The sheer scale of corruption in Africa is quite breathtaking.
It is thus astonishing how often anti-bribery and corruption (ABC) initiatives are undermined by inconsistencies and double standards, bureaucratic muddling, populist rhetoric and overly simplistic assessments.
Dumbing down doesn’t help
Much of the public comment on corruption in Africa fails to distinguish between the various causes and types of corruption. The narrative seldom goes much further than to re-state that ‘Corruption is bad; more should be done to stop it’.
This dumbing down of the issue allows for easy stereotyping and ready moral judgments, but it doesn’t fix the problem.
It also does not help to explain why there appears to have been such a marked increase in the scale, scope and sophistication of corruption in recent years.
Many African states have strict laws criminalising corruption, yet enforcement is often lacking. Such inaction is undoubtedly sometimes expressly mandated.
However, there are also many instances when allegations of political interference or acquiescence are as unfounded as they are counter-productive.
Corruption investigations can take years, and premature and ill-prepared prosecutions which result in high-profile acquittals merely encourage the belief that corruption pays.
Africa’s anti-corruption authorities seldom have the resources to conduct complex investigations into increasingly sophisticated schemes, which often involve impenetrable corporate structures in offshore tax havens.
A further constraint is the reluctance of foreign law enforcement agencies to share critical information with their African counterparts.
Many international ABC initiatives are marred by double standards. Much of what is deemed corrupt when it happens in Africa is regarded as quite acceptable when it happens in the North.
And many of those who volubly pontificate on the need for greater accountability in Africa are themselves wholly unaccountable.
Also, foreign governments regularly turn a blind eye to payments linked to ‘strategically important’ companies or ‘politically sensitive’ individuals, in disregard of abundant evidence that corruption starts at the top and then cascades down in a shower of 'go with the flow' rationalisations.
Added to this is the growing influence and sophistication of organised crime in Africa, and its increasing involvement in public sector corruption.
A related concern is that blackmail and physical threats may increasingly supplant greed and opportunity as the motivation behind the more audacious corrupt schemes, thereby eliminating any money trail.
Faced with these and other difficulties in gathering evidence which is both admissable and compelling, anti-corruption authorities are increasingly downgrading prosecution in favour of prevention and disruption.
The latter may be a more efficient use of resources, but it is also less measurable – with obvious risks and implications.
What would help
Many believe that the fight against corruption in Africa will only succeed if and when corruption is publicly defined in terms which take due account of local customs, values, political realities and operational constraints.
This would allow for more relevant and more credible (and hopefully more inspired) public awareness campaigns, without which anti-corruption laws could continue to be seen in much the same light as driving speed restrictions - i.e. as something which everyone strongly supports in theory, but disregards whenever they think that they personally won't get caught.
Others argue that corrupt individuals aren’t going to reform themselves, and that international anti-corruption initiatives need to focus more on practical support, training and related measures, and rather less on sanctimonious resolutions, vacuous rhetoric and bureaucratic protocols.
Both changes are surely essential, but are unlikely to be enough.
What is really needed
What is ultimately required is that national anti-corruption authorities develop the expertise, and are also accorded the resources, the authority and the independence, to be able to hold corrupt politicians, officials and executives to account, or at least to thwart their corrupt schemes, without themselves being corrupted, blackmailed or threatened.
That, in turn, will require foreign professionals, aid agencies, financial institutions and intelligence services to re-think their role in Africa.
Bribery and Corruption
What we do
We help governments, ombudsmen and anti-corruption agencies to devise and implement practical and effective ways to combat bribery and corruption.
We provide training; advise on strategy, legislation and prosecutions; and facilitate diverse other key aspects of their activities.
We advise companies on the adequacy and implementation of compliance programmes, particularly as regards related training, communication and reporting challenges.
We also assist with sensitive internal investigations.
Links to African Anti-Corruption Authorities
Economic and Organised Crime Office
Increasingly stringent anti-bribery and corruption (ABC) laws have highlighted the need for companies to be able to demonstrate more rigorous global compliance programmes.
However, there remain many ways for sophisticated players to continue corrupting foreign officials with impunity.
A recent (Dec 2014) OECD report on foreign bribery confirms what many have long suspected – inter alia, that:
most international bribes are paid by large companies, usually with senior management’s knowledge;
bribery is most prevalent in advanced economies, rather than the developing world; and
most bribe payers and takers are from wealthy countries.
Many compliance officers struggle to secure much more than token internal support for compliance programmes, particularly when executives are struggling to hit performance targets or when bribes are demanded as a condition of the award of state contracts.
In such cases, effective training and awareness-raising of issues around the compliance policy is as important as the policy itself. But it is seldom enough.
Companies that were previously wary of encouraging a culture of whistleblowing are increasingly turning to such procedures to deter their employees and agents from engaging in bribery and other corrupt practices. .