Peter Eigen's Op-Ed on Good Governance and development in Africa
We at the Africa Progress Panel consider good governance, both on the continent and across the rest of the world, as the key enabling factor for Africa’s development. While we have seen great progress towards a more democratic and rules-based political culture since the early 1990s, advances have become patchier, and democratic recessions more frequent recently. We have seen the return of coups and efforts by leaders to perpetuate their rule, including by abolishing constitutional term limits or outright election rigging. Add to this the rise of China as an investor who does not ask questions about good governance, and the situation has become worrisome.
Over the last decade, the African Union has created a number of initiatives to support the democratization of the continent and build the foundation for sustainable and inclusive development. Its most famous efforts, the Charter on Democracy and the innovative African Peer Review Mechanism, may not be able to prevent rogue behaviour by individual leaders, but they can help to set standards and open the political space to the majority of citizens. Unfortunately, both initiatives are currently going through rough times, with the Review Mechanism lacking a prominent champion, and the Charter still not ratified.
But we are also seeing some very positive developments, particularly in the areas of resource governance and the role of civil society organizations. The International Conference on the Great Lakes, for example, recently agreed to create a regional transparency mechanism to address armed conflicts around minerals in the region. Twenty-one resource-rich African countries have already joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and adopted its stringent standards on the verification and publication of private-sector payments. Ghana and Liberia are already fully compliant, and seven other countries are expected to join them in the spring. These include the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has taken encouraging steps to address the problems of informal-sector mining in its eastern provinces.
Another encouraging sign is the growing role of civil society organizations across the continent. While still unduly limited by some governments, such organizations are becoming an increasingly vocal and essential cornerstone of democratization and anti-corruption efforts in many countries. Empowered by advances in information and communication technology, they provide a crucial complement to governments and the private sector, and keep both sides accountable to each other and to the people. Significant progress has been made to end impunity and strengthen the rule of law, often by combining national with international judicial mechanisms.
However, despite these unquestionable advances, Africa continues to be hampered by its high rates of corruption, which cost the continent hundreds of billions of dollars a year and slow economic growth and social development. This is as much a result of domestic factors, such as entrenched cronyism, nepotism and the rise of organized crime, as of the behaviour of international companies and unscrupulous middlemen. The G20’s recently proposed action plan against corruption seeks to tackle this international component of corruption in Africa. If its proposals are implemented and enforced by all G20 nations, the group will have changed the game in fighting corruption.
Amongst other things, the action plan calls for the ratification and subsequent implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption, and making it a crime in all G20 nations to bribe foreign public officials. Both actions are long overdue and go hand in hand with some of the other proposals in the plan such as making it more difficult to abuse the global financial system to launder stolen money and making it easier to recover money already laundered. The plan also addresses the modalities of tracking down and repatriating stolen assets, such as those kept by former Tunisian President Ben Ali in European bank accounts, and placing sanctions and travel bans on anyone suspected of illicit financial activities. Lastly, the plan also seeks to protect and encourage whistle-blowers and recognizes the importance of integrity, transparency and accountability in public finance management.
All of the above are highly sensible and much-needed proposals and their implementation would go a long way in curbing corruption, which remains one of the main obstacles to fighting poverty, building democracy, and accelerating economic growth in Africa. By pushing for swift action, the French G20 presidency has the chance to send an unmistakable signal of support to the continent’s people and prove its worth as effective instigator of global action.
Professor Peter Eigen
Member of the Africa Progress Panel and Chair of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative