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Corruption Focus
The AU Summit comes to grips with Africa's deadliest scourge
By Charles Onunaiju | VOL.10 March 2018 ·2018-03-12

Corruption is like a cancer for every country in the world, including those in Africa. In fact, corruption has undermined sustainable development, sapped the continent's vitality, and driven off many of its promising talents to other shores. Yet, African leadership has muted its corrosive effects in the past.

With the theme of Winning the Fight Against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa's Transformation, the 30th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) Summit, held in its headquarters of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 22-29, appeared to signal a new political will. Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari was unanimously charged to lead the fight against corruption. By asking a leader whose three-year rule in his country has put the fight against corruption to the top of its agenda to lead the continental war against corruption shows the theme is not just a diversionary round of rhetoric of the AU.

Africa's recent quest for revival and renaissance, especially as it opens to business and investment, cannot happen on a sustainable basis without a strong commitment to deal a fatal blow to corruption being matched with credible political will at the highest level. The AU, the region's political clearing house and its foremost institutional platform for collective action, has now decisively thrown its hat in the ring with a fresh focus on the fight against corruption.

What corruption does to Africa is beyond words, but cruelly devastating.

Apart from the illicit flight of capital, it shrinks the space for social and economic opportunity, forcing the continent's most productive population - the youths and skilled workers - to scamper all over the world in search of elusive greener pastures. Clinics and local hospitals with empty drug shelves, peasants scratching bare farmlands without the slightest inputs of modern agricultural equipment, children squatting on bare floors in schools, broken infrastructures and perennial energy crises, electricity outages and many other scenes of devastation are eloquent testimonies to the ravages of corruption in Africa.

More dangerous is the threat of corruption to investment in Africa. According to a report released last year by Mckinsey & Co., a renowned global management consortium, many foreign firms operating in Africa said they paid "tips" or bribes to obtain a business license. The report noted that "these bribes exact a real cost on African economies as bribes ultimately lead to higher prices for local consumers as well as lost opportunities as some investors will inevitably take their capital to better-governed markets."

And now that Africa's top organization has declared its intention to combat the scourge of corruption, it can take advantage of the comprehensive partnership with China in various areas and observe China's methodology in dealing with this scourge. In the past five years China has dealt corruption its harshest blow ever. Chinese President Xi Jinping set out in 2013 to deal heavily with both the "tigers and flies," high-level and low-level officials who engage in corrupt practices.

Five years later, not only the high-flying tigers have been brought to book, even another corrupt category, "foxes" who fled China to escape justice, have been trapped and brought back to face the law.

In his report delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in October last year, Xi, who is also General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, said that "the fight against corruption remains grave and complex, but we must remain as firm as a rock in our resolve to build on the overwhelming momentum and secure a sweeping victory." He added that "we will strengthen deterrence so officials don't dare to, strengthen the cage of institutions so they are unable to, and strengthen their vigilance so they have no desire to commit acts of corruption," before finally expressing his optimism that "our political environment will, through tireless efforts, like seas fallen calm and rivers running clear, be clean and free of corruption."

For Africa, to seriously take the bull by the horns and give corruption the killer blow it deserves, there are many lessons to be learned from China in this respect.

(The writer is director of the Center for China Studies Abuja, Nigeria)

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