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‘Africa is not poor; it has been looted’

Professor Serges Djoyou Kamga of Unisa’s Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs gave his inaugural lecture on 22 September 2021. The topic of the lecture was Illicit financial flows: The nemesis to achieving the right to development in Africa.

Professor Serges Djoyou Kamga

At the centre of this lecture was the unavoidable reality that Africa is not poor – it has been looted. “This looting of African resources through Illicit financial flows frustrates the achievement of the right to development (RTD) on the continent,” he said. Kamga revealed that the new scramble for Africa takes place though illicit financial flows, which play a crucial role in Africa’s underdevelopment. He explained: “Similar to the 1884 Scramble for Africa, when the United States and thirteen European countries took territory and power from existing African states and its people, role players include global powers that are safe havens for stolen assets. There are also local elites that facilitate the illicit flows, as well transnational companies that enable the theft of resources through tax evasion, tax avoidance and other criminal activities.” The lecture examined how illicit financial flows cut across all factors of development determinants and frustrate the betterment of people’s lives or the enjoyment of the right to development in Africa.

Closing the gap

Kamga’s lecture closed a massive gap in the discourse on human rights and the right to development. “Previous works on the field covered issues such as development assistance and debt relief for the right the development financing, unfair trade rules, the inadequacy of the international system, as well as the lack of constitutionalism at the national level that hinder the achievement of the right to development.”

This lecture broke new ground by examining the role of illicit financial flows as the nemesis of the actualisation of the right to development in Africa. To this end, the lecture showed that Africa loses 50 billion dollars per annum to illicit financial flows. Kamga said: “This creates an inevitable barrier to financing the right to development because Illicit financial flows deprive the state of the resources needed for its implementation. In this regard, it takes away the money needed for building infrastructure, training judges and advancing socioeconomic rights, which are all core components of the right to development.”

So-called development leads to loss

Kamga also showed that based on the “development compact”, which highlights relying on development assistance to achieve the right to development, African countries request aid and debt relief from the Global North. According to Kamga, this approach is counterproductive because for every dollar received through aid, Africa loses more than double to illicit financial flows.

After a clear identification of the problem, Kamga explored the pathways for its solution. Acknowledging that solutions proposed cannot be exhaustive given the multiplicity of challenges, he identified the initiatives already taken at the continental as well as global levels.

Kamga remarked: “In Africa, the African Commission adopted several resolutions to address the problem and the African Union established a panel chaired by former President Thabo Mbeki to explore the problem and make remedial proposals.” “In addition,” he continued, “the African Tax Administration was established to address the challenges and, normatively, the African Union adopted the African Convention against corruption, which is yet to be effective in remedying the problem.”

At the global level, initiatives to resolve the illicit financial flows include the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, Tax Inspectors Without Borders (TIWB), which is a joint initiative of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation, the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), and the High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda (FACTI). “All these initiatives seek to encourage cooperation in tax matters to ultimately defeat illicit financial flows.”

A violation of human rights

After exploring the existing remedies to combat illicit financial flows, Kamga emphasised the need to launch research initiatives based on a human rights approach to defeat the nemesis of the right to development. He proposed the clear recognition of illicit financial flows as a violation of human rights. This entails highlighting illicit financial flows in human rights processes and procedures to shine a light on their effects on these rights and holding the operatives of illicit financial flows accountable.

For Kamga, highlighting illicit financial flows in human rights and governance processes also entails ensuring that all human rights bodies at the international and African levels incorporate these flows in their work, investigations and reporting mechanisms and processes.

“This proposal emphasises the global responsibility to address the nemesis of illicit financial flows for the enjoyment of the right to development. Failure to do so will not enhance prospects for achieving the right to development where it is most needed, in Africa.” Kamga stated: “In other words, the roadmap to defeating the nemesis of the right to development in Africa goes through incorporating measures to address illicit financial flows in all human rights and governance standards and ensuring the implementation of these standards.”

At the same time, Kamga proposes that academia should promote research initiatives based on a human rights approach to addressing illicit financial flows that will be instrumental in shaping policies needed to deal with the crucial question addressed by this important lecture.

Lauding a dedicated scholar

Professor Charles Fombad of the University of Pretoria recognised Kamga’s dedication to his work and lauded his alacrity in becoming a professor. In addition, Fombad acknowledged the massive contribution the lecture makes to the human rights discourse in solving the very important question of illicit financial flows from Africa, which frustrate development on the continent.

Reflections on an exceptional career

Following the lecture, we spoke to Professor Kamga on a more personal level and asked him what life lessons he learned during his academic journey. His response: “I have learned that discipline, hard work and humility are the secrets for success in everything we do.”

Asked what influences his research interests, he had this to say: “My interests are informed by the desire to make the world a better place; a world informed by equality and social justice.”

Kamga said that his areas of research include the right to development in the African human rights system, human rights from cross-cultural perspectives and disability rights. While this research examines the nexus between law, economics and development, from a multi/inter/transdisciplinary perspective, it also explores issues in international affairs, paying special attention to Africa (the place), poverty, inequality and global justice, in general.

* By Montanyane Mohapi, Communication and Marketing Specialist, Thabo Mbeki African School of Public and International Affairs, Unisa

Publish date: 2021/09/23