Corruption in the land sector in Africa

Garden plots in Bamako, Mali. Creative Commons/Flickr/Mark Fischer

Rights over land are one of the most fundamental property rights, but remain severely contested in many parts of Africa. In this post, Robert Home, Emeritus Professor in Land Management, Anglia Ruskin University, UK, details the impact of colonial legacies and how they affect patterns of corruption today.

The roots of corruption in land matters lie in Africa’s geography and history. It is a continent with a large land mass and low population density. In the last fifty years, its population has grown five times to reach over a billion people with about a thousand distinct languages (some countries have over twenty ethnic groups). It has the most nations in relation to land area of any continent, with colonial boundaries, legal systems, and governance following the Uti possedetis principle (i.e., what you have, you keep).

The former British colonies have a colonial legacy of three land tenure types created by the so-called ‘dual mandate’. State land (or crown land claimed as terra nullius)could be ‘set aside’ for such public purposes as townships, forestry, national parks, and mineral extraction. Private property (under freehold or long leasehold) had a government guarantee of title under the so-called Torrens system, controlled by lands and survey departments. Finally, under customary/tribal land tenure land belonged not to individuals but to the community, family or lineage; this still covers the majority of the African land area, and in colonial days were formerly held ‘in trust’, with no private ownership. Continuing colonial practices in land matters is why the postcolonial state has sometimes been called an ‘enemy of the people’ for encouraging inequalities.

Current land issues in Africa include ‘land grabbing’ and mineral extraction by foreign investors, conflicts, evictions and displacement, fraudulent title transfer, and the potential of blockchain for property transactions (which may increase evictions of occupiers). Land has been the subject of several books. In Ati Onama’s The Politics of Property Rights Institutions in Africa (2010), he argues that the level of property rights security that leaders prefer depends on how they use land, revealing why some leaders prefer an environment of insecure rights even as land prices increase. Laura Routley’s Negotiating Corruption: Hybridity NGOs and the Nigerian State (2015) argues that NGOs act as intermediaries between the local and the international, and between the state and the population.

The African Union Commission, UNECA, and the African Development Bank sponsor the African Land Policy Centre, following the African Declaration on Land (2009), which recognises member-state sovereignty and equality, and its third African Land Policy Conference in Abidjan (2019) was on the theme of “Winning the fight against corruption in the land sector”. Its land policy guidelines are, however, not a normative framework nor do they seek to impose land policy in specific country situations.

The jurisprudence of the African Court/Commission of Human and Political Rights is limited in land matters (Article 14) and suffers from poor enforcement. The Mbiankeu case (Cameroon) supports the right to private property and government title guarantee. Cases defending the rights of indigenous people in Kenya (particularly the Endorois, Ogiek, Nubian community) have succeeded, but governments are reluctant to act on the judgments, accusing the indigenous groups of being ‘selfish’ minorities.

Three country case studies (of Africa’s most important economies) show many corrupt practices. Nigeria (one of the most corrupt nations in the world, according to Transparency International) has inherited colonial governance structures, conferring federal control of mineral rights, and state control of land use rights, with anti-corruption laws in place but no consequences for violations. Kenya has two separate land registers carried over from colonial days: central (for private property) and county (for former trust lands). Abuses include land titles being transferred centrally without knowledge of occupiers, boundary adjustments that enlarge plots without knowledge of neighbours, local authority land transferred without knowledge of local authority, leases re-allocated upon expiry without notifying the existing lessee. The Ndungu Report (2003) identified multiple wrongful land allocations, and it has been estimated that 15% of land is controlled by the families of the four past Presidents. Finally, South Africa has unresolved racial inequalities in land ownership, limited success of land restitution and land reform, and ineffective constitutional guarantees and governance reforms. Abuses there include fraudulent land-grabbing and sales, and evictions.

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 16 is to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustained development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. It has 12 targets and 23 indicators, which include promotion of the rule of law and access to justice, a substantial reduction in corruption and bribery, inclusive and representative decision-making, and public access to information. Such aspirational goals are far from being realised in Africa.

Other key texts which deal with the issue of corruption in Africa’s land sector include:

Posted in Corruption in Africa

Linking transnational crime with corruption in developing states: Human Trafficking and Illegal Trade in Wildlife

White Rhinoceros, Limpopo, South Africa. Creative Commons/Flickr/Han van Hoof

Corruption and organised crime often go hand-in-hand. Professor Michèle Olivier, Associate Professor and Chair of Law at Dar Al-Hekma University, describes the nexus between these two phenomena in developing countries through the lens of human trafficking and the illicit wildlife trade, highlighting serious challenges for proponents of anti-corruption.

Transnational crimes are normally committed by transnational organized crime groups. The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime defines an ‘organised criminal group’ (OCG) as “a structured group of three or more persons, existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences… in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit”. These groups are in essence businesses like any other, motivated by financial gain and seeking out opportunities with high profits and low risks/costs.

Effective financial management and navigating regulatory/legal frameworks are critical to any business. OCGs and legal business operations share a dependence on financial institutions, quality of governance and the rule of law, or lack thereof. The cost is ultimately paid by the most vulnerable members of the global community, predominantly those in the developing world.

As transnational organised crime networks operate across national borders, understanding of the broader impact of international networks that support these crimes is needed. OCGs make use of legitimate structures and financial institutions to wash the proceeds of their crimes. In developing states, these crimes and corruption are co-dependant, thereby contaminating the entire economy. Transnational crimes typically cannot exist without corruption.

Corruption and good governance

Transnational crimes are enabled by weak governance which allows corruption to flourish. Corruption broadly refers to dishonest behaviour by those in positions of power. It includes the giving or accepting of bribes or inappropriate gifts, double-dealing, under-the-table transactions, manipulating elections, diverting funds, laundering money and defrauding investors.

Weak systems of government are not uncommon in developing states.Weak institutions create an environment for corruption to flourish, leading to poor enforcement, lack of transparency and accountability, and compromised adherence to the rule of law, thus reducing OCGs’ risks and increasing their profits. On the other hand, development – particularly improvements to governance, rule of law, delivery of social services and employment – undermines the strength of OCGs.

Capacity and efficiency in public sector management, accountability, access to information, and transparency are essential to good governance, and help to control corruption.

People trafficking and illegal wildlife trade as examples of transnational crimes

Trafficking in persons is a growing transnational crime with millions of victims, who end up in various modern forms of slavery, forced labour and forced marriages.

Illegal migrants are susceptible to exploitation and violations of their human rights. Often trapped in a cycle of debt that is almost impossible to escape from, their labour goes towards paying off the initial debt associated with the trafficking. Victims are generally unable to afford basic expenses like food, water, shelter, and health care provided by their “employers” or the traffickers, resulting in a continually growing debt.  Human trafficking has serious security and economic impacts on individuals, communities and countries. It drains resources and undermines domestic stability and the rule of law.

The surging illegal trade in wildlife trade is fuelled by corruption, weak legislation and enforcement. It includes elephant tusks and rhino horns, exotic pets, food and traditional medicines. Per kilo, the retail revenues for ivory or rhino horn can be equal to or greater than the equivalent amount of cocaine or heroin, yet the legal penalties are considerably more lenient. This trade not only has a disastrous impact on species conservation but also deprives communities of natural resources and much-needed revenue streams.

Illegal wildlife trade often flows through the same corridors used for other types of trafficking, like drugs, arms, and human beings. For a fee, wildlife traffickers can use an established route, which lowers their risk of detection and seizure.

Laundering the proceeds of these crimes is the global shadow financial system. A vast network of banks, intermediaries and secrecy jurisdictions around the world move illicit money, including the proceeds of tax evasion, revenue from organized crime and resources of terrorist organisations. The revenues from transnational crime seldom have any long-term benefit to citizens, communities or economies of developing countries.

Posted in Corruption in Africa, Regions

Commend and Condemn: A Strategy for Combating Corruption in Africa

A Ugandan anti-corruption sign. Creative commons/Flickr/

Corruption is one of the most significant obstacles to Africa’s future development. Dan Kuwali, Extraordinary Professor of International Law at the University of Pretoria, highlights the factors that allow corruption to flourish in African and presents a ten-point “commend and condemn” strategy for proactive prevention.

Africa is the poorest region of the world and also the only one with poor prospects for the future. Corruption is one of the most significant contributors to the under-development and impoverishment in many African states, as it fuels inequalities, undermines access to public services, scares off investors and discourages further development. Although the African Union (AU) designated 2018 as the year for “winning the fight against corruption”, and considering that corruption is a punishable offence in nearly every country on the continent, Africa is still widely considered as the world’s most corrupt continent. Of the 10 countries considered most corrupt in the world, six are in sub-Saharan Africa. The continent ranks lowest amongst global regions in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). Countries in Africa average 32 out of 100 in their CPI scores (where 0 is most corrupt and 100 least). About one billion people (90%) of the continent’s 1.2 billion strong population live under very or extremely corrupt governments, a rate that exceeds most of the rest of the world. Over $50 billion worth of stolen assets flow out of Africa every year.

Therefore, ending corruption is a top priority for peace, security and prosperity on the continent. The AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (AUCPCC) was adopted in Maputo, Mozambique on 11 July 2003 and came into force in 2006. The AU has established an Advisory Board on Corruption, which is an organ tasked to advise on, and address the problem of, corruption on the continent. The Board is also mandated to rally for the ratification and implementation of the AUCPCC by member states. To date, the Convention has been ratified by 44 out of the 55 AU Member States, which explains the slow pace of fighting the vice on the continent.

Factors that Promote Corruption

Factors that promote corruption include: greed and opportunity; absence of institutional ethical codes of conduct; lack of effective supervision and oversight mechanisms; outdated policies, procedures and regulations; bureaucratic delays and red-tape in provision of services and delivery of goods; discretionary powers minus accountability; monopoly in provision of services which lead to unabated overpricing as a result of lack of competition; unhealthy competition or peer pressure which lead to living beyond one’s means; organisational culture that tolerates corruption; and lack of effective punitive sanctions and penalties for offenders.The proliferation of alternative currencies may make it easier to transfer and retain funds anonymously and, therefore, more difficult for anti-corruption agencies to trace and seize dirty money. Fast-paced innovations in Internet gaming and software make it easier for criminals to launder funds across jurisdictions without leaving any footprints. A lack of transparency coupled with secrecy leave room for corruption in the defence and security sector.  

Challenges in fighting corruption in Africa

Corruption is extremely pervasive in Africa and is a direct consequence of poorly conceived legislation, policies and institutional arrangements that have promoted rent seeking and other forms of opportunism. Some of the obvious obstacles to overcome corruption include:

  • Corruption is invariably committed by persons in positions of power, making it difficult to prosecute such cases without external interference. Therefore, only the “small fish” are targeted.
  • The weak tone and tenor of national anti-corruption legislation such as the Nigerian Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act does not scare potential perpetrators. South Africa and Zambia, however, have progressive nomenclatures. The gold standard in nomenclature is the AUCPPC, which clearly declares the continental body’s abhorrence of corruption.
  • The nonexistence or docility of national systems to promote ethics and integrity where the law is not sufficiently supported by mechanisms that promote integrity and ethical values in order to eradicate moral decadence.
  • Lack of vigilance of sectoral anti-corruption initiatives where fighting corruption is seen as the responsibility of the anti-corruption authorities alone, and not the citizenry.
  • Perceived tolerance of anti-corruption by citizens, especially where there is impunity despite credible information from whistleblowers, as citizens may rather turn a blind eye than risk their lives for what they perceived to be futile endeavours.

Arresting corruption in Africa

While there cannot be a one-size fits all approach to combating corruption, the purpose of corruption prevention should be to minimize, as much as possible, its crippling effect on the economy, human rights, national security and social welfare. Corruption prevention requires a robust system to detect and eliminate the causes and conditions of corruption through the development and implementation of appropriate measures for deterrence. Below is a ten-point strategy on how to prevent corruption and mitigate its effects in Africa:

  • Promote financial probity and professionalism in handling public resources to encourage public involvement in public finance management. Kenya and Tanzania have good examples of legislative and institutional frameworks which promote integrity and transparency at national level. Tanzania and Kenya have entrenched guiding principles for ethical conduct, leadership and integrity.
  • Enhance transparency and access to information to promote public participation in public finance management in order to increase the responsiveness of public bodies; and provide support to watchdog institutions in their pursuit of all corruption cases.
  • Promote efficient and effective service delivery by removing bureaucratic bottlenecks which incentivize clients to use kickbacks to cut corners.
  • Embrace smart technology to encourage arms-length relationships between officials and the public and promote footprints in financial transactions.
  • Adopt integrity checks (and lifestyle audits) including mandatory declaration of assets for public officers so that their credibility can be assessed, and the probability of corruption reduced.
  • Empower citizens to hold their governments accountable and encourage whistleblowers in order to build mutual trust between citizens and government.
  • Inculcate a culture of integrity and honesty to promote ethical conduct, especially among the youth.
  • End impunity through the promotion law enforcement and an independent judiciary in order to deter potential perpetrators, including use of corporate criminal liability, public interest litigation, civil litigation and asset recovery.
  • Formulate a commend and condemn policy to provide incentives for ethical conduct, and increase the cost of being corrupt. It is also necessary to pay civil servants adequately to prevent them from supplementing their income in “unofficial” ways.
  • Ensure continuous monitoring and evaluation of anti-corruption strategies to make sure they can be easily adapted as situations on the ground change.


The fight against corruption is the responsibility of everyone through active participation in the implementation of anti-corruption legislation and strategies, and demanding justice. While law enforcement is a vital component of any effective anti-corruption effort, it may be short-term, hence the need for proactive prevention strategies which commend merit and condemn mediocrity. This transformation may help to spur economic development on the continent of Africa, which is the poorest and least peaceful continent in the world.  

Dan Kuwali also holds the role of Adjunct Professor at the Malawi University of Science and Technology and is a Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as well as the United States Army War College.

Posted in Corruption in Africa, Regions

Introduction to a new blog series: Combatting corruption in Africa and the role of the African Union

African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Creative Commons /Flickr/ Albert González Farran, UNAMID

In this post, Dr Femi Amao (Reader in Law, University of Sussex), Dr Eki Omorogbe (University of Leicester, Lecturer & founder and co-chair of the International Law and Policy in Africa Network (ILPAN)) and Dr Adaeze Okoye (Principal Lecturer, University of Brighton) introduce a forthcoming blog series which draws on a June 2021 webinar organised jointly by the International Law and Policy in Africa Network and the African Union Law Research Network. The focus of the webinar was on combatting corruption in the context of Africa, the African Union (AU) and its member states.

Corruption is not unique to Africa and the African Union, however recent findings of widespread institutional corruption by the audit of the African Commission initiated by the Executive Council, play into the stereotype of high levels of corruption in the continent. Similar allegations were levelled against the African Union’s (AU) African Peer Review Mechanism in 2020. This is against the backdrop of endemic corruption in member states of the AU. The recent trial of the former president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, on corruption-related allegations is an example of the ongoing problem.

The problem of corruption has significant implications for socio-political and economic development and for human rights. Indeed, it is because of corruption’s extensive impact that some scholars – such as Truelove and Grossman – have suggested that it should be characterised as a violation of human rights.This is because corruption perpetuates discrimination, prevents the full realization of human development by negatively affecting economic, social and cultural rights and leads to authoritarian and repressive behaviour that impedes civil and political rights, distorts the provision of social services and hampers economic development. These issues are causes for concern for stakeholders of the AU.

The impact of corruption on the socio-political and economic development in Africa requires better understanding and analysis in order to be able to develop strategic and effective solutions to the problem. There is evidence of member states’ attempts to address the issue of corruption in policies and legislation. However, as noted by contributors at the webinar, there are very few success stories in this respect. This is largely because of the involvement of government institutions in corrupt practices across the continent.

This joint webinar took up the important task of exploring these issues from the African perspective. For instance, Kuwali, in his contribution, advocates what he described as a ‘commend and condemn’ strategy as a way forward. The strategy is based on a ten-point agenda aimed at correctly identifying the causes of corruption and addressing those causes in strategic ways. Iyi, in his contribution, also suggests taking a unique philosophical and religious perspective in the design and implementation of strategies towards addressing the problem.

Contributors also looked at the issues from a sectoral perspective. As Home notes in his contribution, in which he discusses corruption in the land sector, there are historical, political, social and legal factors that have contributed to the prevailing situation in the continent. Home correctly traces the factors to colonial history, the customary/tribal land tenure system and various foreign interests. These factors need to be taken into account in designing effective responses.

Olivier, in her contribution, focuses on how the issue of corruption plays into illegal trade in wildlife and human trafficking. She examines the impact and effect of the problem and looks at ways in which the AU and member states could deal with the associated problems. D’Orsi’s contribution examines the issue from the Higher Education sector’s perspective. He identifies a range of domestic factors that have played a significant role in shaping the problem of corruption and the potentials of contextualisation.

As some of the contributors note, the AU has recognised the need for and importance of a regional strategy to combat corruption. To this end, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption was adopted in 2003 and it came into effect in 2006. The Convention could be regarded as a consensus on what African states should do in the areas of prevention of corruption, criminalisation, international cooperation and asset recovery. As Hajer Gueldich correctly points out, implementation and compliance with the instrument by member States has been weak. It is therefore imperative to identify new ways to improve implementation and compliance.

In the current Covid 19 climate, corruption has also become a major factor in Covid contracts and procurement globally. It is therefore not surprising that corruption has affected African states’ response. Consequently, the webinar also addressed corruption issues in the context of Covid 19 responses and how state responses could be improved and strengthened.

We aim to start a serious conversation on solutions to the problem of corruption from the African perspective, building on various ideas suggested at the event. As our conversations continue, we hope to refine and develop these suggestions, to form the basis for major policy proposals from the African Union Law Research Network and International Law and Policy in Africa Network.

Posted in Corruption in Africa

ACA series: Reflections on the value, functions, and conditions for success of anti-corruption agencies (ACAs)

Luís de Sousa, Research Fellow, Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa (ICS-ULisboa), e-mail:

The growth of ACAs

Over the past three decades, and especially after the signing of the United Nations Convention of Corruption (UNCAC), international standards have converged regarding the need to increase specialization and coordination in the field of corruption control in terms of both prevention and containment. One proposed option for doing this was to set up a body, bodies, or persons specialised in overseeing and coordinating the implementation of anti-corruption policies, producing and disseminating knowledge about corruption prevention (article 6, UNCAC), and/or combating corruption through law enforcement (article 36, UNCAC).

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Posted in Governance

ACA series: AFA, The French Anti-Corruption Agency

François Valérian, member of the International Board of Transparency International, writes about the development, design, remit, and record to-date of France’s nascent anti-corruption agency.

The Agence Française Anti-corruption (French Anti-Corruption Agency, AFA) was created by a 2016 law voted under the then French Finance Minister’s initiative and known as “Sapin II Law”, the major law passed a few years after the Cahuzac scandal which saw a finance minister’s resignation for tax evasion. The AFA is headed by a magistrate appointed by the President of the Republic for a non-renewable six-year term.

The AFA’s missions are of advice and assistance, and of control. The overall goal is to promote a culture and practices of anti-corruption prevention in the economic world, as provided for by the Sapin II law.

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Posted in Governance, Regions

Can the law tackle contested appointments in the House of Lords?

Joseph Sinclair, a lawyer, research associate at Spotlight on Corruption, and recent alumnus of Sussex’s Corruption and Governance MA, writes about the recent controversy over Peter Cruddas’ appointment to the Lords and the shortcomings in the criminal laws that govern the purchasing of honours.

Image source: David Jakab/Pexels

Peter Cruddas: Appointment to the Lords & Controversy

In December 2020, the Prime Minister appointed Peter Cruddas to be a Conservative peer in the House of Lords. He is described on the Lords’ website as “a businessperson, philanthropist, and Conservative Party donor and former co-treasurer [of the Conservative Party]”. As a donor, he had given £50,000 to Boris Johnson for his 2019 leadership campaign and in total over £3m to the Conservative Party since 2007 (£1.2m since Boris Johnson became PM) as well as £1.5m to the Vote Leave campaign. Cruddas’ appointment was especially controversial because, after undertaking a vetting process, the House of Lords Appointment Commission had told the PM that they could not support the nominee.

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Posted in Governance

Do we still need the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group?

The G20’s ACWG has been around for a decade. In this post, Professor Robert Barrington argues that on balance it is more useful than not, but that is hardly a ringing endorsement.  If it is to survive a further decade, he argues, some tangible progress is necessary.  This is the sixth and final blog post in the CSC’s series ‘The role of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in influencing the global agenda.’ 

G20 ACWG Accountability Report 2021
Credits: G20 Italy – Anti-Corruption Working Group
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Posted in G20 Anti-Corruption Agenda, Governance, International Development

Ambitious, collaborative, accountable: to deliver change, the G20 must first empower a wide array of anticorruption actors

It is too easy to sigh that ‘more must be done’ by international fora such as the G20, writes Maggie Murphy. Rather than to deliver a breakthrough intergovernmental agreement, Murphy argues that the point of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG) is to create inches of space for other actors to enter and expand the anti-corruption field. This is the fifth blog post in the CSC’s series ‘The role of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in influencing the global agenda’.

© Transparency International Lithuania |
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Posted in G20 Anti-Corruption Agenda, Governance, International Development

An Anti-Corruption A20: The case for an Academic Roundtable to support the G20’s Anti-Corruption agenda

Fighting corruption is both a technical and a political process. In this post, CSC Director Liz David-Barrett argues that an ‘A20’ group of academics could inject much-needed evidence and learning into the work of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group, providing technical support for this high-level political process. This is the fourth blog post in the CSC’s series ‘The role of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group in influencing the global agenda’.

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Posted in G20 Anti-Corruption Agenda, International Development