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John Kerry: Corruption is ‘root cause’ of terrorism

Secretary of State John Kerry made his third visit to Nigeria in 20 months this week, talking in the most explicit terms any top-level American official has used to explain the direct link between corruption and terrorism.

He called corruption a “root cause” of violent extremism.

In remarks Tuesday in Sokoto, Nigeria, Kerry said beating local terror group Boko Haram on the battlefield is “only the beginning of what we need to do.”

Violent extremist groups use humiliation, marginalization, inequality and poverty caused by corruption as recruitment tools, he said.

“The fight against corruption has to be a global security priority of the first order,” he said.

“Bribery, fraud, other forms of venality endanger everything that we hold dear, everything that you value. They feed organized crime. They gnaw away at nation-states. They take away the legitimacy of a nation-state. They contribute to human trafficking. They discourage honest and accountable investment, and they undermine entire communities,” Kerry said.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, with about 185 million people. And it’s Africa’s biggest oil producer, at just under 2 million barrels per day.

But it ranked 138 out of 168 countries and territories included on the latest Corruption Perceptions Index. On the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, which generally measures red tape and bureaucratic interference in the economy, Nigeria ranked 169 out of 189.

“Corruption is not just a disgrace and a crime. It is also dangerous,” Kerry said.

Boko Haram attacks small villages at night, looting homes and taking food and livestock. They burn the homes to the ground, kill fighting-age men, and abduct women and children. In 2014, they abducted about 300 girls from Chibok village in the Northeast.

The terror group has killed more than 20,000 people and displaced more than 2 million. And it has “flung some 7 million Nigerians into hunger, thirst, and desperate need,” Kerry said.

Graft costs the global economy an estimated $2.6 trillion a year, Kerry said. “That’s $2.6 trillion that could be going towards infrastructure, towards health care, towards education, food security, other initiatives . . .  that give young people that sense of future.”

Regionally, Kerry said, a group linked to al-Qaida is operating in Brukina Faso. The Lord’s Resistance Army is spreading terror in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. And al-Shabaab militants are killing people in Somalia.

“There is nothing more demoralizing, more destructive, more disempowering to a citizen than the belief that the system is rigged against them, the belief that the system is designed to fail them, and that people in positions of power, to use a diplomatic term, are ‘crooks’ — crooks who are embezzling the future of their own people,” Kerry said.

*     *      *

Secretary of State John Kerry’s full remarks in Sokoto, Nigeria on August 23, 2016 are here.


Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He’ll be the keynote speaker at the FCPA Blog NYC Conference 2016

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  1. Bingo! Brilliant use of American soft power. Just like JFK's Peace Corp. 50 years ago, this will pay off dividends for generations.

    Remember the commies in LatAm starting in the 60s. Had there not been corrupt Batistas there would not have been Castros.

    Corruption in the developing world, in its many disguises, is a terrible disease that disproportionately impacts the poor, weak and defenseless. They are the ones cheated out of basic health care, education, clean water, security and the list goes on.

    These poor folks disgusted with the injustices and impunity of the powerful are then easily manipulated by authoritative figures who promise them control of their destiny. In turn they get disastrous economic policies along with a lot of flag waving, secret police and soldiers on the streets to keep folks quiet and afraid. The well connected parasites in the past have exploited these opportunities to rape and pillage their homelands with the help of very shady characters.

    Kerry's words if implemented will literally save millions of lives and facilitate the rapid economic development of West Africa.

  2. It is interesting that more and more world leaders are getting closer with the understanding that corruption is the source of violence in the world. I therefore, hope that more resources will now be committed to learning more about corruption and identifying the causes than spending resources in developing advanced weapons that have never brought corruption to any end. Corruption is indeed the causer of confusion in the society, hence we need to give it a first class attention than any other human challenges in the world to day! As Secretary of State John Kerry put it that "Corruption is not just a disgrace and a crime. It is also dangerous", some of us even believe that any corrupt person may be classified as a closed associate to a Terrorist. It is time for the all the concern members of the society to stand up united against corruption for a peaceful environment for humanity. Many thanks to the Secretary of State for such a focused and researched statement. World leaders need to take not of this statement that it is meant only for Nigeria, but for each one of us on the earth planet!

  3. The words by Kerry, although referred to the Nigerian crisis, apply to the Venezuelan tragedy with even greater precision. The situation described by Kerry is exactly the one existing in Venezuela under the disastrous regime of Chavez/Maduro. However, The State Department is behaving about Venezuela in a manner which is inconsistent with those words, It has adopted for years now an attitude of wait and see, while the country is being run into the ground by the socialist,communist regime. When Kerry speaks about Venezuela he favors a : constructive dialogue to the opposition with the regime, when he should denounce openly the abuses of power and cruelty of the regime.
    I wish the State Department could be more consistent in their posture about Africa and Latin America.

  4. Better still, it will be in the interest of the world to start perceiving grave corruption as a WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION and apply multi-lateral sanctions on regimes that deploy such weapon upon its citizens. Grave corruption as already adopted in some African countries is more potent than the conventional weapon of mass destruction such as atomic, biological and chemical; because grave corruption is systematic, salient and massive, covering wider scope with longer time.

    The westerners may not appreciate this narrative as they lack the practical experience behind this piece. This is the task for the researchers to initiate move to determine the universally acceptable parameters to know at what point a regime is reasonably considered to have adopted corruption as a weapon of mass destruction for world attention and proactive intervention. In Africa, the population of the victims of corruption; the scope and the severity of their conditions far exceed those of Hiroshima victims of the atomic bomb!.

  5. It's good to see decision-makers are becoming aware of this linkage. Corruption is also linked to violent conflict. The next step is to think outside the box about curbing corruption. Around the world, grass-roots initiatives driven by citizens are on the rise and many are making a difference – including in contexts of violent conflict and fragility. See:

    Stephan, Maria and Shaazka Beyerle, How to Stop Extremism Before It Starts

    Beyerle, S. Curtailing Corruption: People Power for Accountability and Justice (Lynne Rienner publishers)

    Beyerle, S. Civil Resistance and the Corruption-Conflict Nexus, Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, special issue on “Perspectives on Peace, Conflict and War,” Vol. 38, No. 2.

  6. This would make sense if it weren't for the fact that plenty of evidence exists to show that terrorism is not (entirely) caused by poverty. See for example, You might as well say that terrorism is caused by the modern system of nation states established since the Treaty of Westphalia – there is plenty of evidence to show a correlation (if not causation) between the rise of the modern nation state and terrorism. Please don't misunderstand me – I am no fan of corruption, especially grand corruption. And please forgive my cynicism, yet somehow I find Kerry's thesis here is overly simplistic and perhaps motivated more by ideological concerns than noblesse oblige.

  7. The freedom from corruption needs to be recognized as a Human Right. Can we stay as steadfast and determined as John Kerry sounds when the trail of corruption leads back to our own companies,financial institutions, bureaucrats and politicians? Canada may face just this sort of test with its upcoming U.N. Peacekeeping role in Africa. The fight against corruption needs to be a real fight, not some Hollywood portrayal of a real fight.

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