[Dateline: Addis Ababa | Author: ECA]
An international conference on "Institutions, Culture and Corruption in Africa" opened on Monday, 13 October at the United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa with a call for more African "agency" in the discussion and fight against the scourge.
In her opening statement to the conference, the Deputy Executive Secretary of Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Lalla Ben Barka, said it was vital for Africans to "regain the discourse and agenda on anti-corruption in Africa" and "explore ways by which (they) can effectively tackle the problem on the continent".
Additionally, the Deputy Executive Secretary emphasized the need for Africans to "think outside the box" in tackling the problem.
Ms. Ben Barka therefore urged "the scholars, policy intellectuals and civil society activists" attending the conference to "engage in critical and intense discussion for three days and come up with practical suggestions and policy options on how we can move the anti-corruption drive ahead in Africa".
The Executive Secretary of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), Mr. Adebayo Olukoshi, also addressed the opening of the meeting.
In his brief welcoming remarks he noted that this conference was the first major event to bring "philosophers of thought and philosophers of action" together to reflect on the impact of corruption on Africa. He thus urged participants to engage in the conference "with an open mind" as, he noted, Africa was now experiencing an "historic opportunity to rethink many of the solutions that have been proffered for dealing with corruption on the continent."
Mr. Olukoshi also highlighted the fact that "corruption is not African. Corruption is a Global citizen and we need to pay attention to specific ways corruption plays out in Africa ." He added that particular focus also needs to be put on "the direction of the flow of proceeds from corruption" in Africa .
Delivering the "Institutions, Culture and Corruption in Africa" conference keynote address, Dr. Tajudeen Abdul Raheem, a notable Pan Africanist activist and vocal intellectual, reiterated his oft expressed sentiment that "the problem of Africa can not be fixed by anyone but Africans."
Buttressing the remarks of the Executive Secretary of CODESRIA he also stressed that there is "nothing uniquely African about corruption." At the same time, however, Dr. Abdul Raheem said there was a need for Africans to "look at the issues from our perspective and not from that of others."
He noted that corruption across Africa often thrived in the midst of weak institutional capacity, poor governance and lack of basic citizens' rights and conjectured that "the alienation of the African from the African state" was often the root cause of this.
"Corruption," he said, "is often a rational choice not because our people don't know the difference between corruption and service but because governance structures often operate from a position of wants rather than need. The challenge therefore is to return to a regime of rights where rights are inherent in all citizens."
Dr. Abdul Raheem ended his keynote with a call for "personal sacrifice" in the fight against corruption from all African stakeholders and urged participants to remember that "if Africa is to be built it is only Africans who can do it."
The three day conference (13 to 16 October) is jointly organised by the ECA and CODESRIA and is one of the key events marking the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Economic Commission for Africa. The meeting brings together scholars, policy makers, practitioners, and civil society leaders, from within and outside Africa , as well as regional and international organizations, to deliberate on the issue.
The problem of corruption remains intractable in many African countries, and it is widely acknowledged that there is a need for more innovative, creative and strategic approaches to deal with it.
ECA is currently at the forefront of the regional anti-corruption agenda and the Commission has adopted a holistic approach at combating corruption. These include engaging major stakeholders, including the judiciary, national anti-corruption institutions, parliament and the pan-African body of national anti-corruption institutions in Africa , on the problem.
In 2006 and 2007 ECA conducted a study on: "Deepening Judiciary Effectiveness in Combating Corruption" and convened two ad-hoc expert meetings on the findings of that study. The report on the study and its related expert meetings will soon be published and widely disseminated.
ECA is also currently undertaking a study on "Assessing the Efficiency and Impact of National Anti-corruption institutions in Africa ." In February 2009, the Commission will convene an ad-hoc expert group meeting of Heads of national anti-corruption institutions to present the findings of the study to them.
In addition, ECA will shortly be undertaking training workshops for civil organizations on "Monitoring and reporting Corruption in Africa". The first of these workshops will convene on 11-12 November 2008 in Kampala, Uganda.