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UK/Africa: The Damage We Do
Jul 13, 2005 (050713)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"The African Union estimates that the continent loses as much as
$148 billion a year to corruption. This money is rarely invested in
Africa but finds its way into the international banking system and
often into western banks. The proceeds of corrupt practices in
Africa ... are often laundered and made respectable by some of the
most well known banks in the City of London." - Royal African
This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes a press release and excerpts
from a new Royal African Society report, published with little
media attention just before the G8 Summit. The report focuses not
on trade, aid, or debt, but on other issues on which western
government policies, and British policies in particular, damage
African prospects for development.
Prominent among these issues is corruption, which is often taken as
an excuse for western governments not to act until Africans solve
the problem. In contrast, the report stresses that corruption is facilitated
by the failure of western governments to regulate their own financial
institutions that are integral parts of the circle of corruption.
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains a statement
from African civil society organizations at the conclusion of the
G8 summit, a summary of aid commitments by G8 governments, and
two commentaries from the weekly Pambazuka News, raising broader issues
of the meaning of the summit and the Live8 phenomenon.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Royal African Society
5th July 2005
A Message to World Leaders: What about the Damage We Do to Africa?
A report published by the Royal African Society calls on world
leaders to shift their focus on charity to Africa towards looking
at the damage that we in the west do to the continent.
The report argues that we should stop characterising Africans as
victims and recipients of charity who cannot look after themselves.
Instead of salving our consciences by giving charity to Africa why
not stop the damaging practices that hold Africa back and stop the
countries of Africa earning their own living?
The report looks at the role played by western countries -
particularly the UK - in the corruption and connected money
laundering that has undermined so many African economies. It
describes the city of London as the 'laundry of choice' since the
UK has fallen behind Switzerland in cracking down on the laundering
of the proceeds of corruption and repatriating stolen assets to
countries of origin. The report also looks at the impact of the
west's poaching of Africa's professionals on African countries -
with more Malawian Doctors in Birmingham than Malawi it is the
health of the Malawian people that suffers. The publication points
to the damage done by the arms trade and the role played by
mercenaries and at resource exploitation including oil and
diamonds. Attention is also drawn to the damage done by the west's
prioritisation of the war on terror for African countries from the
impact on the tourist industry to potential support for dictators
who back the war on terror while terrorising their own people.
The report concludes: "Signing cheques for debt relief or aid is
one thing. Changing laws and systems is more difficult but, if the
British Government is serious about helping Africa, that is what it
For more information please call Richard Dowden or Penny Jackson on
07952 045 226 or 020 7898 4390
A Message to World Leaders: What about the Damage We Do to Africa?
Royal African Society
This report was written by the research team at the Royal African
Society, headed by Richard Dowden.
[Excerpts only. For full text of the report and the seminar series
on which it is based, in Word format, visit
It's not just about thinking up good things we should do to Africa
- it's about the bad things we should stop doing
In the lead-up to the 2005 G8 summit politicians, aid agencies and
celebrities are urging us to care more about Africa. Tony Blair and
Gordon Brown want to double the amount the rich world gives the
continent in aid. Africa has not suffered from lack of aid. It has
had billions in the past but has little to show for it. In fact
some argue that aid has been part of the problem. Aid experts say
they now know how to use it effectively and coordinate it so that
it really does bring education and health, and reduces poverty. But
aid has other drawbacks. It leaves Africa and Africans
characterised as victims, recipients of charity who can't look
after themselves. Many Africans are offended by this image and are
beginning to ask a different question: instead of salving your
consciences by giving charity to Africa, why not stop the damaging
practices that hold Africa back and stop us earning our own living
in the world?
Africa faces many barriers to growth and development. The ravages
of the slave trade, the European carve-up of the continent,
followed by colonial rule and the seizure of African land and
resources, the support of tyrants during the Cold War, all add up
to a history of exploitation by outsiders. Today globalisation has
had a mixed impact on the continent.
This year the Royal African Society convened a series of seminars
prior to the G8 summit to discuss with experts the damage we in the
West do to Africa in the 21st Century and to examine more closely
issues ranging from money laundering to arms sales.
Issues of trade, aid and debt have already been exhaustively
explored by other organisations. We know that Africa's debts,
incurred with the complicity, even encouragement, of western
leaders and officials, have been a burden for African countries for
decades. Some have debts so unsustainable that servicing them -
just paying the interest - takes up more resources than governments
spend on the health or education of its citizens.
We also know that rich countries' trade barriers leave African
exporters shut out from their markets. High tariffs on processed
goods and agricultural subsidies that bring down the world price of
food and cotton make African crops uneconomic. Meanwhile subsidised
food from rich countries is dumped on their markets, undermining
their economies further. Europe and America proclaim free-market
principles but they don't practice them if it is not in their
These debt and trade issues have been well analysed already so we
decided to examine less-discussed problems. We cannot guarantee
that aid and funds released though debt cancellation will be well
used in Africa. We don't know if Africa could take advantage of a
freer world trade system. But we do know that we can stop doing
things that damage Africa's chance of development. That is
So the focus of the seminar series and of this pamphlet is on the
UK, the fourth richest country in the world and the country whose
government is committed to putting Africa at the top of the
international agenda during its G8 chairmanship and European Union
presidency in 2005. Tony Blair rather undiplomatically called
Africa 'a scar on the conscience of the world' but is Britain
helping to heal it? Or are we actually causing it to fester?
Damage Factor 1 - Corruption and Money Laundering
The World Bank estimates that $1 trillion is paid in bribes each
year throughout the world. African countries are prominent among
those said to be corrupt in Transparency International's Corruption
Index and the negative impact of high levels of bribery and theft
is compounded by the tendency to take the ill-gotten proceeds out
of the continent. Indeed, the African Union estimates that the
continent loses as much as $148 billion a year to corruption. This
money is rarely invested in Africa but finds its way into the
international banking system and often into western banks. The
proceeds of corrupt practices in Africa, (which the African experts
group recommended in 2002 should be classified as a 'crime against
humanity' because of its impact on ordinary people), are often
laundered and made respectable by some of the most well known banks
in the City of London or the discreet personal bankers of Geneva
But while the Swiss have been cleaning up their banking system, the
City of London is now the laundry of choice for much dirty money.
It is estimated that a third of the money stolen by the Nigerian
military dictator, Sani Abacha, and found by the Swiss authorities
in Swiss banks, had been deposited first in the British banking
system until it was clean enough to bank in Switzerland.
Switzerland has already repatriated some of the funds deposited by
the Abacha family to Nigeria. The UK was strikingly unhelpful when
the new Nigerian government authorities first asked the British for
help in retrieving the stolen goods and so far has not repatriated
any substantial amount of the money known to be sitting in London's
The bribery of overseas public officials was only finally made
illegal four years ago in a section of the Anti Terrorism Crime and
Security Act (2001). However no British Citizen has yet been
prosecuted under this act though some investigations are under way.
While corruption is not easy to investigate and prove beyond
reasonable doubt, non-enforcement makes a mockery of the law.
Meanwhile, in some of the British 'overseas territories' not only
has this not been outlawed but payment of bribes is still tax
'Nine Eleven' spurred western leaders to crack down on terrorist
financing. Rising drug crime has forced them to put resources into
tracking the huge funds of the drug trade. Computerisation of
finances has made tracing laundered funds much easier. This shows
that if the political will is there, it can be done.
But the staff and resources and energy put into investigating drugs
and terrorism funds have not been applied to corruption money. Yet,
corruption may actually kill more people and wreck more lives than
both drugs and terrorism. When a country's health budget is stolen
clinics are left without drugs, hospitals without equipment,
doctors are left unpaid and babies are not immunised. Corruption is
a threat to the economic stability and security of countries whose
resources have been stolen or diverted.
Many companies are ahead of the legislators in their codes and
checks on bribery and corruption and some private security
companies are already tracking corruption money. Some progress at
government level has been made recently in the UK, following a
series of EU directives. The rules guarding against money
laundering now extend to property and the art market. But major
ambiguities remain. In London the use of trusts, numbered accounts
and shell companies with nominee directors remain serious
Following the Proceeds of Crime Act (2002) the Assets Recovery
Agency was established but its emphasis has been on domestic crime.
Recovered assets revert to the British government. Repatriating the
proceeds of overseas corruption will require real political will
and the necessary funding. Funding is a key indicator of the
importance - or lack of it - attached to the involvement of Britons
and British based companies and banks in corruption in Africa. The
unit charged with investigating corruption is under funded and
under resourced. The Metropolitan Police's priority lies with local
crime - understandably. Why should they put time and resources into
fighting crime that occurs a thousand miles away? That is why the
funds have to be clearly ear-marked by the government.
The other key indicator of the commitment to tackle corruption is
legislation. British anti-corruption law is patchy and outdated. It
has been rubbished by the OECD, Transparency International and
British Parliamentarians. Draft legislation brought to Parliament
by the government was severely criticised by the Joint
Parliamentary Committee (JPC) in 2003 for containing obvious
loopholes, inconsistencies and a general lack of clarity. In its
response to the JPC's findings the Government agreed with some of
the problems highlighted but remains unlikely to back down on some
key issues. The government has not yet produced a revised version
of the bill.
The Commission for Africa report argues for action on corruption in
western countries as well as in Africa. It recommends increased
transparency in export credit agencies and high standards in the
governance of their projects. But the UK's Export Credit Guarantee
Department quietly watered down some of its anticorruption
guidelines without consultation. Only a court case brought by a
British NGO forced the department to open up to consultation.
The Commission for Africa also recommended that western countries
repatriate stolen assets to countries of origin. This could mean
that the UK would return billions of pounds to African governments.
But it will only be possible if there is the political will at the
highest level to allocate the resources needed to investigate and
trace the path of corrupt funds.
Despite putting African issues at the top of the agenda in
international fora this year and despite specific recommendations
by the Commission for Africa on fighting corruption, the government
has yet to commit itself to enacting comprehensive and up to date
laws to tackle the problem and providing agencies with resources
and power to enforce them.
Damage Factor 2 - Poaching Africa's Professionals
One of Africa's most serious problems is a skills shortage, a lack
of capacity in the professional sectors. ... Many professionals,
especially health professionals, have left the continent for
opportunities and better working conditions in richer countries.
Others left to seek further training but never returned.
This 'brain drain' has impacted heavily on Africa's public and
private sectors. The most noticeably affected sector has been
health, where recruitment of African medical professionals, doctors
and nurses, has shored up western health services but left the
health sector in sending countries facing permanent crisis or even
However, the dynamics of professional recruitment are complex.
Those who bring their skills to richer countries do so because
those skills are needed in receiving countries and because they are
better paid. These are colossal pull factors. High salaries also
enable them to help their families through remittances and these
also boost the economies of their home countries.
The British National Health Service is propped up by staff from
developing countries, including many from Africa. In 1997 when the
Labour government came to power, it was faced with a shortage of
qualified nurses and a shortage of people training to become
nurses. Since then it has recruited around 70,000 new nurses and by
coincidence there are also not much less than this number of
foreign nurses working in the NHS. Clearly not all of these were
recruited in the last eight years. Before 1997 around 2,000 foreign
nurses were recruited each year but in the last few years this
figure has leapt to around 14,000 a year. Clearly it is cheaper and
quicker to recruit nurses already trained abroad than to train our
own. These foreign nurses plug a gap in the NHS. As individuals
they benefit from higher pay and better working conditions than in
many of the sending countries.
It is estimated that there are more Malawian medical professionals
in Birmingham than there are in Malawi. Each year Malawi loses a
third of its medical staff either to emigration or death7. Yet
never have they been more needed. The country is in the throes of
the HIV/AIDS pandemic which kills a high proportion of medical
staff and increases the workload on the survivors.
[what is needed are] imaginative innovative solutions to turn what
is at present a win lose situation into a 'win win win' one. This
means solutions that benefit the sending country, the receiving
country and the individuals. Rather than restrict freedom of
movement, which would have other side effects, we need to
recompense sending countries by assisting them to increase rates of
training and - very important - to increase staff retention through
loyalty schemes to hold onto the most experienced staff. By
improving pay, working conditions and other benefits, more health
staff will be encouraged to put their skills to use in their home
countries. Health staff also need to believe that they can make a
difference, that their work does save lives. This means they need
the equipment, facilities, medicines and support that we take for
granted in western hospitals.
Without a better life, more resources and opportunities, more and
more educated young Africans will leave the continent. The push
factor is so strong that in the UK there are hundreds, perhaps
thousands of qualified African health professionals who are barred
from getting jobs in our health service. For them it is often
economically better to live here working as taxi drivers or in
unskilled jobs not using their professional skills, than it is to
use those skills in their home countries. Nobody wins, not the
health sector in either the sending or receiving country and not
the individuals who are unable to use years of training to make
life better for others or themselves.
Reducing the push factor should be the main focus but reducing the
pull factor is far harder. Receiving countries should adhere to the
highest standards by not actively recruiting from countries with
human resource crises. Nor should they allow private recruitment
agencies to do so. UK government guidelines have been tightened but
they remain just that - guidelines, allowing some less scrupulous
private recruitment agencies to actively recruit in countries that
cannot afford to lose trained staff to the British health system.
The migration of skilled professionals does not just affect the
health sector. The rest of the public sector is also badly hit.
School teachers and university lecturers are in short supply. Less
talked about are public service managers - those people with the
very rare skills that come with experience of managing scarce
resources and helping front line workers provide the best possible
service. Even the private sector has suffered but has been more
successful in reducing the push factor by providing wages and
conditions that are generally better than in the public sector.
Even international NGOs and multilateral organisations are part of
the brain drain, offering qualified and experienced staff better
pay and conditions to work elsewhere. It is important that Africa
has its fair share of high level positions in international
organisations but this is another way in which Africa's most
talented and highly trained people are drawn out of the continent,
tempting them away from domestic institutions and eroding local
Damage Factor 3 - Arms and mercenaries in Africa's conflicts
[see full report]
Damage Factor 4 - Exploitation of Natural Resources
[see full report]
Damage Factor 5 - New Global Politics and the War on Terror
[see full report]
At the launch of the Commission for Africa in March this year, Tony
Blair declared its recommendations to be British government policy.
Yet to implement the 80-odd recommendations will require
legislation and a huge shift in the use of resources. We have heard
a lot of rhetoric from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor about
debt forgiveness and aid, but little about implementing the UN
Convention on Corruption or curbing the activities of British arms
dealers, both recommendations urged by his Commission for Africa.
Signing cheques for debt relief or aid is one thing. Changing laws
and systems is more difficult but, if the British government is
serious about helping Africa, that is what it must do.
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