Africa must leverage youth capacities for the fight against corruption – says Ben Kaifala

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 September 2018:

Taking the message and the fight against corruption to the youths of Africa has not been easy and will continue to be one of the greatest challenges facing this generation. But it is a message that must be embraced, and a fight that must be won.

Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Czar – Francis Ben Kaifala, knows all too well how difficult the fight against corruption can be; and speaking recently to the Sierra Leone Telegraph he says  it’s a fight that must be won if Sierra Leone is to eradicate poverty and embark on the difficult road to economic development.

Delivering a keynote address yesterday at the West and Central Africa Regional Youth Consultation Meeting, organized by the African Union in Dakar, Senegal, he spoke about the challenges of ‘leveraging youth capacities for the fight against corruption in Africa’.

This is what Francis Ben Kaifala said:

Mr. Chairman, Members of the High Table, distinguished guests, youths and young people from across West and Central Africa, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you greetings from Sierra Leone; a country that that epitomizes the full brunt of decades of corruption; but  is now more determined than ever to fight corruption under the leadership of the newly-elected President, His Excellency Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio, whose roadmap to victory and economic development blueprint are predicated on the pillars of conscientious anti-corruption reform – and was bold enough to put a youth in charge of leading the realization of it.

According to the 2006 African Youth Charter, youth or young people refers to every person between the ages of 15 and 35 years. With that criteria, I and almost everyone in this hall is a youth.

Hence, it is absolutely delightful for me to stand here and address you all on the topic ‘Leveraging Youth Capacities for the Fight against Corruption in Africa’.

This initiative is both timely and extremely relevant to the trajectory of Africa’s development. Africa is on the verge of being defeated by corruption; and had, and continues to, gravely suffer the attendant consequences of the prevalence of graft.

This consultation is part of efforts to re-energize and synergize our anti-corruption cooperation and coordination, with a view to reposition the future of Africa to avert the looming crushing defeat by corruption.

Africa is home to over 1.2 billion people; over 60% of its population falls under the age of 35. Therefore, we have the greatest effect on all national issues of governance, especially corruption. We are the biggest factor; the engine of all successful states. Hence, we are duty-bound to do something to change the Status Quo.

But, there are times when I think that some people do not understand the gravity of what confronts us, and the impossibility of progress we will endure, if we do not collectively put our weights behind the fight against corruption.

Corruption violates the very foundation of democratic governance when individuals snatch collective goods for personal gain. In real terms, it is when those in charge of building schools for our children pilfer those resources and fewer or no schools are built.

As a result, our children remain uneducated and cannot employ their full potential towards national development. It is when officers in charge of building State-of-the-Art hospitals syphon the allocated resources and plant substandard alternatives in its place, knowing that that it cannot cater to the medical needs of our people.

Consequently, corruption keeps us underdeveloped and leads to preventable death of our people at genocidal magnitude.

Given the reality then, it is no gainsaying that corruption represents the biggest inhibitor of Africa’s competitiveness with the world. There are clear nexuses between corruption and poverty in Africa, corruption and diseases; corruption and illiteracy; corruption and wars; corruption and bad governance, unsustainable economic growth, peace, security, and the stability of the continent, etc. It is a reality everywhere we look – with more prevalence in some countries than others.

It is by reason of the foregoing, and many more, that we cannot waiver, and we cannot allow this cancerous infection to continue to stunt our continent’s growth.

Every year, our leaders bargain in our interest and we receive the short end of the stick. Sometimes the grand scale of the collusion makes us powerless. In many instances, the very watchdogs who are supposed to uphold our interest against corrupt officials collude in such criminal enterprises.

With all that has been said and done, from Cape Verde to Djibouti, from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Cape of Good Hope, we advertise corruption with the attendant poverty that goes with it.

THE PROBLEM

In Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea, and Liberia, corruption continues to negatively hamper efforts aimed at promoting democratic governance. In South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda, and Malawi, corruption continues to undermine socio-economic transformation; In Nigeria, Somalia, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Chad, Mali, and the DRC, corruption continues to undermine the peace and security of our people.

From Gabon in the West to Kenya in the East, corruption continues to degrade Africa; from Uganda in the East to Senegal in the West, corruption, and its effects, continue to promote conflicts and sow the seeds for disunity and national discord.

The seriousness and complexities of the problem are aptly captured in the Africa Progress Report; otherwise known as “the Mbeki Report”. This High-powered Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa revealed that Africa loses over US$50bn annually through illicit financial flows and tax evasion. This is far more than what Africa receives in either international aid, or foreign investment. I hope you noticed the distinct irony.

The report also estimates Illicit Financial Flow from Africa between 1970 – 2008 at nearly $900 billion. That money is not simply disappearing into the wind like magic –  it is mostly going into the pockets of individuals and groups, thereby depriving parents of food for their families, medicines for children, classrooms, and portable water for communities, etc.

The late Kofi Anan (RIP); succinctly captured this when he said:

“While personal fortunes are consolidated by a corrupt few, the vast majority of Africa’s present and future generations are being deprived of the benefits of common resources that might otherwise deliver incomes, livelihoods and better nutrition. If these problems are not addressed, we are sowing the seeds of a bitter harvest.”

Today, as part of that ‘bitter harvest,’ Africa imports $34bn worth of food. We have hungry stomachs everywhere walking on fertile soils, even though we have potentials to feed ourselves within five years if agricultural productivity is improved.

We need an estimated US$50bn annually to do our roads, railways, and other public investment projects. So, if the leakages are properly plugged, we would not need aid and/or loans from our competitors to effectively deliver service to the public.

The Africa Progress Report also estimated that Africa losses about US$17bn annually from illegal logging; while fishing fleets flouting international conventions are costing West Africa alone $1.3bn annually. These costs are driven by corruption in most parts.

In a report titled “Western Africa’s Missing Fish,” Britain’s Overseas Development Institute, reported that Africa loses billions of Dollars because corrupt African state operatives enter into shady deals with foreign countries.

The FAO even went further to reveal that the sale of fishing rights to foreign operatives netted Africa $US400m in 2014, but could in theory would generate US$3.3bn if Africa exports its own catch instead.

I believe, these revealing statistics are enough to help you all picture how we are complicit in undermining efforts aimed at attaining the Global Sustainable Development Goals; and Agenda 2063 – Africa’s 50-year developmental blueprint.

On a progressive note, however, as more and more African countries realize that their development will be stunted if they fail to root out corruption, a wind of change is blowing across Africa, and it is in the interest of well-meaning citizens to join in to help create a society where everyone has equal rights to public goods.

Many states have instituted accountability measures and created Anti-Corruption Agencies to ensure that resources trickle down to their people. Cape Verde, Mauritius, Rwanda, Botswana, etc. are among countries that occupy respectable positions in the Control of Corruption indexes.

Similarly, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption has provided a continental backbone to the efforts of member states in our fight against corruption.

Of course, many African states are also party to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption – A united front against corruption is getting more and more formidable.

SOLVING THE PROBLEM: THE POTENTIAL

Many young people do not only have the desire and capacity to transform the world, but also the potential to positively affect anti-corruption reforms.

As the new generation of politicians, entrepreneurs and civil society actors, youths and young people have an important role to play in bringing a new culture of integrity to all levels of the society, especially given the fact that youths and young people are also the most vulnerable to the effect of corruption in Africa.

Therefore, youths and young people should be taught to effectively detect, prevent and fight corruption. To this end, it is highly significant to devise appropriate empowerment strategies to raise their awareness levels and understanding of corruption; and the way it undermines democratic societies; and at the same time, build their capacity to stand up and fight corruption.

Critical to providing authoritative responses to the questions from the objectives of this consultative conference, is the institution and propagation of proper and sustained state-of-the-art-education on corruption; backed by an unflinching commitment by young people to refuse, reject, and report corruption at all levels; and in all jurisdictions of the continent.

Such education should target primary, secondary schools, colleges, and universities. Anti-corruption policy-making should improve youth capacity to unveil and oppose corruption. Relevant youth organizations should contribute to framing and implementing anti-graft policies.

The overall objective is to achieve quality education that is aimed at effectively addressing corruption. Relevant sectors of society should be targeted to fully commit to fundamental ethical principles for public and professional life.

The AU Advisory Board on Corruption should take the leadership in defining the broad educational policy framework and setting the blueprint. To this end, it is highly important to develop appropriate empowerment strategies to raise youth awareness and understanding of the undermining effects of corruption; and at the same time, build their capacities to stand up against it.

However, for the Board to effectively discharge this mandate, it has to expand its staff strength and increase its relevance. The mandate of the Board, which is “to promote and encourage the adoption of measures and actions by State Parties to prevent, detect, punish and eradicate corruption and related offences in Africa as well as to follow-up on the application of those measures,” requires more hands for effective delivery. The Board should employ capable youths and young people to help with the discharge of this mandate.

The evidence is glaring! Africa loses too much to corruption; sustained and perpetuated by bad governance, lack of accountability, and transparency; a staple for Africa. Resources meant for the people of Africa, but stolen and pocketed by corrupt actors, would have gone a long way to reduce infant mortality, maternal mortality, infections like malaria, cholera, among others; and the provision of vaccines for deadly outbreaks like Ebola.

Despite the potentials in our human and natural resources, the poverty rate in Africa is alarming. The irony of Africa is best illustrated in poverty amongst the plenty; the richest, yet the poorest continent.  Various studies have supported the position that if we seriously maximize our revenue mobilization; utilize our resources judiciously by negating corruption and corrupt practices of all kinds; it would be extreme for Africa to need foreign loans and donations.

We can build our own schools; equip our own hospitals, with the best brains, best equipment, and medicines available. Now is the time to make that positive difference. I call on youths of the continent to push for that difference.

Let us make it happen. Where else can victory be harvested; if not us? We have to make it happen. The positive difference Africa has been yearning for can be realized through us.

EXPECTED OUTCOMES

For our discussion that follows, a thorough look at the concept paper shows a number of expected outcomes intended to fix the problem.  The first expected outcome touches and borders ‘on enhancing individual programming of AU Advisory Board on Corruption and other AU Organs and RECs working on corruption, transparency and accountability issues, we should keep in mind that youths do not function as homogenous groups.

Therefore, in designing programs, policies and legislations, we should take cognizance of the fact that youths of yesterday, today, and tomorrow, have different perspectives, aspirations and motivations.

Accordingly, accountability and transparency projects and support provided should be tailored factoring in the said diversity.

For the second expected outcome which focuses on ‘enhancing efforts towards meaningful youth engagement in prevention efforts by African Governance Platform Members at national levels through National Anti-Corruption Bodies and Ombudsman agencies’, in order to get the youths and young people to focus, and remain engaged in anti-graft initiatives and activities at all levels, they must be included and made integral stakeholders in any national policy development and implementation of anti-corruption strategies.

We must move away from using youths as statistics. Youths and young people must not only be made to know that they own the processes; they must actually own it. We must keep youths engaged as leaders.

Additionally, youths and young people are, arguably,  more creative in their approach to problem-solving – especially with modern innovations and technology, which youths and young people are more industrious in dealing with. Youths can position global anti-corruption initiatives in a more innovative, forward-thinking way by making better use of modern innovations and technology.

For the third expected outcome, which focuses on documentation of youth-led and youth-focused Anti-Corruption initiatives on the continent through sharing of best practices, the AU should set up national networks where young people can share their experiences and knowledge about corruption and corrupt practices; disseminate good practices and devise proposals for future action – consistent with objective one, which is to provide a platform for intergenerational reflections on the scourge of corruption in Africa and its various manifestations as governance deficit.

We should introduce integrity studies, from the earliest age, in the national school and university curricula, including both the aspects of personal values and ethical behavior through a human rights-based approach.

For the fourth expected outcome which deals with the facilitation of the establishment of an African Youth Community of Practice on Anti-Corruption to support national, regional and continental institutions, states should introduce appropriate legislations or bring national legislations in line with international, regional and sub-regional anti-corruption instruments.

African States should offer more and more training to young people in support areas like film-making, journalistic writing, photography, etc., to enable them become a “relay” to disseminate the values of transparency, integrity and good governance.

It is my settled view that these expected outcomes can only be achieved through democratic good governance in which state institutions are made the cornerstone of governance. So, back home, in Sierra Leone, I have adopted an approach I call “Radical Transparency Drive.” The object is to quickly reverse the scourge of corruption.

Youths and young people are leading the way in my strategy.  This approach constitutes a comprehensive method of fighting corruption, focusing on nine pillars: the youths and young people; Public awareness; anti-corruptions strategies; public participation; ‘watchdog’ agencies; the judiciary; the media; the private sector; and international cooperation.

Distinguished ladies and Gentlemen, the final question now is, how to harness the enormous potential in this room and beyond for an outright offensive against corruption. The good news is that those of you gathered here are already ahead of your peers in this fight. The onus is on you to return to your countries and ignite a ferment of change in favour of an honest, fair, and just society.

As we leave here with the goal to lead the transformative agenda of the continent, let us take seriously the words of Frantz Fannon – “each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative capacity”.

If our mission is to be drivers of anti-corruption revolution on the continent, we must follow the following guide:

Let us not firstly be corrupt: You cannot allow yourselves to do in private what you condemn in public.

Advocate for better pay for public officers: It is appalling that many of our civil servants are paid pittance, and on many occasions not on time. Our Anti-Corruption campaigns should not omit a call for salaries that are commensurate with services rendered.

We should Explore innovative methods of transaction: There have been many significant technological innovations that could be useful in the fight against corruption. The fight against corruption is going to need your innovative technological skills to transform both our governance structures, review our systems and processes, and negate those that facilitate and fuel corruption.

Report Corruption: we can learn from the American airport campaign against terrorism in our fight against corruption: when you see something say something. In order to create a culture that rejects corruption, we must report corrupt practices we witness.

Above all, Live with integrity: This comes back to the idea of what you do when no one is watching. It is not enough to scream “Stop Corruption!”, but then when it comes down to it, you are prepared to pay a bribe for something you need.

The fight against corruption is a moral and ethical one. Therefore, our personal lives must reflect what we demand of society. There are those who will swear never to pay a bribe, but take bribe.

Others will pledge never to embezzle public funds, but remain quiet because their family or best friend is involved. You are equally guilty. Integrity is an encompassing expectation of decency that young people must embody in order to win this fight against corruption.

CONCLUSION

When you examine the numbers within the past decade, our Continent has not made much progress in the fight against corruption. We are recorded as the most corrupt and poorest continent in the world.

The numbers are bleak. It is shameful. Nonetheless, the future is not unwelcoming; and the road to a viable change for Africa, is not clogged with impossibilities. It just needs our collective will and action!

I see a bright light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. With you the young people on the side of justice; on the side of the truth; on the side of human rights; and firmly on the side of integrity and accountability; Africa is ready for a massive change. The answer is with us. We have the master key to unlock the true potential of Africa.

Therefore, I call on all policy makers within the African Union, AU Heads of states, and regional and sub-regional leaders, to empower and allow youths to lead in the governance of Africa. Our time is not tomorrow. Our time is now!

We should be taught and capacitated to effectively detect, prevent, and fight corruption. The moment is now for the young people to drive the change we need so that we can give Africa a New Direction.

Now is the time for Africa to turn long-held aspirations into concrete and authoritative actions. We the youths and young people should say ‘zero Tolerance’ to corruption. Fortune sides with those who dare. Let us dare corruption and fight it armed to the teeth to resist its retaliation.

Corruption is the urgency of today and the emergency of Africa’s tomorrow. Our generation must take collective action against the cancer of corruption.

As it stands, Africa’s greatest hope lies in us. Now is the time to stand up and be counted for Africa. Now is the time to save our collective future or watch it perish like our parents’.

Together, let us make corruption in Africa a risky and less profitable venture. Now that we have identified corruption as a common enemy; we must attack it knowing that our very survival rests on defeating it.

Every generation has its defining moment; this is ours! Let us embark on this fight decisively and fearlessly. United, we can effectively rid Africa of corruption.

Long Live Africa!

Editor’s Note:

You can watch Francis Ben Kaifala – Commissioner of Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission here:

1 Comment

  1. Are you giving youths chance to take up their place in society? Lucky ones might be picked and the rest dumped to a fate of poverty. Another lip service.

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