Was Copenhagen 2018 a missed opportunity for fighting graft?

2018-11-23

Late October 2018, more than 1 600 delegates from over 130 countries gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark for the 18th session of the bi-annual International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC). Since the launch of the IACC process in 1983, numerous commitments have been made, but very few have been implemented over the years. There seems to be increasing concern and frustration over the lack of improvement in the fight against corruption globally.

To address this, the 2018 session was dedicated to translating previous commitments and pledges into action. The conference theme, ‘Together for development, peace and security: now is the time to act’, conveyed the conviction of the organisers that ‘it is time to focus on promises made at conferences and conventions near and far’ and ‘take stock of progress and gaps’.

For Africa, the 2018 session was particularly significant, as it offered the African Union (AU) and its member states an opportunity to review the continent’s 2018 Anti-Corruption Year. Their experiences provide valuable insights that could have been shared in Copenhagen.

Selemani Kinuynuy, Senior Policy Officer for Political and Legal Matters at the African Union Advisory Board on Corruption (AU ABC) praised the inclusion of a high-level segment of the programme on profiling African issues. But he lamented the lack of a coordinated African participation at the 2018 session.

The International Anti-Corruption Conference was an opportunity to review progress made in the AU’s ‘2018 Anti-Corruption Year’ initiative

‘African anti-corruption agencies and actors from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and many other countries who attended the conference did so individually. This affected the ability of the African Union’s messaging to influence the outcome of the conference’, he told ENACT. This observation is made even more pertinent given that themes and speakers from previous conferences show a relatively weak African engagement in this global forum. The only session ever to be held on the continent took place in Durban, South Africa, in 1999.

The AU ABC aims ‘to promote and encourage adoption of measures and actions by State Parties to prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption and related offences in Africa’.

Copenhagen allowed engagement between the AU and counterparts from the global North. These include the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body, the Group of Countries against Corruption. The AU ABC’s participation in the IACC 2018 also ‘underscored the need to ensure that narratives at the IACC fully reflect global developments in the fight against corruption’, Kinuynuy added.

As IACC 2020 heads to South Korea, Africa can already work to ensure that corruption is framed in a way that better reflects the realities of the continent

Yet conversations around corruption focus all too easily on developing countries, ignoring the role of developed nations as enablers or beneficiaries of corruption. Transparency International's annual corruption perception indexfor example, does not include the destination of proceeds of corruption, or origin of corrupting agents or companies as criteria.

Similarly, the so-called ill-gotten wealth cases by France against government officials from Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of Congo, have focused on prosecuting officials from these countries. By comparison, very little attention is is given to the structural weaknesses in France that have enabled these operations. Switzerland, a leading commodity trading hub, continues to apply a principle of voluntary regulation, despite high-profile cases detailing an entrenched culture of corrupt practices in the sector, and calls for stronger anti-graft laws.

The AU’s position in Copenhagen therefore focused on the declaration of 2018 on the African Anti-Corruption Year priorities, Kinuynuy said. These are to review the definition of corruption; focus on business activities, including illicit financial flows (IFFs); assert the need for unconditional asset recovery; and ensure better partnership between the global north and the global south on IFFs, asset recovery and peer learning. As IACC 2020 heads to South Korea, Africa can already start negotiating to ensure that corruption is framed in a way that better reflects the realities and complexities of all actors involved.

Agnes Ebo’o, ENACT Regional Organised Crime Observatory Coordinator – Central Africa, ISS

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