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  in focus  
03 August 2006  

African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and Related Offences

“Ratification is the beginning of a process and not an end to itself. The requirements of the Convention will now have to be translated into national laws, policies and practices and the appropriate institutions put in place at the level of the AU Commission."

Akere Muna, Vice Chair of TI’s international movement

About the AU anti-corruption convention and TI's main provisions of concern

The African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and related offences (AU anti-corruption convention) provides a comprehensive framework and is unique among anti-corruption instruments in containing mandatory provisions with respect to private-to private corruption and on transparency in political party funding. Other strong points of the AU Convention are mandatory requirements of declaration of assets by designated public officials and restrictions on immunity for public officials (Art. 7) The AU anti-corruption convention also gives particular attention to the need for the media to have access to information (Art. 12)

Transparency International (TI) was invited as observer during the drafting of the AU anti-corruption convention. In November 2001 and September 2002, representatives of Transparency International participated actively in two expert meetings in Addis Ababa to discuss drafts of the African Union anti-corruption convention and made oral interventions on numerous topics at those meetings. The TI team, which included lawyers from Cameroon and Zimbabwe, also prepared written submissions to the AU Secretariat for circulation to delegates. Some of their proposals were reflected in the final AU anti-corruption convention text, including proposals on illicit enrichment, access to information, funding of political parties, civil society and the media, fair trial guarantees and the follow-up mechanism.

The draft of this convention was approved by the AU Ministerial Conference in Addis Ababa (September 2002). At another meeting in N’Djamena, Chad (March 2003) the AU Executive Council (Foreign Ministers) approved and recommended the draft convention. The AU Convention on Prevention and Combating Corruption and related offences was then adopted by African Heads of State at their Summit in Maputo, Mozambique, in July 2003.

The obligations of the parties fall into the following categories:

  • Preventive measures: The AU has extensive provisions on preventive measures in the public and private sectors. These include requirements in the public service of declarations of assets and establishment of codes of conduct. Also included are requirements of access to information, whistleblower protection, procurement standards, accounting standards, transparency in the funding of political parties and civil society participation. It also requires states to establish, maintain and strengthen independent national anti-corruption authorities.
  • Criminalisation: The AU Convention calls for criminalisation of a wide range of offences, including bribery (domestic or foreign), diversion of property by public officials, trading in influence, illicit enrichment, money laundering and concealment of property and contains a broad definition of the term public official. Moreover, it includes offences relating both to public sector corruption and private sector (private-to-private) corruption.
  • International cooperation: The AU Convention also establishes an international cooperation framework which has the potential to improve mutual law enforcement assistance within Africa. It also provides a framework for the confiscation and seizure of assets.
  • Follow-up mechanism: The follow-up mechanism provided for in AU Convention Article 22 calls for an Advisory Board of eleven members elected by the AU Executive Council, serving for a period of two years, renewable once. The Board has broad responsibilities for: promoting anti-corruption work, collecting information on corruption and on the behaviour of multinational corporations operating in Africa, developing methodologies, advising governments, developing codes of conduct for public officials, and building partnerships.
    In addition, it is required to submit a report to the Executive Council on a regular basis on the progress made by each State Party in complying with the provisions of the AU Convention. At the same time, States Parties are required to report to the Board on their progress in implementing the AU Convention within a year after the coming into force of the AU Convention and thereafter on an annual basis through reports by national anti-corruption authorities to the Board. Further, States Parties are required to ensure and provide for the participation of civil society in the monitoring process.

Transparency International and its partners in Africa actively promote the convention, and lobbied for its ratification.

TI's main provisions of concern

Access to Information (Art 9): The convention states that: “each State Party shall adopt such legislative and other measures to give effect to the right of access to any information that is required to assist in the fight against corruption and related offences”. Many countries in Africa do not have an access to information law and where there one there is no effective implementation. TI and its partners in Africa will work to promote access to information laws and encourage citizens to demand for information

Funding of political parties (Art 10): The convention states that: “each State Party shall adopt legislative and other measures to: (a) Proscribe the use of funds acquired through illegal and corrupt practices to finance political parties; and (b) Incorporate the principle of transparency into funding of political parties”.

Civil Society and Media (Art 12): This is a very important provision to which civil society and media should hold on. With the convention entry into force, civil society and media are given the legal “framework” to hold governments to the highest levels of transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs. TI and its partners in the region are ready to fully participate in monitoring the implementation of this convention. A monitoring group has been set up in June 2006.

International Cooperation (Art 19): Points 3 (repatriation of stolen assets) and 4 (eradication of corruption in development aid and cooperation programmes) of this provision are of particular interest to TI and its partners in Africa.

Follow up mechanism (Art 22): The convention states that there shall be an Advisory Board on corruption within the African Union. With the convention entry into force, it is imperative that this Advisory Board is set up without much delay. The TI monitoring group plans to provide support to this Board to ensure its effectiveness.

Examples of TI National Chapter activities promoting the AU Anti-Corruption Convention

The Algerian Association for the Fight against Corruption, TI’s group in Algeria has written letters to the government, met with government officials, commented on draft legislation and conducted workshops in order to promote ratification and implementation of the AU anti-corruption convention.

The TI national chapter in Ghana, the Ghana Integrity Initiative, wrote to their government to press for ratification of the AU and UN Conventions and has worked with the local chapter of APNAC (African Parliamentarians Against Corruption) to promote ratification. Together with APNAC they convened a public meeting on this subject at which government officials made public commitments to ratify promptly.

TI-Nigeria has featured AU Convention ratification and implementation prominently in the anti-corruption day activities. It is part of the Zero Corruption Coalition which conducted two training sessions for journalists in 2005 on reporting corruption, including a segment on the Conventions and how they can be used to combat corruption and enhance the legal framework on anti-corruption. TI-N also frequently refers to the two conventions in advocacy work on legislation and access to information, whistleblowers protection, transparency in the procurement process and provisions for combating political corruption

TI activities promoting the AU anti-corruption convention

With the aim to making the Convention accessible to a wider audience, TI produced a “Plain Language Version” that broadly explains the features of the Convention, the offences it covers, the obligations of States Parties, the rights of individuals, civil society and media, and issues related to the trials for corruption and related offences under the Convention. Download the brochure: Understanding the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and related offences (in French)

To help governments and civil society organisations better understand what steps are needed to comply with the Convention requirements and what challenges and obstacles are to be expected with respect to implementation, Transparency International commissioned country reviews of legal and political challenges to the domestication of the Convention.

Transparency International organised numerous high level workshops aimed at promoting the convention. Participants included government officials, parliamentarians, civil society activists and media professionals.

List of countries that ratified the AU Anti-Corruption Convention

Countries signed and ratified (15)

Countries only signed

Countries still to sign and ratify





Burkina Faso




Côte d'Ivoire




Central African Rep.


D.R. of Congo

Cape Verde


Equatorial Guinea










Sahrawi A.D.R.






São Tome & Principe




South Africa

















Sierra Leone












Selected case studies

Mobutu Sese Seko

Estimates vary on the amount that Mobutu Sese Seko looted from the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire. During the 32 years in which he held power, the country received more than US $12 billion in aid, mainly from the World Bank. Much of that funding vanished, but Mobutu himself claimed to be worth less than US $50 million.

The day before Mobutu was toppled in May 1997, the Swiss authorities ordered all 406 Swiss banks to undertake a systematic search for Mobutu’s accounts. They found just US $4 million. The authorities then wrote to the new government in Kinshasa asking for clarification of the ownership of the funds. By 1999 – two years later – there was still no reply from President Laurent Kabila. Why not? As one European politician put it: ‘Kabila has simply replaced Mobutu with Mobutuism.’3 The relatively paltry sum of US $4 million was not worth the trouble and expense of proving ownership.

Yet even if the Kabila government had furnished proof of ownership, the Swiss probably would not have repatriated the money, as the following two cases show.

Sani Abacha

General Sani Abacha was military dictator of Nigeria from 1993 to 10 June 1998, when he died suddenly of a heart attack. Estimates of the amount he looted during five years in office vary from US $2 billion to US $5 billion. The upper limit represents about 10 per cent of Nigeria’s annual income from oil over five years.8 Abacha was replaced by another military ruler, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, who returned Nigeria to democratic rule. Elections were held in early 1999 and Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn in as president at the end of May of the same year.

Before Obasanjo took office, Abubakar’s interim government delivered a clear message to the Abacha clan: Abacha had looted huge sums, and they had to be restored. The government recovered some US $825 million and paid it into a special account at the Bank of International Settlements in Basle, Switzerland. Most of this sum was later spent on housing projects, education and allocations to Nigeria’s 36 states.

While a large amount was ‘voluntarily’ returned, more remained frozen in other jurisdictions, including US $1.3 billion in Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein. Five years after Abacha’s death, none of this money has been returned and the Obasanjo government is still trying to reach a settlement.

In April 2003, the Swiss supreme court handed down a judgment that rejected numerous appeals by the Abachas’ lawyers, who had sought to prevent the transmission of incriminating documents and, ultimately, the repatriation of the remaining funds. The judgment stopped short of ordering their repatriation. As in the Marcos case, it was preoccupied with ensuring that the defendants receive a fair trial and that their human rights be observed. Following a meeting with the Swiss president in October 2003, however, Obasanjo announced that a mutual agreement had been reached whereby the Swiss would soon repatriate the US $618 million frozen in Switzerland against assurances from Nigeria that the returned funds would be devoted to improving education, health, agriculture and infrastructure.

(taken from: Daniel, Tim: "Repatriation of looted state assets: selected case studies and the UN Convention against Corruption", Global Corruption Report 2004

Related TI press releases

Recovering Africa’s stolen money, Berlin, 22 March 2006

Transparency International urges NEPAD leaders to ratify AU Anti-Corruption Convention, Berlin, 22 November 2004

Transparency International urges African leaders to sign and ratify AU and UN Anti-Corruption Conventions, Berlin, 25 February 2004

Transparency International urges AU heads of state to adopt African anti-corruption convention, Berlin, 07 July 2003

Transparency International urges AU governments to approve draft African anti-corruption Convention, Berlin, 03 March 2003

TI co-organises African workshop on developing anti-corruption strategies, Berlin 29 September 2003

Transparency International welcomes draft African convention against corruption, Berlin, 19 September 2002

Selected readings

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Compendium of International Legal Instruments on Corruption (Second edition, New York 2005)
This book contains 21 major relevant international and regional treaties, agreements, resolutions and other instruments. These include both legally binding obligations and some soft-law instruments intended to serve as non-binding standards. The first section of the book contains a very useful summary of international legal instruments. Unfortunately, the ADB-OECD Action Plan for Asia and Pacific is omitted from this comprehensive and highly useful text.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Legislative Guide to Promote the Implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (2006)
The objective of this practical guide is to assist states seeking to ratify and implement the UNCAC by identifying legislative requirements, issues arising from those requirements and various options available to states as they develop and draft the necessary legislation.

Adede, Dr. A.O. Domestication Of International Obligations (15 September 2001)
L’ETWAL INTERNATIONAL, A Foundation for Law and Policy for Contemporary Problems
This article describes the procedure of implementation of international treaties by states so that the rights and duties contained in such treaties may become applicable and enforceable in the state concerned.

IDASA, Africa Budget Watch (newsletter)
The Africa Budget Watch is a quarterly newsletter with news, training opportunities and research articles on regional budgetary issues. It also provides an opportunity for civil society organisations and other stakeholders across Africa to discuss and share information.

Institute for Security Studies, A Comparative Analysis: - SADC Protocol Against Corruption (2001); - AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption (2003); - UN Convention Against Corruption (2003), (November 2004)
The South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has produced a comparative analysis of the SADC Protocol Against Corruption, AU Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and UN Convention Against Corruption which is intended to contibute to more effective implementation in the SADC region.

Low, Lucinda, The United Nations Convention against Corruption: The Globalization of Anticorruption Standards (May 2006)
This paper provides an overview of the UN Convention against Corruption with a particular focus on its chapters dealing with criminalization and international cooperation, as well as its provisions for civil liability and collateral consequences.

Muna, Akere, Understanding the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and related Offences (TI, 2004)
The author is a Lincoln’s Inn barrister, member of the Cameroon Law Society and member of the Board of Transparency International and prepared for TI a useful explanatory booklet of about 50 pages on the African Union Convention aimed legislators, journalists and NGO activists.

Podesta, Guillermo Jorge, Notes on Asset Recovery in the U.N Convention Against Corruption (2003)The article is essential for those interested in how the UN Convention will promote asset recovery even though it deals with the draft of the Convention rather than the final text.

Polaine, Martin, The 2003 United Nations Convention against Corruption: Criminalisation
This paper analyses UNCAC´s provisions on the criminalisation of corruption with emphasis on the bribery of national and foreign public officials.

Posadas, Alejandro, Combating Corruption Under International Law, Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law, Vol. 10, No. 2, (Spring/ Summer 2000)
This article reviews the history of the development of the international legal framework with regard to corruption. It looks at the origins of efforts to address the issue starting with post-Watergate investigations and continuing with unsuccessful efforts at the United Nations during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. It then examines the emergence and development of international anti-corruption initiatives from the 1990’s to the present, resulting in large measure from new international realities of the post-Cold War era. It considers the lessons learned from the experience thus far, the current status of international efforts and raises some questions about existing measures to combat bribery and corruption under international law.

Webb, Philippa, The United Nations Convention Against Corruption: Global Achievement or Missed Opportunity? (1993)
This article explores what happened between the first discussions of an international anti-corruption convention at the United Nations in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the adoption of the UNCAC by the UN General Assembly in October 2003. It discusses the main features of the anti-corruption conventions preceding UNCAC, analyses the UNCAC and reviews its negotiating history, concluding with a consideration of the prospects for the UNCAC.

Selected links

Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ)

SAHRIT- Human Rights Trust of Southern Africa

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime UN Convention Against Corruption
This site, covering the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC,) is maintained by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The full text of the Convention is available in all six UN languages, English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Chinese. Background information on the Convention, concise overviews of the Convention’s highlights, an up-to-date list of signatories and parties, as well as Convention related documentation, speeches and press releases are all posted on the site. There is also information on country projects, inter-agency-coordination and a link to the Mexican government web site on the High-level Political Conference for the purpose of signing UNCAC. Aside from being a primary resource on UNCAC, the site has more general information on corruption such as an Anti-Corruption toolkit, web links, information on global trends and judicial integrity.

African Union
In its section on Official Documents the website of the African Union provides a list of all Treaties relating to the African Union and a list of signatories. Among the treaties listed is the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption.

International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC)
The IACC is a conference taking place every two to three years to bring together anti-corruption practitioners and policy-makers to discuss key issues and conclusions gathered from the latest experiences worldwide. The last four conferences have included workshops on anti-corruption Conventions.

International Money Laundering Information Network (IMoLIN)
IMoLIN aims to assist governments, organisations and individualy in the fight against money laundering. It includes a database on legislation and regulation throughout the world (AMLID), an electronic library and a calendar of events in the anti-money laundering field.

ISS Internet Portal on Corruption – Conventions Focus
These pages on the ISS Southern African Internet Portal on Corruption feature details of anti-corruption Conventions that are of relevance to African states. This includes a collection of African anti-corruption laws, a copy of this guide as well as a legislative guide which has been written for use by African policy-makers and Members of Parliament. The webpages also include a focus on the SADC Protocol Against Corruption ( a regional instrument relevant to Southern Africa) featuring information on the status of signature and ratification of the Protocol. Also available are electronic copies of handbooks prepared by the ISS for policy-makers in the thirteen SADC members states comparing existing national legislation with provisions of the SADC Protocol Against Corruption.

U4 Website: Anti-Corruption conventions and treaties
The Utstein Anti-Corruption Resource Center, set up by donors for bilateral donor agencies includes a section on anti-corruption conventions and treaties providing summaries of and links to all anti-corruption conventions, as well as other international instruments. It includes an article on how conventions can provide useful tools for bilateral donor agencies at headquarters and in the field and how donors can support convention implementation in developing countries.

UNICORN is a Global Unions Anti-corruption Network set up by the international trade union bodies, the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC), Public Services International (PSI) and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). UNICORN focuses on multinationals and corruption and compiles information on trade union action in combating corruption.

IDASA—Africa Budget Project
This is the website of the Africa Budget Project (ABP), which is is part of the Budget Information Service, located in Cape Town, South Africa. It is also the regional partner of the International Budget Project (IBP), located at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, DC. The ABP works to build capacity in civil society and legislatures to participate effectively in budgetary processes in African countries. We are strategically placed to utilize the demand for applied budget work and nurture strong budget organizations that can effectively engage with budgetary issues.

Media Contacts

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