elections. Sall said his government would be unforgiving of any attempt to destabilise the country, in reference to attempts to start demonstrations or engage in sabotage in protest at the court verdict.

In Cote d’Ivoire, where President Alassane Ouattara won another term in office in mid-2015, the country’s rating on the anti-corruption index improved by eight places and there was some improvement on the good governance index, by 8.5 per cent since 2011, at the end of a years-long civil war. Western investment returned to Abidjian in force, especially when the investment environment improved after stiff government anti-corruption laws were issued. Also, infrastructure improved.

Nigeria, the largest economy on the continent ($569 billion in GDP annually) and most populated (at 174 million), lost $150 billion in the past decade to corruption (or three per cent of GDP), according to President Muhammadu Buhari. Buhari, who led a coup that brought him to power for 20 months in the mid-1980s, and who strongly campaigned against corruption, created a presidential committee to combat corruption.

Many believe corruption funds terrorism. There were recent revelations that local leaders are involved in embezzling public funds and cooperating with Boko Haram groups, according to the BBC. The president sacked several senior figures in the Ministry of Defence under suspicion of “bogus” deals to buy airplanes and ammunition for the army worth $5 billion.

At the end of 2015, Buhari dismissed Ibrahim Lamorde, chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, after $4 billion in monies confiscated by court order disappeared during Lamorde’s four-year tenure at the helm of the anti-graft agency. Corruption also delayed the formation of a cabinet by five months, because it was difficult for Buhari to choose officials with clean records in the continent’s largest producer of oil.

In other countries, violence and terrorism were the reason for lower ratings on the transparency and good governance indices. Years-long terrorism in Mali caused the country to drop by eight per cent since 2011 on the good governance index, and come in at 95 in the anti-corruption report.

Conditions in Central Africa, embroiled in ethnic and sectarian violence (between Christians and Muslims) over the past two years, have not improved and it ranked 145th on the transparency index. Violence also caused Libya to drop to 166th on the Transparency International index, despite the country’s immense oil wealth.

Dictatorships also destroyed the ability of oil-rich African countries to confront corruption, such as in Angola, which ranks 163rd (the fourth-largest African economy with low human development ratings) under the leadership of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. His daughter, Isabel, is one of the richest women on the continent.

Oil-producing Congo-Brazzaville is also low on the transparency index (146th) under the leadership of President Denis Sassou Nguesso since 1979, who came to power via military coup (1979-1992, and then 1997 to today).

Meanwhile, the transparency ranking of the dictatorship in Rwanda under President Paul Kagame since 2000 improved. Over the past year, Kagame amended the constitution to allow himself another presidential term. Rwanda has stiff anti-corruption laws and ranks fourth in Africa and 44th in the world, after a decade of stringent court verdicts against minor corruption, such as traffic bribes, construction licences in popular areas, as well as major corruption among senior regime figures.

Nonetheless, dictatorships, especially ones that have been in power for decades, are the main reason why Eritrea ranks 154th, Zimbabwe 150th and Chad 147th at the tail end of the transparency index. Meanwhile, violence and civil war are also reasons for low rankings, including South Sudan (163rd), Sudan (165th) and Somalia (167th).

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