Friday, 29 August 2014

The clash of anti-corruption commissions

Asked about the qualities needed by a journalist, the late, great Nicholas Tomalin replied: ‘Rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.’ The same could be said of many anti-corruption lawyers, judges and officials, such as Spain’s Baltasar Garz√≥n and France’s Eva Joly and Renaud van Ruymbeke, and in Africa, Kenya’s John Githongo, Sierra Leone’s Abdul Tejan-Cole and Nigeria’s Nuhu Ribadu. All these African officials were put in charge of anti-corruption commissions. All three pursued major investigations into the theft of public money, clashed with the ruling party and state officials, and subsequently faced threats to their lives.

What then are the prospects for the latest anti-corruption star, South Africa’s Public Protector Thuli Madonsela? Angered by her determined efforts to investigate the state’s financing of President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead, the governing African National Congress accuses her of running a vendetta against the party and its leader and colluding with opposition politicians. Some have even questioned her patriotism.

So far she has shown herself equal to the pressure and has appealed to all sides to uphold the law. Unlike her counterparts in East and West Africa, Madonsela has an important privilege. Under the South African Constitution, the Public Protector has the status of a judge. That means that attempts to undermine the office and its holder constitute contempt of court and would amount to a criminal offence. For now at least, that would seem to shift the odds in her favour.

Friday, 8 August 2014

The Mo Ibrahim effect

Amid the gridlock and diplomatic glad-handing as over 50 high-level African delegations descended on a humid Washington for a week, it looked as if straight talking might lose out. Economics and business, it quickly emerged, was what had brought the delegations to the capital.

However, Mohamed Ibrahim, the Sudanese telecoms pioneer and philanthropist, quickly breached diplomatic politesse on 4 August by asking why it required the presence of 50 African leaders in Washington to convince big American companies that they should be searching for business on the continent, like their Chinese, Indian and Brazilian counterparts.

Looking around with a smile, Mo Ibrahim argued that African leaders spend far too much time attending summits and far too little fixing their own countries. His final demand struck a chord later in the week: that US companies should pay their taxes and royalties in Africa and not set up elaborate schemes to avoid their obligations.

On 6 August, President Barack Obama lamented that too many US companies set up structures that enable them to avoid paying taxes in the USA, let alone in Africa. With some subtle prompting from African and US activists on the growing illicit capital outflow from Africa, more than US$50 billion according to the latest reports, Obama said US officials would be working with a group of African leaders to close many of those loopholes.

And it wasn't long before Washington's political battles disrupted summit proceedings. Although most US Africa policy enjoys bipartisan backing, the Tea Party group in the Republican Party is unpicking that. It is trying to shut down the US Export-Import Bank which guarantees billions of dollars of US trade with Africa. That, some of the departing delegations might say, is a reminder of the perils of democracy.