Liberia’s new President will be expected to tackle corruption on a national scale. But NGOs, funders and researchers are already taking innovative approaches to anti-corruption in Africa, across both public and private sectors.
You might not associate hip-hop music with anti-corruption or democratic engagement. But that is exactly what a project in Liberia has done in the run up to the country’s Presidential election – engaging young people on what they can do to demand transparency, accountability and peaceful elections from political players.
The “Rap to be Repped” campaign is being led by Hip Co artists from across Liberia and co-ordinated by Accountability Lab – an incubator that empowers citizens and young people to improve integrity and accountability in their communities and political systems. Hip Co is a form of Liberian political hip-hop that emerged in the 1980s but became popular with youth after the war. Accountability Lab’s founder Blair Glencorse says:
“Hip Co is really growing in Liberia as artists have realised the power of their voice to send messages and influence behaviours. They have become more popular since they started singing about corruption and political inclusion because that’s their everyday reality.”
A recent Impact Report conducted by the international NGO reported that in a randomised study of four of Liberia’s 15 counties, 51% of those surveyed (795,000 people) had heard the Hip Co music from artists such as Amaze and Peaches. The Lab also promotes messages about accountability through Integrity Idol, a global campaign that honours honest government officials actively improving transparency and governance in their countries.
While effective however, this grassroots approach cannot address the problem alone. With global corruption thought to cost $1 trillion according to World Bank estimates, and UN calculating that Africa loses $50 billon dollars annually in commercial transactions, offshore accounts and lost tax revenues, donors and researchers are in on the act too.
Rather than pursuing traditional methods of going after actors engaging in corruption through public prosecutors or tax agencies which evidence proves hasn’t worked, development actors are taking a different approach. Instead, they are making data more accessible to media, civil servants and the public; resourcing and empowering citizenry to demand accountability from government representatives; and exposing the impact of corruption on economic growth to find positive ways forward.
Martin Tisne from the Omidyar Network, a prominent funder of global anti-corruption and member of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, says the punitive approach scares off the very actors who need to be included to reduce corruption:
“The word ‘anti-corruption’ is synonymous with enforcement of laws and policies, and can make government officials or civil servants feel that they are under attack.”
Instead, Tisne says Omidyar and its network partners talk with governments about the benefits of increasing access to public information. They show how to interpret data, focusing on how state systems can be more transparent, for example by installing an open contracting process. Tisne calls this approach “priming the pump” for making information more accessible to the public and says it has picked up speed since the Anti-Corruption Summit hosted in London by the British government in 2016.
The success of this approach lies partly in recognising the need for alliances between actors across public service delivery and business. In Nigeria for example, Omidyar connects civil servants to NGO grantees including Connected Development (CODE) and BudgIT, both of which are involved in tracking state allocation of funds and empowering citizens to demand accountability if funds are not spent as intended.
CODE co-founder Oludotun Babayemi says though they do put pressure on the Nigerian government to be transparent about funds through their Follow the Money campaign, they make sure to maintain good relationships with state officers, bilateral organisations and local organisations. Though when seeking funds, Babayemi says “private donors are the way to go” because they are less susceptible to state influence than multilateral agencies who often rely on government partners to deliver their work.
A team of researchers at SOAS, University of London meanwhile, are taking a different, more indirect approach. As part of an anti-corruption evidence consortium funded by UK aid, SOAS economists are leading research investigating the capture of resources in sectors such as agriculture, climate adaptation and power generation across three countries; Bangladesh, Nigeria and Tanzania.
They argue that anti-corruption activities only work when powerful sectoral players support the enforcement of the rule of law. But in developing countries this often fails because powerful organisations don’t benefit from rule enforcement. The researchers are therefore aiming to identify opportunities in these sectors where changes in incentives and policies will make rule enforcement beneficial to these elites, provoking their support for national and international anti-corruption laws.
Oxfam Senior Adviser and author of book How Change Happens Duncan Green, supports this approach. He says: “It’s almost never the interventions directly targeted at corruption that work. Often the fight against it is characterised as the end, but the goal should be about promoting some aspect of development, with tackling corruption as simply one of the means to that end.”
It is clear that the traditional ‘handcuff’ method of tackling corruption and poor governance by development actors is splintering. Whether mobilising citizens through artistic means, exposing economic losses or translating data and information to help civil society demand accountability and prevent abuse of public finances, actors across the development sector are focusing on tangible ways to make anti-corruption work.