Let's Think

Africa Day – reflection rather than celebration called for

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Africa Day, celebrated last week, should have been more of a day for reflection on what is to be done to help the continent and its people reach their best potential than one of self-congratulation.

Celebrated annually on 25th of May, this year was no exception: The day was marked by the customary self-praise and calls on Africans to unite and collectively seek African answers to African problems.

Shocking fact

Speaking at the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) in Midrand, South Africa, as part of the celebrations, former South African President Thabo Mbeki revealed a shocking fact - Africa was losing at least U$50 billion annually in illicit financial flows.

To put this staggering revelation in perspective:

  • A Global Financial Integrity report conservatively estimates that between 2003 and 2012 US$529 billion left Sub-Saharan Africa through illicit flows, growing an average 13.2% each year;
  • This is almost twice what Sub-Saharan Africa received in foreign direct investment (FDI) and one-and-a-half times what it got in official development assistance in the same period; and
  • Closer to home, estimates are that at least US$122 billion was illegally transferred out of South Africa between 2003 and 2012 ­ the tenth highest illicit outflows in the world.

This is a lot of money illegally leaving the world’s richest continent in terms of natural resources – money that could be used to alleviate so many of Africa’s grinding challenges.

According to Global Financial Integrity:

  • corruption accounts for about 5% of illicit flows;
  • criminal activity like drug trafficking and smuggling for 30 to 35 %; and
  • transactions from multinational companies for 60 to 65 %, getting away with what is described as ”the ugliest chapter in global economic affairs since slavery.”


According to one study the consequences of turning this trend around will mean that:

  • The Central African Republic (CAR) would be able to reach its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 45 years compared with 218 years at current rates of progress;
  • Mauritania, 19 years rather than 198 years;
  • Swaziland, 27 years rather than 155 years; and
  • The Republic of Congo, 10 years rather than 120 years.”

That Africa is on the receiving end and loses vast amounts of money as a result of illegal and irregular actions by particularly multinational companies is nothing new. Africa is also not the sole victim - the situation is even worse in other parts of the world.

The impact of losing US$529 billion in a decade is however enormous and the question that needs to be asked and answered is, what is Africa going to do to stop this financial haemorrhage?

To date little else has transpired except for talking, complaining and blame shifting.

Africa Stand-by Force

During the same week Africa was celebrating Africa Day, the African Union (AU) announced that at least US$1 billion is urgently required to operationalize the long awaited continental African Stand-by Force (ASF).

It will consist of at least 25 000 members and is the most critical component of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). It is empowered to intervene in a member state if the AU feels that there are grave conflict circumstances such as war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity.

It can also be deployed at the request of a member state in order to restore peace and security. Its roles include observation, monitoring and peace support missions.

The ASF can also be sent on preventive deployments in order to stop a dispute or a conflict from escalating, from spreading to neighbouring areas or states and to stop the resurgence of violence after parties to a conflict have reached an agreement.

It can also be deployed on peace-building missions, including post-conflict disarmament and demobilization and humanitarian assistance missions.


The operationalization of the ASF has already been postponed several times.

Initially scheduled to be operational by 2008, it failed to meet the target, forcing a postponement to 2010. It also missed that deadline and was postponed to 2013 and failed again, leading to the new 2015-target.

Not only is prestige at play here but much more importantly Africa needs the military capacity to intervene on short notice, without foreign involvement and supervision, in any of the many conflicts that continue to obstruct Africa growth and development.

The scenario of what the ASF could be facing if it was operational right now is daunting. Demands for assistance could be forthcoming from the Central African Republic (CAR), Libya, Somalia, Nigeria, Kenya, the DRC, South Sudan, Mali and Burundi – all countries currently confronted with situations that would justify ASF intervention.

The ASF is expected to be operational by the end of this year. It will be made up five regional brigades: North Africa (NASBRIG), East Africa (EASBRIG); Central Africa (FOMAC), Southern Africa (SADCBRIG) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOBRIG).

The structural framework is in place but the most critical element to become operational, US$1 billion, is still in short supply. Once again donors and development partners will have to come to the rescue, meaning that the ASF and Africa will continue to be at the mercy of others.

All of this could change rapidly and Africa could decide its own destiny – if it commits itself to prevent US$50 billion a year from to leave the continent illegally.

This surely can be done?


by Garth Cilliers

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