UNODC Eastern Africa Speeches

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8th African Union Commission on International Law Reform, Addis Ababa

Speech by Margaret Akullo, Representative a.i., UNODC Programme Office in Ethiopia

The fight against corruption in Africa: Between ambitious legal tools and persistent institutional stumbling blocks

3 December 2019

Good Afternoon

Excellencies, members of the diplomatic community, academia

Distinguished panellists, participants

Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I extend my appreciation to the organizers for the invitation to UNODC to be a panellist on session six: challenges and prospects at the 8th African Union Commission on International Law Forum.

I would like to start with a quote from the preamble of the UN Convention against Corruption, which says corruption poses a serious threat ‘to the stability and security of societies, undermining the institutions and values of democracy, ethical values and justice and jeopardizing sustainable development and the rule of law.’   

On the basis of that quote, I would like to introduce my presentation with how UNODC is assisting countries respond to the threat of corruption through the UN Convention against Corruption.  As many of you are aware, the UN Convention against Corruption is an invaluable global instrument supporting countries in preventing and criminalizing corruption, enabling the recovery and return of stolen assets and strengthening international cooperation.  The UN Convention against Corruption is the only legally binding global anti-corruption treaty.  The Convention's far-reaching approach and the mandatory character of many of its provisions make it a unique tool for developing a comprehensive response to a global problem.

As of today (3 December 2019), the Convention has 186 States parties, thus reaching near-universal adherence. If we focus on the African continent, 52 out of 54 Member States are parties to the Convention, meaning that over 96% of the continent have acceded to or ratified the Convention.  This is encouraging!

The Convention covers five main areas: preventive measures, criminalization and law enforcement, international cooperation, asset recovery, and technical assistance and information exchange. The Convention covers many different forms of corruption, such as bribery of national and foreign public officials, trading in influence, abuse of functions, and various acts of corruption in the private sector.

However, accession/ratification of the UN Convention Against Corruption or any international legal instrument bears little significance without robust implementation at the country level. In this regard, please allow me to say something about the UN Convention against Corruption Implementation Review Mechanism, which is a peer review process that assists States parties to effectively implement the UN Convention against Corruption.

UNODC is the secretariat of the Implementation Review Mechanism, and through the mechanism assists States parties in their implementation of the Convention. UNODC helps countries identify specific needs for technical assistance and to promote and facilitate the provision of such assistance. The Implementation Review Mechanism also promotes and facilitates international cooperation, provides information on successes, good practices and challenges faced by countries in implementing and using the UN Convention.  [The documents produced by the Implementation Review Mechanism, can be accessed from the Country Profiles Database on the UNODC website here.

Through the Implementation Review Mechanism, the country reviews of the UN Convention against Corruption have acted as particularly effective, politically neutral entry points for the provision of technical assistance. This is because, the review process allows countries to assess their existing frameworks and consider how they might be further strengthened in line with the UN Convention against Corruption.

The first cycle of the Review Mechanism started in 2010 and covered chapters III and IV of the Convention - Criminalization and Law Enforcement and International cooperation. 52 African countries were reviewed under the first cycle with 48 African countries acting as peer reviewers for other countries across the globe.

The active participation by African countries in the Review Mechanism was positive and the accompanying results indicated that to bridge gaps in the implementation of the UN Convention, Africa needed capacity building and support with legislative drafting. The second review cycle, which started in 2016, covers chapters II and V of the Convention, preventive measures and asset recovery. UNODC is working with the Ethiopian authorities with regard to the Second Cycle (2016-2021).

The impact of the review mechanism has been positive – there is national coordination and increased dialogue.  The opportunity for capacity building and sharing of experiences and good practices emerge.  Importantly, action plans are developed place a focus on country-specific technical assistance needs.  Some examples…

Regionally ...In June 2019, the 1st African Anti-Corruption Forum and the 4th Annual General Assembly of the Association of Anti- Corruption Authorities in Africa (AAACA) took place in Sharm El Sheikh-Egypt.  The purpose of this forum was to explore how to set up a platform for the exchange of experiences and awareness on national measures and experiences related to the fight against corruption in the implementation of continental and international commitments, in building capacity on human resources in various aspects of the fight against corruption.  A number of recommendations were made but I will highlight two: that countries provide Anti-Corruption Authorities with sufficient financial means to enable effective fight against corruption on the African Continent, to ratify the African Union Convention to Prevent and Combat Corruption to strengthen and operationalize the exchange of information and cooperation in the exercise of their missions.

In East Africa ... It is also worth recalling that the first ratification of the UN Convention Against Corruption came from this very region. Kenya was the first country in the world that signed and simultaneously ratified the Convention in December 2003.  In East Africa, UNODC delivers the Global UNODC Project on ‘Fast-Tracking the Implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC)’. This project aims at creating regional platforms across the world to fast track UNCAC implementation based on the recommendations and needs identified in the context of the Implementation Review Mechanism.  UNODC provides a broad range of support to stakeholders involved in the fight against corruption in the four thematic areas identified as regional priorities: Financial Investigations, Whistle-blower Protection, International Cooperation, and Public Procurement.  Recognizing the importance of a regional approach in combating corruption, UNODC works in close collaboration with East Africa States through the East African Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities (EAAACA). 

In West Africa ... discussions are currently ongoing to explore the possibility to create a regional platform in West Africa, Central and/or North Africa to fast-track the implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption in those countries. ECOWAS Protocol on the fight against corruption (2001, ECOWAS Protocol)

Southern Africa ... is also part of the project on “Fast-Tracking UNCAC Implementation”. The regional platform was very recently created through a regional conference that was held in Livingstone, Zambia, from 14 to 18 October 2019. Participants at the regional conference joined efforts and drafted a set of commitments and action plan to be implemented in the four thematic areas identified as regional priorities.  These are inter-agency cooperation on investigation and prosecution of anti-corruption cases, whistleblowing protection versus the protection of reporting persons in criminal proceedings, Asset disclosure and conflict of interests in the context of public procurement). The draft outcome of the conference was adopted by high-level national decision makers, together with representatives of civil society organizations, members of the private sector as well as active development partners in the region. UNODC will now start providing support in all countries involved in the platform, in close collaboration with the partners in the region, to help implementing the action plan as endorsed. SADC Protocol against Corruption(2001,SADC Protocol)

If corruption is not dealt with in Africa, the Africa Development Agenda 2063 may not yield the expected results particularly in relation to Aspiration 3 – ‘An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law’.  There is therefore a need to look at how constitutional democracy and the rule of law can contribute to a commitment to prevent and eliminate corruption whilst advancing these aspirations.

Corruption is clearly a barrier to realizing the sustainable development agenda.  Reducing inequalities and meeting targets on health, education and gender equality requires a foundation of trust and accountability.  UNODC stands ready to support African countries prevent and eliminate corruption whilst advancing various aspirations of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 2030 and the Agenda 2063.   

Under the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, out of 54 States that are part of the African Group at the United Nations, 48 countries have signed and 42 ratified the AU convention.  Together with the fact that 52 out of these 54 States are parties to the UN Convention against Convention, this means that majority of the African Union member states have signed and ratified both the UN and AU Conventions on Corruption.  These anti-corruption conventions offer a real opportunity for change and are binding international frameworks key to addressing the problem.

When corruption is widespread in a country, the adverse effects are felt in different ways by people throughout society.  In Africa, as in other regions, the corruption problem also has a variety of cross-border components (e.g. bribery), meaning that cross-border cooperation is essential for the prevention, detection and prosecution of corruption.

The year 2018 was a significant milestone – it marked fifteen years of the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the African Anti-Corruption Year.  With that said, it is important to keep up the momentum and good work in the fight against corruption.  This forum clearly sends out a strong message – that African countries are working together to reduce the impact of corruption.

UNODC has produced a wide range of guides and technical tools to support States in their implementation of the Convention. The full range of publications produced by UNODC can be accessed at the UNODC website here

I will conclude with the foreword of the UN Convention against Corruption, written by the late Kofi A. Annan, former UN Secretary-General:

  • "Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish. This evil phenomenon is found in all countries—big and small, rich and poor—but it is in the developing world that its effects are most destructive. Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a Government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice and discouraging foreign aid and investment. Corruption is a key element in economic under-performance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development.’"

Once again, my deepest appreciation to the organizers of the forum, Mr. Chair, distinguished panellists and participants and I wish you all fruitful deliberations.

Thank you.