Thabo Mbeki discusses IFFs and African influence in The Africa Report interview

January 28th, 2016

The 2016 African Union (AU) Summit is currently taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which means we’re one year removed from the endorsement of the High Level Panel Report on Illicit Financial Flows by African Heads of State at last year’s AU Summit. This report, led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, brought a heightened level of awareness and outrage to the continent on the subject of illicit financial flows. The report estimates that between $50 and $60 billion leaves Africa illicitly every single year.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in the discussion of IFFs at a global level, and the Mbeki report, coupled with efforts from African civil society, have brought that same level of awareness to the African continent, as well. President Mbeki sat down with The Africa Report this week to discuss the topic of illicit flows, and what the world can do to rally around a solution.

From The Africa Report:

You have got the issue of illicit financial flows onto the international agenda now. What’s the progress?

For Africa, it is a strategic issue. So the African finance ministers said let’s look at this closely, measure its impact and set up a panel. When the UN conference on finance for development met, it took the whole issue of illicit financial flows as the African panel had recommended. They just integrated it into their action plan. When [US President Barack] Obama speaks at the UN General Assembly, he talks about it. It’s on the global agenda largely because of an African intervention. It is possible, [when it’s] properly organised and thought out, for the Africans to impact on the global thinking in a manner that would benefit the continent.

You talk about political action to tackle illicit flows. What, specifically, needs to be done?

What is required are very detailed implementation processes. Something like two-thirds of these illicit outflows are because of the activities of the commercial corporations, so you need institutions on the continent that deal with tax matters, customs and financial intelligence. You can’t avoid building capacity in Africa: I’m talking about institutional capacity.

On the matter of the political will […] when the AU adopted the report and its recommendations, they perpetuated the life of our panel [on illicit flows]. They said we must report annually to the summit about the implementation of those recommendations. I was in Kenya two weeks ago and […] I said we are going to have to get reports from you, all of the member states, individually. That will help to address the matter about political will.

But also we’ve been talking with African civil society. We’ve started reporting back to that civil society, and we’ve done it for East and Southern Africa. Next month, we will do it for North, West and Central Africa. We were in contact while we prepared the report. We will go back to them to say this is now African policy, what do we do? Civil society is very interested in this matter, and the louder its voice in each of our countries the better. You then get pressure from below on the governments to make sure that they do the things that they committed themselves to at the AU.

In this last answer, President Mbeki rightfully addresses the important role African civil society organizations play in working to address illicit financial flows. In 2015, a group of five African NGOs came together in Nairobi to launch the Stop the Bleeding campaign, which is aimed at raising the profile of illicit financial flows with the general public. While the launch took place in Kenya, subsequent events have been held across the continent, in Togo, Nigeria, Zambia, and even beyond in Washington, D.C.

While groups like the G20 and OECD have taken up the issue of tax and illicit financial flows, they’ve received criticism for not providing enough of a space for developing country inclusion, especially when the rules are being set. At the United Nations Financing for Development conference last year, a small group of wealthy countries shot down attempts to create a more inclusive body to set global standards.

Though there is still more work to do, with voices ranging from former presidents to civil society and journalists, illicit financial flows will continue to remain in the spotlight.

To learn more about the Stop the Bleeding campaign, visit their website and sign the petition to end illicit financial flows.

You can also hear a song about illicit flows, created for the campaign, below:

Written by Christian Freymeyer

Christian is the FTC's Press & Digital Media Officer. You can follow him on Twitter @cfreymeyer.

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