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African countries need anti-corruption strategies ‘by Africans, for Africans’

In Kigali, Rwanda from May 3rd to 6th, 20 anti-corruption agencies from 18 African countries attended the 12th Regional Conference of Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Commonwealth Africa. This year’s conference was themed “Combating Corruption for Good Governance and Sustainable Development in Africa.”

The conference was organized by the government of Rwanda and the Association of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Commonwealth Africa or AAACA, which was created in 2011 to help governments fight corruption by developing strategies, sharing best practices, training, capacity-building, and policy research.

The annual conference rotates among member countries and this year the association is chaired by Ms. Madeleine Nirere, who was appointed by Rwanda’s cabinet in 2020 as Chief Ombudsman of the Office of the Ombudsman of Rwanda (Anti-Corruption Agency).

I believe one reason why the Commonwealth Countries of Africa rank higher than other countries in the region on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index is because of the annual AAACA conference and the benefits that flow directly from it.

Following this year’s AAACA conference especially, I am encouraged by the members’ resolve to fight against corruption. One reason for my optimism is because of a new level of understanding of a key issue: How attempts to adopt anti-corruption strategies based on international “norms” that are often ingredients for various widely used country-level risk rankings can be counterproductive.

Our experience in Africa has shown how best practices borrowed from developed countries often fail due to differences in context — historical, political, social, economic, and so on. A best-practices strategy that might be effective in a particular country or region might be ineffective or worse in another country or region because conditions on the ground are so different.

Also, when a country merely borrows a strategy because the strategy has been successful elsewhere, the borrowing country loses the benefits that come with the process of brainstorming a panoply of anti-corruption strategies and taking into account local or regional conditions and the needs of citizens in that time and place.

A simple example of what I mean is democracy. Democracy is an international indicator of “good governance” and therefore a commonly accepted ingredient of country-level anti-corruption strategies. And yet, the definition of democracy is still unsettled and even controversial across Africa (and in many Western countries as well!).

Still, African countries are often ranked against Western models of democracy despite obvious differences in context. Have we accomplished anything when African countries with mere decades of experience with democratic models and sharply different conditions are measured against Western countries with centuries of experience with the same or similar models? Anyone can see the inherent flaws in such a comparison.

It is not always easy to find ways to express views that diverge from what appear to be universally accepted best practices. The pressure to conform is intense. That is why I congratulate those members of the Association of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Commonwealth Africa for their open acknowledgment that in the fight against corruption, one size does not fit all.

I believe that if African countries adopt anti-corruption strategies contextualized to their countries’ cultures and values, and centered on their citizens’ benefit, without any doubt, Africa will shine.

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