25 May 2018
Winning the fight against corruption through ATI in Africa
The 28th and 29th of January 2018 will be remembered as important milestones in Africa’s political history. This is because the 30th African Union (AU) summit took place in Addis Ababa, with heads of State from across the continent congregating for a summit bearing the theme “Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation”. This gathering hoped to build upon gains achieved since 2003 when the AU had considered the issue of corruption at the summit themed “African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption”. While all those present at this years summit were in agreement that much has been achieved in this area over the last few years, with many African nations now having dedicated anti-corruption agencies, all similarly agreed that there was still more to be done.
Corruption is a global plight but one felt keenly in Africa. There are some sobering facts that point to how deep rooted corruption on the continent is. According to the UN Development Programme Africa loses somewhere between 30 and 60 billion USD in illicit financial outflows annually. That is about 5% of the continents GDP, an amount which could fund all the public education on the continent for an entire year. The severity of this crisis is not felt in the margins of national budget ledgers alone, but affects the private sector as well. The Mo Ibrahim foundation reports that 40% of Africans felt that corruption had gotten worse in their home regions between 2007 and 2017, and 27% of privately owned firms in Africa reported having to regularly pay bribes in order to navigate their local bureaucracies and stay in business.
It is important to consider all the problems of corruption and the challenges it brings. For every dodgy deal between foreign investors and local public and private interests, there exists many ordinary Africans who are deprived of their chance to uplift themselves and their communities. For every time a state institution misuses its funds, an ordinary African somewhere on the continent is deprived of proper schooling, medical services, and other critical infrastructure. Corruption derails investment and growth, widens inequality, and prevents the impoverished from escaping their situation. Corruption is a scourge which not only robs the present of its potential, but does so for future generations as well. All for the benefit of a well-connected few. However, this despairing situation is no cause for despondency, nor is it only within the capability of big supranational organisations such as the AU to fight against corruption. It is important to always keep in mind that corruption is something which begins at the local level before it reaches the higher offices, hence there is room for everyone to participate towards a corruption-free Africa.
A large factor that helps to decrease corruption is the use and application of transparency laws. Here in the FOIP offices at SAHA, we make our own small contributions to this struggle every day through the use of The Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) and other Access to Information (ATI) laws. These laws enable every day citizens to safeguard their human rights by keeping public and private bodies accountable. Sadly, such laws are lacking in the majority of African countries, and whistleblowing tends to be seen not as an act of public service but rather one of treason against the state. South African law is quite progressive in this context as it already contains decent access to information laws that are meant to work directly on curbing corruption. A more in-depth discussion on the state of access to information in various African countries is available here.
SAHA is only a small part of a thriving network of South African NGO’s striving daily to achieve justice and hold powerful organizations who break the law to task. Other notable partners in this fight include the Right2Know campaign, which was instrumental in organizing public resistance to the Protection of State Information Bill of 2011, and the Open Secrets Foundation, which is currently working on holding accountable private sector organisations that have participated in economic crimes and related human rights violations. You can be part of these efforts too, through the comprehensive application of ATI laws and the hard work of civil society, we can all help bring the dream of a corruption free Africa that much closer.