Washington DC Peace & Security Forum

Washington DC Forum: The Corruption Factor in the Destabilization and Violence of African Societies

Washington DC-2014-06-25-Forum on Africa

Washington DC, USA - The UPF Office of Peace and Security Affairs, in partnership with SeraphimGLOBAL, held a forum on, “The Corruption Factor in the Destabilization and Violence of African Societies,” June 25, 2014 in Washington DC. Representing the organizations were: Dr. Antonio Betancourt, director, Office of Peace and Security Affairs, UPF International-Washington DC, and Cynthia Turner, executive director, SeraphimGLOBAL. The moderator was Dr. Aaron Adade, chairman of the board, Naija Worldwide Charities. 

Many factors contribute to the destabilization of regional peace and security in Africa, including climate change, famine, poverty, terrorism, human trafficking, drugs, etc., but the pivotal characteristic impacting all these factors is corruption, both on the individual and systemic levels. Conditions for corruption include: Weak governance structures and processes, existence of incentives that encourage corruption such as low and irregular salaries for officials with large dependent families, availability of multiple opportunities for personal enrichment, limited risks of exposure and punishment, fear of competition and the fear of failure. 

The actual costs of corruption are high. According to UN Economic Consultant for Africa Dr. Kwabena Gyimah-Brempong, “a unit increase in corruption reverses GDP growth by almost a 0.9% and reduces per capita income by 0.4%.” The panelists and participants agreed that while governments commit large sums to addressing the many problems impeding development, corruption remains a major destabilizing force in African societies. Anti-corruption measures are needed as part of Africa’s development agenda to ensure future growth and prosperity. Unless corruption is brought under control, the cycle of despair is doomed to repeat itself for the next generation.

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Dr. Betancourt told the more than 25 distinguished participants, scholars, Ambassadors for Peace, and friends of UPF: “Corruption in its varied forms is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, in public and private sectors, and includes bribery, embezzlement, kickbacks, and most seriously, represents the destruction of trust and glorification of greed. Although some consider corruption as a human trait genetically embedded in all of us, many believe that corruption can be controlled through the application of fundamental principles, including religious and moral training, good governance, transparency, as well as stiffer penalties and tougher sanctions for those caught in corrupt and immoral behavior.”

Dr. Adade, the moderator, said: “Worldwide corruption is a serious problem that weakens societies, ruins lives and impedes development. As one of the world’s most corrupt regions, it is vital that Africa tackles the problem with increased vigor. Effectively addressing corruption on the continent must become a development imperative as African countries cannot bear the costs of corruption. As ever, it is the poor and marginalized who suffer most from corruption, but as a threat to the development of the region, fighting corruption becomes the shared responsibility of every African.”

The panelists agreed from the onset that the discussion and report would be without attribution. The speakers outlined the effects of corruption, including: (1) destabilization of the country, (2) perpetual poverty, (3) violence and death, (4) environmental degradation, (5) destruction of the social fabric and (6) destruction of public trust in leaders.

Co-host Cynthia Turner, who has implemented many health projects in Africa the past 35 years, with emphasis on women, children and human trafficking, said that, “Africa has been exploited by the world. The free world and marginal powers are responsible for this corruption. At the time of independence we didn't make the necessary commitment to provide leadership training to assure that there would be a common vision and a competent and transparent government.” Ms. Turner believes there is not only an opportunity but a moral obligation for the major powers of the world to give support wherever they can. She cited several examples, including the Ebola virus disease. Thanks to the efforts of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the international community, the Ghana Health Service says the country is now free from the disease. She also gave the example of elections in Ghana and the international observers who monitor the balloting. Ghana needs to be a stable part of the region; therefore, it is the responsibility of the observers to make sure voting is fair and free of corruption. The last example concerns revolutionary extremists and the need for international support to deal with the crimes of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

An important point raised by one of the speakers dealt with education and its vulnerability to the impact of corruption. In many jurisdictions, teachers are not paid in a timely fashion. It is not uncommon for teachers to lose their motivation and excitement to teach. To make sure their children receive a proper education, parents and teachers are making private arrangements. Teachers are compelled to charge families outside the system. A second point made by the speaker concerns the role of Nigeria’s military. When the military stepped in to preside over the country (1966-1979 and 1983-1998), the people thought the military would be the savior, but instead they turned out to be worse than the politicians. Today the country finds itself in the situation whereby the military is supposed to be fighting the Boko Haram, yet earlier this month ten generals and five other senior military officers were found guilty of providing arms and information to the Boko Haram extremists. The speaker is very concerned about Boko Haram, particularly with impact on the petroleum industry in northeastern Nigeria. With an unstable government and nation weakened by internal corruption, the conditions for war are in place.

Another expert spoke on the impact of corruption regarding climate change and strategies for mitigating climate change. “Corruption promotes social decadence and political tension which in turn may develop into chaos and violence.” He said that climate change is real. There is unequivocal scientific proof that the Earth’s climate is warming due primarily to the burning of fossil fuels by the industrialized nations. Although Africa has serious ecological issues, its main problem is how to deal with the effects of climate change caused by the policies of the big nations and their “unwillingness to do justice to international agreements.”The resources needed to deal with the environment are funneled into the pockets of corrupt public officials. “Climate change policy is a victim of corruption in Africa. Climate change represents one of the greatest challenges of our time, especially in Africa, with profound and wide-reaching impacts of environmental protection and international security.” The report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said climate change poses a “threat to global food stocks and to human security.”The chair of the IPCC said: “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.” 

Africa is not responsible for the world’s pollution but the continent has taken the brunt of the impact. It is a challenge for all the nations to control corruption and effectively fight climate change, ideally as a group, and not separately.

Thought-provoking observations mentioned by the panelists

    • “Corruption is not just one of the causes of intractable poverty in Africa. It is the root cause.” - Dr. Adam Lerrick, Carnegie Mellon University

    • “For more than four decades, corruption has spread like a hurricane throughout post-independence Africa. No country or region of the continent has remained untainted, to a greater or lesser degree, by the corruption pestilence.” - Frederick Oneke, Chairman of OCDU, Nigeria

    • “Join me in our continued fight against corruption.” - Ellen Johnson, President of Liberia

    • “It is time to stop those who get away with acts of corruption. The legal loopholes and lack of political will in government facilitate both domestic and cross-border corruption, and call for our intensified efforts to combat the impunity of the corrupt.” - Huguette Labelle, Chair, Transparency International

Although corruption is a human characteristic, leaders and public officials have abused it for personal gratification, Dr. Adade said. “We are to be blamed for this because we sought advantage or favors by corrupting those holding power or controlling access to opportunities. If we do not stop greediness, acquisitiveness, materialism and over-ambition, which are all human traits, corruption will continue to increase because self-interest requires that we do favors.

In Africa, nations like Ghana, Nigeria, Congo and other undisciplined countries, corruption has become the way of life to the detriment of the citizenry. It was noted that most desirable outcomes are secured through illicitly-pressed influence or hard-bought gains. Even in the court systems lawyers bribe judges for favorable trial outcomes. In any country, only a few people can afford such behavior as bribing officials. It brings those who cannot afford to the point of fighting for survival and threatens peaceful existence and harmony. When threatened, the mindset of the poor is to use some sort of illegal means to get what they want, resulting in violent competition. In the long run, fear sets in the community that disrupts the peace of the people and can lead to demonstrations. Disagreements and quarrels break out and can turn into tribal conflicts or large-scale war.

The word “corruption”comes from the Latin corruptus (to break). Literally, it means broken object and “broken”person. A “broken” family, community or country cannot be at peace. For a country to be stable and achieve peace, the rule of law and democratic practices must be used such that the lower class can become middle class through the provision of ways to improve the standard of living. In many countries, these tools are lacking and have given way to corruptive behaviors. The result is unrest, hardship and the absence of peace. Corruption is a pervasive problem in both the developed and developing world. In recent years, the problem has gained much interest due primarily to high-profile corruption cases in the industrialized countries and an enhanced awareness of the financial costs.

Is there a solution?

Participants agree that good governance is a key element to secure economic growth and development, and must include: (1) transparency and accountability in both the public and private spheres; (2) maintenance of the rule of law; (3) protection of the person and property of individuals; (4) enforcement of property rights and freely-negotiated contracts; and (5) the maintenance of an institutional environment conducive to mutually beneficial free exchange and peaceful coexistence.

Conclusion:

In summarizing the forum, Dr. Adade made the following points. Corruption prevents the capacity for a people to rise to a high social or economic standard. There is a saying in Cuba: “When nothing works, nothing is illegal.” This applies to all corruptive behaviors in any community. As Muhammad Ahkter, a Cuban-trained Pakistani medical doctor states in Search for the Nature of Corruption, “The main actors in this work were political leaders, public servants, local officials, political candidates and members of the ruling elites. The victims were society, social values, ethical standards and the people in general. Corruption is seen to exist in an environment devoid of moral teaching and public awareness, and fueled by a self-seeking greed among ruling elites and their supporters and collaborators.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, many of the conflicts that threaten stability and peace are due to poor governance, ethnic rivalry, mismanagement of land and natural resources, declining economic conditions, and widespread poverty and famine. Many Western countries, on the other hand, have risen above these destabilizing factors because of the practice of constitutional democracy and economic globalization.

The UPF approach, as explained by Dr. Betancourt, uses the model proposed by the founder, Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon. In understanding human relationships, Rev. Moon proposed a paradigm based on the Biblical narrative of Cain and Abel to willingly accept responsibility for the welfare of others and to live by the standard that “I am my brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.” With the “blessing” that Abel received from God came the responsibility to be a good leader and work with his brother or sister to lift them out of their predicament and not to use their contradictions for personal gain or leave them to their fate while profiting from their land and resources. The United States and the industrialized world, who have received the “blessing,” must similarly understand that with that blessing has come a responsibility. UPF strongly emphasizes the importance of transcending historical self-interests and to work together for the common good. The First World has the responsibility to help raise the standards and quality of life of Africa in every field and discipline and always with the public good in mind.

ATTENDEES:

CO-HOSTS:

Dr. Antonio Betancourt, Director, Office of Peace and Security Affairs, UPF International-DC Office
Cynthia Turner, Executive Director, SeraphimGLOBAL

MODERATOR: 

Dr. Aaron Adade, Chairman of the Board, Naija Worldwide Charities

MAIN SPEAKERS:

Dr. John Wulu, Professor, University of Maryland University College, and SeraphimGLOBAL
Dr. Ignatius O. Ukpabi, Chairman, Board of Directors, Sub-Saharan African Grassroots Alliance
Augustine Blay, National Executive Committee, New Patriotic Party, USA Branch

SUPPORTING SPEAKERS:

Christopher Oyobio, Former president, Akwa Ibom State Association
Morris T. Koffa, Co-founder and Executive Director, Africa Environmental Watch

PARTICIPANTS:

Grace Akota, Medical Service Corporation International (MSCI) / Seraphim GLOBAL
Dr. Felicia Buadoo-Adade, Director of Women and Children, Medical Service Corporation International (MSCI) / Seraphim GLOBAL John Danner, Chairman, Native American Communications
Adwin Dennah, Student, University of Maryland University College
Tomiko Duggan, Director of Public Affairs, UPF International-DC Office
Prof. Diane Falk, Research writer and editor
Sara House, Intern, Medical Service Corporation International (MSCI) / Seraphim GLOBAL
Mouna Farhat, Financial District Assistant, AXA Advisors, LLC
Francis Kyei-Baffour, Medical Corps, Ghana Armed Forces (Retired)
Jeff Listerman, Graduate student, The Millennium Project
Leon Mensah, Medical Service Corporation International (MSCI) / Seraphim GLOBAL
Ufuoma Otu, Founder and Chief Cultural Enthusiast, Take Culture
Andrea Papandrew, Intern, Medical Service Corporation International (MSCI) / Seraphim GLOBAL
Gladys Pope, Virginians for Quality Healthcare
George Pope, III, Co-leader, Virginians for Quality Healthcare
Collin Schaffhauser, Student, Rutgers University
Dr. Mark P. Barry, Advisor, UPF Office of Peace and Security Affairs (Observer)
Dr. William Selig, Deputy Director, Office of Peace and Security Affairs, UPF International-DC Office

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