Q&A with Lola Adekanye on Combating Corruption across Africa

This week ACGC’s Staci Samuels sat down with Lola Adekanye to discuss CIPE’s efforts to combat corruption across Africa. Lola Adekanye leads CIPE’s anti-corruption and transparency initiatives in Africa. She supports private sector and civil society partners in developing strategies, deploying systems, and advocating reforms that will enable them to achieve institutional change and increase transparency in governance.



Q: What are the most effective private sector solutions to combatting anti-corruption in Africa?

A: There are not many private sector-led anti-corruption programs in the region. The ones that do work, leverage businesses to come together to build coalitions. Coalitions help the private sector resist corruption and collect information on other businesses. A coalition is most effective when it provides a platform for its members to address local authorities on a one-on-one basis. CIPE’s Africa strategy tackles corruption through collective action with the objective to increase transparency and accountability as well as raise standards in the way businesses operate.

Q: How does Africa differ from other parts of the world in terms of private sector solutions?

A: Africa does not have the same type of galvanizing force that mobilizes anti-corruption private sector solutions, that Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the Anti-Bribery Act has provided the U.S. and the U.K. respectively. The challenge to collective action in Africa is finding a critical mass of people who are willing to make the case that there needs to be more done than just decrying the corruption. It’s a struggle to find private sector leaders for the anti-corruption movement in Africa.

Q: How is what you’re doing or planning to do in Africa innovative for the region and for the anti-corruption community at large?

A: CIPE’s approach to tackling corruption from the perspective of the private sector is unique. Through our research, we have found that compliance is not a mainstream topic for the majority of businesses in Africa, especially the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These SMEs have very little capacity to implement compliance standards. All the current instruments out there provide compliance guidance mostly for MNCs and other large businesses. In contrast, CIPE provides compliance training and solutions that are accessible and affordable for small and micro enterprises. The compliance trainings and guidelines are modified for small business that have different risks than larger companies. Understanding cultural nuances, such as the practice of gift-giving, allows CIPE’s approach to be respectful of local traditions while also upholding compliance standards.

Part of the strategy is to break silos for diverse actors to work together by connecting business actors with CSOs to build a coalition among various types of sectors. The most innovative aspect of CIPE’s approach to corruption is using the “carrot not stick” method, incentivizing businesses to invest in anti-corruption efforts. The idea of Ethics First, CIPE’s cutting-edge approach to private sector corruption, is to align business incentives with business compliance efforts such that enterprises that behave ethically will be rewarded with integration into global supply chains.

Q: What are the challenges in trying to maintain a uniform approach to anti-corruption work across a diverse group of countries?

A: First, one-size-fits-all approaches are not realistic because trainings and programs need to be tailored to local context. Second, the business culture is often more informal and involves less official documentation. Third, most SMEs are informal and need business development support. Fourth, legal frameworks differ across countries, which means that differences in compliance requirements make it extremely challenging to develop a continent-wide program.

Q: In your opinion, what are Africa’s most urgent and emerging governance challenges?

A: Instability and insecurity –Instability spurred by the Arab Spring in North Africa, governments’ have since struggled to handle terrorist activities or to provide basic levels of security for their citizens. Insecurity is harming local economies and in some cases, corruption and violence and intertwined problems, as is the case with the Boko Haram crisis in Nigeria where the military steals money.

Corrosive capital & Rise of authoritarian regimes – Populist regimes are coming to power on the basis of commitments to fight corruption, but they often weaponize corruption to increase their political power and harm their political enemies. In Tanzania, for example, although the government is tackling corruption, it is also using corruption as an excuse to implement authoritarian measures, such as censoring the press and changing laws that make the private sector vulnerable to government abuse of power. Authoritarian governments often rely on corrosive capital flows to help shore themselves up. Corrosive capital bypasses typical scrutiny and can exacerbate governance gaps. In Kenya’s case, a large-scale railway project, Mombasa- Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, neither an environmental assessment nor a social impact assessment were conducted, which damaged Kenya’s tourism industry.

Climate Change – Corruption undermines efforts to reverse effects of climate change. In Nigeria, a mining project began without any risk assessments or risk mitigation plans. The community protested against the mines and was met with heavy crackdown by the government. The mines degraded the environment, which led to the destabilization of the livelihoods of community members. The ongoing clash over resources between nomadic rearing tribes and subsistence farmers, is another example of the harms of climate change. Changes to grazing lands, which the government did nothing to address, redirected herdsmen to land typically occupied by settlers and subsistence farmers. The conflicts in both of these cases show that the government has not sufficiently addressed resource distribution issues in the context of climate change.

Digital economy and AI – There is an urgent need for the government to get ahead of changes to the digital economy and the emergence of AI. Advanced economies are dealing tough questions about the future of work too. Corruption, however, keeps African governments and thought leaders from addressing these existential challenges.