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Corruption and conflict: By the numbers

Last month, the DOJ’s Leslie Caldwell, described the fight against corruption as “a necessary enforcement action to protect our own national security interests and the ability of our U.S. companies to compete on a global scale.” These comments not only apply to FCPA enforcement but also highlight the long-recognized notion that corruption can threaten peace and security. Today, the threat posed by corruption to security is especially relevant to Africa and the Middle East.

Transparency International cites corruption as undermining the development of state authorities and institutions, which can make it easier for insurgents and terrorists to operate and grow. Corruption is a particular concern for post-conflict countries, as TI cites a constant correlation between corruption and conflict.

Consider the numbers. Out of the 50 countries listed on the FCPA Blog’s latest Corporate Investigations List, 19 are in Africa or the Middle East. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index has consistently ranked several countries in Africa and the Middle East as those with public sectors perceived to be more corrupt. In TRACE International’s TRACE Matrix, a business bribery risk index, countries in Africa and the Middle East tend to be assigned higher overall risk scores. And a recent survey published by the Pew Research Center and spanning a number of continents found that “Africans are far and away the most concerned about corruption (a median of 85%).” A median of 71% of those polled in the Middle East ranked corruption as a top problem.

When state institutions are corruptible, not only can the lack of meaningful law enforcement set the stage for lawlessness, it also can provide an especially attractive environment for terrorist elements to build, flourish, and spread.  The list of terrorist organizations currently operating in the Middle East and Africa is a long one, and includes: the so-called Islamic State in the Levant, the Al-Nusra Front in Syria, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdis in Egypt, Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al-Shabab in Somalia, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Many of these groups have gained prominence only in recent years.  A particularly pressing concern now is any actual or attempted cooperation between these groups.

Like the fight against terrorism the fight against corruption has tackled the flow of money.  This is especially important for Africa. According to Global Financial Integrity (GFI), economies in Africa have lost between $597 billion and $1.4 trillion in net resource transfers in the past three decades.  Another report from GFI found that for every year between 2002 and 2011, sub-Saharan Africa lost, on average, 5.7% of total gross domestic product (GDP) to illicit outflows.

While there is still much to be done to combat corruption in Africa and the Middle East, there have been some efforts on the ground.  In addition to the range of regional and national anti-corruption initiatives and bodies in place, notable recent developments include:  South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma being investigated for allegedly using $19 million in public funds to renovate his home; Ghana’s Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) finding that the government had paid $2.4 million to over 22,000 ghost workers and that officials at the national service secretariat had offered bribes to BNI officials; Nigeria planning to increase spending on its police force to curb corruption; and the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Jordan each receiving some praise for their respective efforts.  

Similarly, a number of African and Middle Eastern states have countered terrorism by beefing up law enforcement, enacting legislation, monitoring financing, and coordinating with regional and global partners.

In the years to come, states in Africa and the Middle East will no doubt continue to be key partners in fighting corruption and striving for stronger global security.


Mostafa M. Abdelkarim is an associate in Covington’s Washington, DC office and specializes in white collar defense and investigations, including anti-corruption matters. He speaks fluent Arabic and has represented and advised clients in numerous matters relating to or arising from the Middle East and North Africa. A version of this post originally appeared on Covington’s CovAfrica blog here.

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1 Comment

  1. A cautionary note on the 'securitization' of corruption and making it about ‘our’ security.

    I would like to sound a cautionary note on ‘securitizing’ corruption, especially commencing a discourse that turns others’ problems into a conversation about us and our ‘security’. It is also particularly unhelpful to prioritize the competitiveness of multi-national companies over and above so many more pressing issues

    It is always possible to draw some causal links from a range of issues (crime, poverty, the environment and so forth) that may lead to deteriorating societal situations, institutional and governing regime failures and so forth. Eventually we can transcend those concerns into topics of regional instability and lastly apply that to our own feelings of insecurity.

    The broadening and deepening of the notion of ‘security’ is an attractive response because it escalates an issue from the host of other competing priorities for funds, resourcing, staff, policy and legislative needs. Shifting foreign corruption issues to our own ‘national security agenda' might seem like a good idea however, it can lead us to make a range of inappropriate domestic responses, prioritize things that are perhaps not immediately in danger and give weight to things that make 'us' feel safer but isolates 'them' in the process.

    As such, listing the ‘national security’ of first world countries and the competitiveness of multi-national companies in places that can’t connect electricity and water to homes and schools because of corrupt kleptocrats, resonates poorly as an agenda topic in this respect.

    Like terrorism, the priority responses for dealing with corruption must first start with our pledge to support victims and their communities with an escalating spectrum of local, state, national, regional and international initiatives. A higher focus of effective local legislation, well equipped and resourced law enforcement agencies, competent lawyers, a transparent judiciary and bureaucracy are the tools that local communities need to help themselves first. Giving local voices the ability to escalate unresolved problems to regional and international bodies is a force multiplier to this strategy.

    As this blog noted in 2010, if we want to escalate the ability to deal with kleptocrats and systemic national corruption that may lead to fragile states and security situations, perhaps support for the International Criminal Court and urging more nations to sign the Rome Statue can add to that conversation – (see

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