15 January 2013
Although several policy interventions, legislative instruments and institutional change programmes are being implemented by various governments, there is very little hope that change is going to come soon.
But, a new ‘whistle-blowing’ initiative is being pioneered in Nigeria, which may well make an impact on Africa’s fight against corruption; or would it?
Dennis Kabatto of the African New Dawn Radio – WRSU, 88.7 FM at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA, spoke to Abdul Tejan-Cole, the former head of the Anti-Corruption Commission in Sierra Leone.
Abdul Tejan-Cole is now the Executive Director of The Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA), an organisation whose aim is to help West African countries develop and implement strong governance institutions, processes and structures that are transparent and accountable.
He told reporter Dennis Kabatto that his organisation – OSIWA, has developed a new tool to help combat corruption to its barest minimum in West Africa, through a partnership with Integrity Nigeria – an anti-corruption, research and advocacy group.
This is what he said:
We would like to talk to you about your organization’s programs in West Africa. But first let us start with Integrity Nigeria and their new tool to combat corruption. What is Integrity Nigeria?
ATC: Integrity Nigeria is one of the leading groups in Nigeria that have been waging war against corruption in Nigeria. It’s headed by a very prominent Nigerian advocate – Olusoji Apampa, who has been pioneering anti-corruption work in West Africa for the past two or so decades.
What they are doing in Nigeria now is not new. It is something which has been tried and tested in India through a project called; “I Paid a Bribe”. And Integrity Nigeria is replicating that project in Nigeria.
But what the platform does is that, it provides a space whereby people who have been asked to pay a bribe, can anonymously go online and be able to say who asked them for a bribe and when they were asked to pay a bribe?
So by naming and shaming those who are continuously harassing people and asking them for bribes in Nigeria, the anti-corruption authorities in Nigeria receives vital information as to who they should be targeting in their fight against graft in Nigeria.
What is the relationship between Integrity Nigeria and OSIWA?
ATC: They are really our partners on the ground. As you know OSIWA provide grants to a number of organizations in West Africa. Integrity Nigeria is one of the organizations – we have helped with a small grant in Nigeria. But we don’t see them really as beneficiaries.
We regard them as partners, because we’re working together with them to ensure that together we can fight corruption in Nigeria and West Africa as a whole
And, how is this new project coming along? How successful is it?
ATC: The website has just recently been launched, so it is still early days. But we are hoping that we would launch a public information campaign to educate people about the website and how to use it. We hope to get as many people as possible to use it, so that it would create the necessary attention that’s needed in Nigeria for public officials to take corruption much, much, more seriously
If the project is successful in Nigeria, are there any plans to replicate it in other parts of West Africa, for example in Sierra Leone?
ATC: Yes, the plan definitely is to use Nigeria as a pilot and if successful in Nigeria we would definitely use it in the 9 other countries in which OSIWA works, such as Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana as well as Senegal, Guinea, Cote D’Ivoire and Benin.
OSIWA also has 3 programs in West Africa and with you as Executive Director; first of all where are you based? Where is your office?
ATC: The headquarters are based in Senegal in Dakar, but we do have offices in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Liberia as well as in Guinea – Conakry.
Tell us more about your political governance project that you are implementing in West Africa?
ATC: What we do in OSIWA by and large is to try to create open societies in West Africa, creating an open space for political dialogue, creating an open space for the governed to interact with those in government.
So, our political governance unit focuses more in terms of ensuring that there is that conversation going on between those in government and those who are being governed, ensuring that the needs of those being governed are reflected in the policies of the government.
We push for a number of things, primarily free and fair elections. And one of our model projects has been what we call the ‘election situation room’, which brings civil society groups together to work with electoral commissions and a number of governmental bodies, to ensure that there are free and fair elections across the continent.
And in Nigeria, Liberia and recently in Sierra Leone and Senegal, we’ve been able to work with the electoral bodies to ensure that the elections that have been held in the respective countries have by and large been seen as free and fair.
We’ve also supported work that ECOWAS has done in setting up the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissioners, which brings all the electoral commissioners from the various countries in West Africa together.
This enables them to share experiences learnt from one another; share best practice and see how best they can ensure that the credibility of elections in West Africa are improved.
Talk about the challenges your organization has faced trying to rebuild governance and re-establish the rule of law in West Africa?
ATC: There are huge challenges in fighting for open societies in West Africa. The problems are huge, in terms of policies of governments, as not all governments are receptive to the concept of open societies.
Although we have made significant progress in the past couple of years, there are some governments that are not keen to the idea of democracy. We still have huge challenges in West Africa; for example in the Gambia, where President Yahya Jammeh continues to move against the trend in the sub- region.
So there are still those who do not believe in the concept of democracy and good governance, and we continue to work to build not only the capacity of civil society, but other active players in those countries, so that they can be able to change the tide and ensure that we move towards democratization and good governance.
Recently, there were presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana and Sierra Leone. Did your organization monitor those elections?
ATC: We did not monitor the elections directly ourselves, but we supported organizations that did so. We funded the local group in Sierra Leone called the National Elections Watch (NEW), which sent local observers to monitor the election across Sierra Leone.
Similarly, in Ghana we worked with CDD Ghana to ensure that they also put local monitors on the ground to monitor the elections. So we are empowering local actors so that the local actors can monitor the elections and ensure that they are credible
Also, recently in the news a Senegalese man set himself on fire and died, I think right in front of the presidential palace. Local media quoted him as telling witnesses that life was far better under former president Abdoulaye Wade. What is the economic situation in Senegal?
ATC: The economic situation continues to be relatively difficult, and in the past couple of days there have been allegations made against former President Wade, involving the misappropriation of huge amount of monies.
And, I think Senegal is going through a relatively difficult period. There is a real need for the new government in Senegal to address some of the economic challenges.
This is why the work that we have been doing in West Africa has been complimented by the establishment of the ‘Open Society’ – a new centre that is working on economic policy.
The centre will work with the government, advising them on economic policy, so that they could come up with strong economic programmes that can address the needs of the people.
We are getting a lot of information and data from the World Bank and the IMF showing very good economic progress across Africa. But yet, the reality on the ground is that the average man and woman still continues to feel the economic pinch.
So we are working on economic governance, with a number of other organizations across West Africa, to try to ensure that our governments implement the right economic policies that will alleviate the plight of the common people.
And, finally, although corruption is a worldwide problem, it is becoming rampant in West Africa, including Sierra Leone. And you were a former anti-corruption commissioner in Sierra Leone. Reflecting back on your work and the state of affairs in Sierra Leone, what would you say is happening with corruption in Sierra Leone – since you left?
ATC: I think what we have been able to achieve is to raise the bar. We now have, not only in Sierra Leone, but in a number of West African countries, a very good legal framework.
We now have the foundation. We also have the necessary laws in place. Most of our countries in West Africa have ratified the UN convention against corruption. Most countries have also ratified the African Union convention.
There is still a lot of work that needs to be done with the ECOWAS protocol on corruption, but I think we are laying the foundation and I think for many people the expectation is that things would happen overnight.
We have to realize that sometimes these things do take time. So my sense is that I think we are making positive moves. I think we are moving in the right direction.
But I think a lot more needs to be done, in particularly in terms of making the fight against corruption – the people’s fight: getting public support for the fight against corruption, getting people much more engaged in the fight against corruption.
What we are doing with Integrity Nigeria is to get local citizens, local people actively engaged in that fight, through the new web platform. And so what we need to do across West Africa is to continue to engage with young people, so that they can be part of the fight.
Corruption is the people’s fight, and I think without getting people’s support and participation, the fight would not succeed.
So this is why it is important that we continue to stress that despite the good laws, and despite the framework that we have in place, I think it is important that we get people involved in the fight. They need to be much more aware of what’s going on and their role in fighting corruption in their respective countries.