Monday, May 23, 2016

What does African Union day mean to you?

In May 2013, I was among the privileged few who witnessed the Africa @ 50 celebrations in Addis Ababa. I am forever grateful to being given this opportunity to be physically part of this historic occasion and most lucky to have done that as technical assistant to Dr. Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary of UNECA. 

One of the key deliverables that came out of the AU Summit that year was support for Agenda 2063, a forward looking strategy document aimed at transforming Africa into ‘an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in international arena’. Agenda 2063 brings together all the many documents that the African Union has subscribed to but most importantly, Agenda 2063 comes with seven key aspirations  that seek to capture the Africa we want in the next 50 years. 

In between the whirlwind of organising events, meeting  Heads of States, finalising speeches, attending conferences, writing press statements and the many other last minute issues that come up on such a high level event,  I never forgot the significance of the occasion. I never, not for a moment, forgot that it was the sweat, blood and tears of my recent ancestors that made it possible for me to walk through the majestic halls of the African Union building. I never, for a minute forgot the blood, dignity and identity that my forefathers and foremothers sacrificed to ensure that their dream for ‘the total liberation of Africa’ was achieved. I felt the weight of history lying heavily on my shoulders. If our past leaders were been able to achieve so much in an era of typewriters and fax machines,  then we have no excuse not to do much much more for generations yet unborn. 

As we celebrate another African Union day this year, permit me to share with you the significance of the AU day to me in my multiple realities. In the same format as the response of an African President was when he was asked whether he had ever taken a bribe. 

As a human being:
As a human being living in Africa, I am more prone to die through preventable diseases such as cholera and malaria; it is more probable that I will experience wars and conflicts; I am more likely to live under one dollar a day and for either myself or my children to suffer from malnutrition. I have less access to education, healthcare facilities are far from me or are inadequate and I have a high likelihood of being employed in the informal sector or not employed at all. I will die earlier than my European and American friends and my cause of death is 33per cent more likely to be maternally related. 

Quite a sad picture, isn’t it? And I could go on and on. But there is hope. On a positive side, the UNDP’s annual Human Development Report (HDR 2013) shows that all African countries have positively improved in all the categories since 2000 with the largest improvement recorded in health. Africa is doing something to improve my quality of life. 

Aspiration 1 of Agenda 2063 states that ‘We are determined to eradicate poverty in one generation and build shared prosperity through social and economic transformation of the continent’.  

In this regard therefore, I have hope that as a human being living in Africa, poverty will be over in my generation.

As a woman:  it is an undisputed fact that women are a critical cornerstone of Africa’s economic development. Statistics show that women provide about 70 per cent of agricultural labour and produce about 90 per cent of all of Africa’s food. Investing in women can yield a significant boost in economic growth, otherwise known as “the gender dividend.”

Despite these positive statistics, a woman in Africa is more likely to be illiterate or less educated than her brothers, most likely to be married off at an early age, have less access to agricultural extension support and does not own the land she cultivates. Unless this vicious cycle of the underlying causes of poverty is broken with education as an enabler, African women will continue to be relegated to the dark prehistoric ages of witchcraft and sorcery.

Several of the Agenda 2063 aspirations speak to the role of women in achieving the objectives of the agenda. For example, aspiration 6 of Agenda 2063 speaks to ‘An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children’. Also, Aspiration 3 states it in a different way, ‘Africa shall have a universal culture of good governance, democratic values, gender equality, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law’.

In a previous blog post, I classified three E’s needed for women’s growth and development as Education, Economic stability and Empowerment. These are still relevant today.

As a mother:  the numbers of women who still die from preventable pregnancy related causes in Africa are staggering. Whilst in developing countries, it is rare to know of women who have died as a result pregnancy, in Africa this is the norm.

Do you know that every day in 2015, about 830 women died due to complications of pregnancy and child birth?  And that of the 830 daily maternal deaths, 550 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and 180 in Southern Asia, compared to 5 in developed countries. The risk of a woman in a developing country dying from a maternal-related cause during her lifetime is about 33 times higher compared to a woman living in a developed country.

As a mother, the AU day is significant not only to push forward a focus on tackling maternal mortality but on the future of my children, my nieces and nephews.

Did you know that Africa is the only continent where the youth population will significantly expand and that between 2010 & 2100 the African youth population will almost triple. This means that by 2100 almost half of all the world’s youth, including my children, will be African.

Did you also know that almost one third of sub-Saharan African youth lack basic skills and that Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest secondary & tertiary school enrolment  and whatever skill set that they have  do not meet the needs of the 21st century labour market ‘Jobless’ growth.

What does this foretell for the future of Africa’s children (including my children) and the educational systems they are being trained in?

Aspiration 6 focuses on ‘all citizens of Africa will be actively involved in decision making in all aspects. Africa shall be an inclusive continent where no child, woman or man is left behind or excluded, on the basis of gender, political affiliation, religion, ethnic affiliation, locality, age or other factors.

As an African: The rhetoric of a ‘rising Africa’ is all around us. The statistics show that Africa is indeed on the path to economic prosperity. This is great news. Overall, Africa’s economic performance is strong, we are more resilient to shocks and there are key ongoing economic policy changes. In addition to this, we can also applaud the handling of the Ebola virus crisis.

However the threat of terrorism and religious extremism continue to plague the continent. One case is point is the Chibok girls. I am saddened whenever the plight of those young women come to mind. My prayers continue to be with them wherever they are and with their families. Boko Haram, ISIS, Al Qaeda continue to brainwash our youth into committing atrocious acts of terrorism.

Yes, democracy is the norm in many African countries but it seems as if our definition of democracy is skewed in favour of life presidents and oppressive regimes.

Aspiration 4 which focuses on peace and security states that ‘Mechanisms for peaceful prevention and resolution of conflicts will be functional at all levels. As a first step, dialogue-centred conflict prevention and resolution will be actively promoted in such a way that by 2020 all guns will be silent. A culture of peace and tolerance shall be nurtured in Africa’s children and youth through peace education’.

There certainly is progress but sometimes, the challenges outweigh the progress. But we must press on, nevertheless. No one will develop our continent for us but ourselves. The reverse is not the case, sadly.

In conclusion

In effect, the celebration of the African union day should not be a mere rhetoric or an excuse for Africans to have a good time. It is to remind us that there is work to be done. It is to spur us to work harder, shout louder, think further and make change happen. If not for us, for our children. I want to make change happen, so that in the year 2063, when my granddaughter is walking through the halls of the African Union Building, she will be proud of not only her grandmother, but all the Africans in this generation who consciously worked for the greater good of all.

The target is clear, the milestones defined, the signs cannot be missed. Agenda 2063 sets the strategic and unifying framework for a socio economic revolution within our generation. This is not just a dream. It is our reality and that reality must change for the (much) better.  

I am Teiko Sabah and I am African. I am the African Union.

Happy African Union Day!!!
About the author:
Teiko Sabah is the 2013 Mo Ibrahim African Leaders Fellow with the UNECA. She is interested in Africa and pan Africanism. She writes a monthly blog on pan Africanism on

 NOTE: African Union Day is celebrated annually on 24th May to commemorate the establishment of the OAU.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

What does corruption have to do with it? My thoughts on the anti-corruption summit

Peter Tosh, a musician of great repute once sang that,
‘If you are living in a glass house, don’t throw stones’.
So it comes as a surprise to me that David Cameron, the British Prime Minister has decided to hold an anti-corruption summit, only a few weeks after the Panama Papers  revealed that he had profited from owning shares in a tax haven fund. Maybe, in his mind, corruption and tax evasion are mutually exclusive. Not so.  So let me introduce him to some facts:

Fact: Across the African continent, only 3 percent of all the monies of illicit financial flows  are derived from government corruption, while 33 percent comes from organized criminal activity and 64 percent from trade manipulations. For example, a 2011 World Bank Research in Malawi estimated corruption at 5% of GDP whilst tax evasion made up a whopping 8-12% of GDP. The Global Financial Integrity (GFI) estimates that a record US$991.2 billion in illicit capital flowed out of developing and emerging economies in 2012—facilitating crime, corruption, and tax evasion. Thus corruption is only ONE, and actually the LEAST, of the factors to be taken into consideration in fighting a much deeper evil – the bleeding of Africa’s financial resources. 

If this is the case, why is David Cameron focusing on the 3% of illicit financial flows from corruption and not on the other 97% from organized crime and trade manipulations? I am not in any way, shape or form holding brief for any corrupt African leader. All I am saying is that the scope of David Cameron’s meeting could be far wider and do much more than is currently being done.

Fact: The City of London, the seat of government of the British Empire, is itself a tax haven.  Since the times of William the Conqueror in 1067, the City of London has had its own system of debt financing that overrides local laws and makes it possible for monies (plural) to be laundered on a massive scale.
Typically monies that leave Africa to end up in developed countries and in tax havens, such as the City of London. In my opinion, I respectfully believe that the British Prime Minister should be looking closer to home.

Fact:  Her Majesty’s British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies make up around 25 per cent of the world’s tax havens, which are now blacklisted by the European Commission and now ranked as the most important player in the financial secrecy world. British Tax havens featured on the EC’s blacklist of June last year include Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands to name just a few and each is inextricably linked to the City of London.

Fact: Tax havens provide the optimum environment for hiding monies from illicit flows.  A tax haven is defined by Investopia as a country that offers foreign individuals and businesses little or no tax liability in a politically and economically stable environment. Tax havens also provide little or no financial information to foreign tax authorities’. Tax havens therefore are sovereign jurisdictions that provide financial havens for persons at reduced tax rates (lower than their own countries) and also keep the identities of the owners and facilitators of the transactions secret. Recent numbers by the Center for Global Development indicate that developing countries lose between $8 billion to $100 billion a year in illicit flows to Switzerland alone. A tax activist friend of mine used to say that the Global anti-corruption index should rather be turned upside down. Switzerland, on the contrary, should be ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. I agree.

Anti-Corruption Summit
So back to the Anti-Corruption Summit.  I have perused through all the African countries statements and that of the developed countries and a few issues interest me.

Firstly, I find it strange that, with the exception of Switzerland, none of the other countries (specifically the UK and the USA) made any commitments to returning stolen assets. Stolen financial assets of developing countries, I must add, that are comfortably stashed in their banks and used to buy real estate in their countries.   I wonder why they focus more on the ‘supply side’ of corruption and not on the enabling part which exists in their own jurisdictions. No laws were proposed, no mechanisms recommended and no sanctions proffered to regulate the international arena where all the shady illicit deals take place. Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  In my opinion, the statements are just made up of a whole lot of rhetoric rendering them potentially futuristically ineffective. In effect, just another tea drinking talk shop. But that’s my opinion.

On the other hand, most of the African countries were represented in the conference mention asset recovery as one of their key requests. Each country statement go into details as to how assets should be recovered and returned back to their rightful owners.  Tunisia goes further than most to call on the international community to ‘effectively cooperate to help developing countries recover stolen assets’.  It is therefore not out of context for President Buhari not to take affront at the ‘fantastically corrupt’ statement from Cameron and rather to insist of the return of stolen assets. As he said, ‘wwhat would I do with an apology? I need something tangible'.  Well, President Buhari, good luck (no pun intended) in getting anything tangible. Keep pushing, anyway.

I wonder whether there were two separate meetings going on in one venue.

Secondly, I do not think the both the conference communiqué and the purported ‘Global Declaration on Corruption’ go far enough in ensuring a return of stolen monies and illicit financial resources currently held in tax havens such as the City of London and the State of Delaware.  In my opinion, it is imperative that global world leaders see corruption as two sides of the same coin. The first side focused on the actual corruption, corrupt practices and illicit financial flows and the other part focused on tax havens, the global arena of secrecy, financial mystery and the maze of international laws, banking and accounting practices that make it easy to steal and hide illegally gotten wealth.

The communiqué as well as the Global Declaration on anti-corruption from this workshop focuses more on the first part and seriously glosses over the second part. Exposure of corruption, punishing the corrupt and driving out corruption are important components in stopping corruption globally. However these measures will not be enough if banks in Switzerland, United Kingdom, the State of Delaware and other tax havens are not willing to share information on whose monies are kept in their banks, are not willing to stop the transfer of laundered funds from Africa into their coffers, do not respond to African government requests for information, do not put in mechanisms for the return of stolen assets and so on.

As  Richard Murphy  (a vocal tax justice campaigner)would say, these are ‘incredibly weak plans’ to tackle global corruption and that looking at the scale of the problem, the current systems put in place at this meeting will ‘make the whole effort meaningless’.

In conclusion, I think Africa is well on its way to tackle the bleeding of its financial resources at a pan African level. For the past few years, The High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows  chaired by Thabo Mbeki has been working on understanding the scale and scope of the problem.

The recently held Third International Conference On Financing For Development  in Addis Ababa which resulted in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda    agreed on, inter alia, a new global framework for financing sustainable development that aligns all financing flows and policies with economic, social and environmental priorities and a comprehensive set of policy actions by Member States, with a package of over 100 concrete measures  that draw upon all sources of finance, technology, innovation, trade and data in order to support mobilization of the means for a global transformation to sustainable development and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Addis Tax Initiative is also another avenue aimed at strengthening local tax administrations and increase local tax collection. 

In addition to this, as far back as 2003, the AU signed a Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption in Maputo. This convention is assessed under the APRM country assessment. Also, each Regional Economic Body has set up Financial Action Task Force (FATF) styled regional bodies to support member countries and provide the capacity to identify and stop money laundering. These are the GIABA (Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa) in ECOWAS, ESAAMLG (Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa East and Southern Africa), MENAFATF (Middle East and North Africa Region Financial Action Task Force) and GABAC (Central African Action Group against Money Laundering) in Central Africa.

May I respectfully suggest to Prime Minister Cameron to, if he so wishes, direct his efforts (coupled with technical and financial assistance) to helping Africa achieve all these laudable, and already in existence goals, rather than setting new goals.

Tags: tax havens, anti corruption, illicit financial flows, Africa, African Union, David Cameron

About the author:
Teiko Sabah is the 2013 Mo Ibrahim African Leaders Fellow with the UNECA. She is interested in Africa and pan Africanism. She writes a monthly blog on pan Africanism on

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My thoughts on the Panama Papers

Panic in panama
 A scandal rocks the world. The usual scandal mix - money, power, crime and influential people (sadly no sex…yet). This is a classic case of the top 1 per centum of the world’s population showing off their wealth and their way of life. The facts of the scandal; A whistle blower provides 2.6 terabytes of information from one law firm based in Panama. This information uncovers a secret labyrinth of anonymity stretching over almost four decades and across 50 countries where tax havens have been expertly utilised to siphon, steal and/or hide large sums of monies by people in powerful places. Scandal rocks countries in all continents. Russia, Mexico, Iceland, Syria, the United Kingdom, Canada, China and many more countries. Africa is also not left out. Former Presidents, their close relations and the leaders of large, powerful public corporations are implicated. Oh! And by the way, I still cannot wrap my head around what a terabyte is.

Global effects
Europe-Citizens in Europe are scandalised (as they should be). Citizens rally to demand accountability and transparency from their leaders. Presidents, prime ministers and high ranking officials are implicated. Some resign (as they should rightly do), some are questioned about their dealings and may yet resign (that would be interesting to watch) and some defend their actions as not illegal (duh!). Kudos to citizen’s movements. Change happens rapidly. 

Africa-citizens wake up to the news of politicians, their families and people in high and influential places of power implicated in the Panama papers. Some newspapers report on it, some media houses run with it on the 6am news, most of it is covered in the ‘entertainment’ section of the news. Then silence. No change in the status quo. Citizens go about their business as usual. Man must eat.

The question is; why aren’t African citizens or even African civil society organisations working on corruption concerned with the scandal? First of all, no African politician has resigned, nobody has explained how their monies got to Panama, no press conferences or communiqués to throw more light on the named individual. Nada. Nothing. Rien. There has been no citizens movements asking for any such thing. This in itself is a shock.

 My answer is that Africans are so used to corrupt practices by their politicians and influential people that the Panama papers is just another one of those things.  A drop in the bucket. Nothing will change anyway. Most revealing to me is that fact that nothing will change whether or not some noise is made about this event, after all, they have more important things to do, such as looking for their daily bread.

Illicit financial flows and Africa
The facts on illicit financial flows, tax evasion, the use of tax havens to route monies from Africa are staggering. Permit me to share a few figures here:
  •   Tax Justice Network, an international research and advocacy organization, says the as of 2010, there was between $21 and $32 trillion kept in offshore holdings. This represents between 8 and 13 per cent of total global wealth. 

  • According to latest research from GFI, Sub-Saharan Africa lost an annual average of $52.9 billion—roughly 5.5% of GDP—in illicit financial outflows from 2003-2012 (the most recent year for which data is available), taking an enormous toll on African economies. Trade misinvoicing, the deliberate over- and under-invoicing of trade transactions, accounted for 68.8% of all outflows from the continent over the decade.

  • According to the AU-UN report on illicit financial flows in Africa, Africa lost approximately $850 billion in illicit financial outflows between 1970 and 2008 and the report goes ahead to conclude that Africa loses more than $50 billion every year to illicit financial flows.
  • Bringing this to reality, Christian Aid, a British Aid Agency,  estimates that for every $10 given in aid to the developing world, $15 slips out through tax dodging.

It is refreshing to note that the chairman of the AU/UNECA High Level Panel On Illicit Financial Flows in Africa, Mr. Thabo Mbeki, has issued a report in the wake of this expose. In his press release, Mr. Mbeki makes mention of the need for African countries to take this information seriously and to put in place measures to punish citizens found to have breached any financial misconduct laws. Sadly, so far, only South Africa has put out such a call.

Tax Justice Campaign
A friend of mine once commented that contrary to the recurring anti corruption reports that Switzerland is one of the least corrupt country in the world, it is rather the reverse, that Switzerland is the most corrupt country in the world. In that they have created all these Chinese walls and codes of secrecy that make them able to ensure that wealth (some legitimate, most not) is stored within its borders without any transparency.

Tax justice campaigners, myself included, have since the early 2000s been campaigning to throw light on the grave developmental losses that continuously accrue to developing countries who lose income from taxation as a result of these huge financial leakages. Monies that could have been used to build schools, provide basic services such as clean water and toilets are rather siphoned into the bank accounts of faceless and nameless individuals who use their monies and influences and of course, the advice of lawyers and accountants to deprive legal states from their hard earned tax incomes.

Infact, tax campaigners have gone as far as to infer to the value of taxation as a crucial instrument for the realisation of human rights. This is based on the rationale that taxes enable governments to mobilise resources needed for providing essential public goods and services and tax policies also help in redistributing the wealth preventing inequality and allowing realization of human rights. Unfair tax incentive, regressive tax systems and weak tax authorities give rise to leakages that could have been used to fund much needed public goods and services.

In June 2011, The UN Council on Human Rights adopted the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The principles form a framework that comprises the duty of states to prevent against violations of human rights, corporate responsibility for respect for human rights and better access for victims to effective remedy.

People power and the future

I sincerely look forward to more African countries looking into the information provided by the panama papers and working jointly together to help block the leakages from our shores. It is not only immoral, it is impudent! As I applaud the work of the High Panel On Illicit Financial Flows as well as the ongoing work being done by economic justice campaigners in Africa, we must of a right , percolate the gravity of this to local citizens to take action against their leaders. This is the only sustainable action in a democratic environment.

I end with one of my favourite quotes "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead.

Power to the People!!!