Dr. Victor Oguejiofor Okafor
Professor of African American Studies
Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197
Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo recently called attention to a worrisome and puzzling international hold-up. In a September 5, 2005 story dubbed, "FG: Western nations hindering our anti-graft war," Nigeria's ThisDay reported Obasanjo as expressing concern about "the non-cooperative attitude of the Western countries in its fight against corruptionŠ" Specifically, Obasanjo was complaining that the West, almost as a whole, has been lukewarm towards the United Nations newly-developed convention against corruption. Obasanjo's message was contained in a speech, read on his behalf by Nigeria's attorney general and minister of justice, to an African roundtable meeting on crime, drugs, security, development and the rule of law, which was held in Abuja, Nigeria. Obasanjo lamented that the United Nations' International Convention against Corruption has not come into force because it has not yet received the required minimum number of ratifications. So far, only 29 out of the 191 member states of the United Nations, have ratified the convention, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2003. See the last paragraph of this article for the list of the countries that have ratified it.
What worries President Obasanjo the most, as well as this writer, is that of all the 29 UN member countries that have ratified the new convention, only one of them is a Western country. France is the only Western nation that has ratified this instrument that had been conceived and paraded as a galvanizing fulcrum for a concerted global war against the evil phenomenon of corruption. This situation implies that the so-called international community (a euphemism for the economically and militarily dominant and influential Western powers of the day) appears reluctant to sign on to a convention that could not have come at a better time, given what seems to be a growing international opprobrium against corruption, in recognition of its debilitating consequences for national developmental efforts. Already, economic performance indicators do show that, for reasons not necessarily limited to corruption, Africa--which has been so much derided in the international media for its reputation for widespread official corruption--is not likely to meet the millennium development goal of cutting world poverty by half by the year 2015. One report has it that Africa-a continent with the world's highest poverty rate--losses $148 billion annually to corruption.
The international convention against corruption was championed by the current UN leadership as a new weapon against this cancer of corruption that eats away at developmental efforts in much of the developing world-a world that is characterized by largely ineffectual institutional checks and balances. As Secretary General Koffi Annan explained on the occasion of the assembly's adoption of the convention in 2003, this convention against corruption was meant to buttress an existing UN convention against transnational organized crime. That convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2000, and it came into force in 2003.
As an additional weapon in the UN arsenal, the pending convention against corruption contains almost revolutionary provisions that, if implemented as planned, might make life really difficult for those crooks who misuse their public offices by draining their national treasuries and starching away their loot in international banks. It would allow for the repatriation of such ill-gotten wealth from their safe depositories abroad-usually Western nations-back to the victimized nations. Though corruption, in its public and private manifestations, is not peculiar to any part of the world, Secretary General Annan (2003) has stated correctly, that "...it is in the developing world that its effects are most destructive." He continued by saying that "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 investment and aid." As most developmental analysts would concur, Annan described corruption as "a key element in economic under-performance, and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development."
In a variety of ways, the West, particularly the G-8, has given an impression to the world that it is serious in its condemnation of corruption in the developing world (which is not to say that Western nations are corruption-free societies). To its credit, the West has made good governance-which encompasses effective anti-corruption institutions, laws and practices-a condition for bilateral and multilateral aid to the needy developing countries. Although I am not a champion of tied aid, I make the exception of agreeing with donor expectations of good governance on the part of aid recipients. Furthermore, it will be recalled that in promising a debt relief of about 18 billion dollars to Nigeria (a sum that represents mainly interests and penalties on an original principal loan of $8 billion), the Paris club of creditors was said to have given to the Nigerian government a list of Nigerians who were allegedly carting away Nigeria's public money to foreign banks and demanded that such persons be brought to justice. That too was a step in the right direction. But the world must understand that there was no handout to Nigeria in the form of the much-heralded debt relief. Nigeria's Lanro Benjo (2005) explains it as follows: "To expose the flaw, some historical perspective is requisite. In 1985, Nigeria's external debt was $19 billion, of which $8 billion was owed to the Paris Club creditors, $2 billion to other creditor countries e.g., Bulgaria, $8 billion to commercial creditors, and $1 billion to multilateral agencies (mostly the World Bank and the African Development Bank). At the end of 2004, the Nigeria's external debt was $36 billion. Of this amount, $31 billion was owed to Paris Club creditors, almost nothing to other bilateral official creditors, $3 billion to multilateral agencies, and $2 billion to commercial creditors. The appropriate question to ask then is this; why did Nigeria's Paris Club debt balloon by $23 billion over the past 20 years? In brief, the Paris Club creditors stopped advancing new loans to Nigeria because they disliked the country's military dictatorship some of whom signed for the loans. The bulk of the $23 billion increase represents interest arrears, interest charged on these arrears, and penalties that accumulated after 1992 when the Paris Club creditors refused to negotiate a debt workout for political reasons, compounded by adverse exchange rate changes. It is instructive to mention that less than $400 million of the debt represents post-1985 borrowing."
While you ponder Benjo's detailed historical perspective on the politics of debt relief, recall as well that manifest efforts at good governance constitute part of the pre-conditions set by the United States for approving individual African countries that seek to benefit from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the program that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 2000 in order to promote trade between Africa and the United States. On its part, African leadership, particularly through the African Union (AU), has also been harping upon the importance of good governance so much so that its New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) incorporates an active peer review framework.
From time to time, we learn about instances of Western corporate use of bribery to secure profitable contracts in Africa and other developing parts of the world. Two examples came to light not too long ago. One involved an allegation that a major US corporation, Halliburton bribed an un-named top Nigerian government functionary or functionaries in order to avoid paying millions of dollars of taxes due to the Nigerian people. The other example is an allegation that the same corporation gave a bribe of $180 million to Nigerian officials for a lucrative liquefied natural gas contract. Suffice it to say that both allegations are still under investigation. It's of course of import to note that by law, the US prohibits bribery in international corporate deals. Remarkably, the new President of the World Bank, America's Paul Wolfowitz hit the nail in the head when he told a Washington international audience this summer that there are two sides to the coin called corruption, namely the corrupter and the corruptee. Applauding the efforts of the Nigerian government to stem the tide of corruption, he pointed out, quite cogently, that such efforts required corrective actions on the part of both African governments and their Western partners and corporations. As he put it, it's not enough to deal with the corruptee; it is also necessary to deal with the corrupter. In a 2001 speech to the second global forum on fighting corruption and safeguarding integrity, no less than President George Bush said as follows: "The corruption of governmental institutions threatens the common aspirations of all honest members of the international community." He went on to add-and quite rightly so--that [corruption] "threatens our common interests in promoting political and economic stability, upholding core domestic values, ending the reign of dictators, and creating a level playing field for lawful business activities." Given this posture, one would have thought that the United States would be among the first countries to ratify the new UN convention against corruption. One would have thought that the Bush administration that talks so much about the need for reform at the United Nations, would have taken the driver's seat on the UN effort to actualize a global war on corruption.
Indeed, one finds it paradoxical that the so-called international community that has seized every opportunity to lecture African leaders about transparency and good governance-- and deservedly so in most cases--is dragging its feet on this important new instrument for a global fight against corruption. One cannot help asking the question: what are the foot-draggers afraid of? The apparent Western foot-dragging over ratification of the UN convention against corruption raises questions about the sincerity of its declared intent to contribute its share to corruption-abatement efforts in the developing world.
Though Obasanjo was right in decrying the Western foot-dragging over the international convention against corruption, he was not quite correct in suggesting that the West has been completely uncooperative with the Nigerian government's war against corruption. For instance, the Swiss government is on record as having acceded to Nigerian government's request to repatriate millions of dollars that the late infamous ruler of Nigeria, General Sani Abacha, had starched away to Swiss banks.
As of August 19, 2005, the following countries are the ones that have ratified the UN convention against corruption: Algeria, Belarus, Benin, Brazil, Croatia, Djibouti, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Honduras, Hungary, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mexico, Namibia, Nigeria, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Srilanka, Togo, Turkmenistan, Uganda and Tanzania. As President Obasanjo pointed out correctly in the preceding, all but one of these countries, are members of the developing world. Given the realities of international geo-politics in a near unipolar world, real political calculus would tell you that a UN convention against corruption that eventually comes into force without the full weight of the international community is unlikely to enjoy optimal enforceability.
Africa losses $148 Bn Annually to corruption. (2004, October 2). (http:allafrica.com).
Annan, Koffi. (2003, October 31). Statement on the adoption by the General Assembly of the United Nations Convention against corruption. (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/speech_2003-10-31_1.html).
Benjo, Lanro. (2005, July 29). Obasanjo "April fooled Nigerians in June-No Debt Relief from the Paris Club. (http://www.Nigerianworld.com).
Bush, George. (2001, May 28). An Address to the 2nd Global Forum on fighting corruption and safeguarding integrity. (http://www.usinfo.state.gov/topical/econ/bribes/bush.htm).
Cason, Jim. (2003, May 9). U.S. Firm Halliburton Acknowledges Bribe to Nigerian Officials. (http://www.allAfrica.com).
Etiebet, Etete. (2004, September 2). $180 Lng Bribe: Halliburton Submits FG officials' names to French Judge. This Day. (http://www.allafrica.com).
Hultman, Tamela. (2005, June 24). World Bank Chief sees Africa as a continent of hope. (http://www.allafrica.com).
Oji, George. (2005, September 5). FG: Western nations hindering our anti-corruption war. ThisDay. (http://odili.net/news/source/2005/sep/6/212.html).
Ozoemena, Charles. (2005, July 15). Paris club gives looters names to Obasanjo. Vanguard. (http://allafrica.com).