Corruption in parts of Africa is deeply entrenched and many citizens view it as uncontrollable. I knew my mission would be challenging when I traveled to Accra, Ghana to participate in a five-day workshop to help advance the fight against corruption. I also knew, however, that there are fearless activists across the continent who are rising up with more determination than ever to fight corruption. These are the people I would have the honor to work with and learn from during my visit.
The U.S. Government, in partnership with the Government of Ghana, sponsored the workshop which took place on March 11-15. This workshop offered training for more than 30 law enforcement officials from five countries--Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia, and Tanzania--on subjects like how to more effectively investigate and prosecute allegations of public corruption and pursue the recovery of the proceeds of corruption. The event was part of the United States' West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative.
According to the African Union, Africa loses more than $148 billion to corruption every year. These costs are not only measured in terms of squandered or stolen government resources, but in the lack of public funding for critical needs. During my trip, a young Ghanaian artist named Nene reminded me of the hospitals and schools that might have been built with that money. As Nene showed me his paintings and his talent became more apparent, he explained how his father had wanted to support his son's passion, but art school was out of reach for the family. Corruption and its social costs had sapped the state's ability to promote young artists or channel the creative energies of an entire generation. Nevertheless, Nene was pursuing his dream through sheer persistence and hard work, including by learning techniques from any and every artist who would teach him.
As underscored by President Obama's National Security Strategy, the U.S. Government is committed to strengthening partnerships that “promote the recognition that pervasive corruption is a severe impediment to development and global security.” Thus, we sponsored the workshop last month because we are determined to work with governments and civil society organizations to bring greater transparency and accountability to governments--thus making it harder for officials to steal from state coffers -- and to strengthen the efforts of citizens to hold their governments accountable. Prosecutors and investigators have a critical role to play in the fight against corruption. Ultimately, if the public does not see successful convictions of corruption cases, they will lose confidence in their government institutions. The workshop participants--who have dedicated and often risked their lives to end the impunity of corruption--are nothing short of heroes. But they know they are up against strong resistance.
The benefits of the anti-corruption workshop will continue long after the participants have left the classroom: for example, the workshop launched a network through which participants can continue sharing information on anti-corruption tactics and strategies. With continued partnership from the U.S. Government, this kind of concerted effort against corruption will help citizens such as Nene paint a different picture -- one in which corruption is not allowed to hinder the pursuit of their dreams.