Corruption inverted

Tuesday, 3 May 2016
Richard Dowden

When Prime Minister David Cameron called a conference on global corruption earlier this year my first reaction was: you must be joking. From Pergau dam in the 1990s where Britain’s development agency built a useless dam in Malaysia as a sweetener for a massive arms deal, to selling Tanzania an unnecessary air-traffic control system in 2010, the UK government has used its weight to secure dodgy deals for British companies. Have these practices come to an end?

Most corruption in the world has fewer zeros attached than arms deals. But for poor people “petty” corruption can rob a day’s earnings. Earlier this year I was at Nairobi airport and my taxi stopped with its front wheels just touching a yellow line. The police immediately demanded money from the driver. Then they saw me – a foreigner - and were too embarrassed to take a bribe in front of a foreigner. So they insisted we went to pay the fine in an office in the main building. But that meant I could miss my plane. I left some money with the driver and left. Once I was out of the way the police accepted the cash. I was complicit in petty corruption.   

In the early 1990s in Kinshasa I was having dinner with the local representative of a very large and – I thought - respectable British global company. He admitted that Zaire – as the Democratic Republic of Congo was called then – was extremely corrupt but that was why President Mobutu needed one good company he could trust to be clean – and that was the one he was proud to represent in Kinshasa.

A few days later I ran into his son who was working for another company and I asked him why he wasn’t working for this father’s company. He was quiet for a moment and then said; “Because I could not stand seeing my father take a briefcase of dollars to President Mobutu every Monday morning”. That was corruption on a grand scale.

As I visited more and more African countries, I heard the same refrain: that is how you do business in Africa. This perception is annually reinforced by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. It is based on a survey of the views of (mainly Western) business people and Western experts. This has framed our view of Africa as the continent of corruption. That is why – some say – Africa is poor.

Estimates vary but many organisations tracking corruption accept a rough global figure of $1 trillion for global corruption. That is more than three times all foreign aid. Of that, perhaps a half occurs in poorer countries with less will or ability to control corruption. I saw the demand side for corruption in Africa as an unfortunate imposition on Western companies by corrupt African leaders.

But looking at the figures suggests that grand corruption is in fact a secondary cause of the impoverishment of Africa. The primary cause is tax avoidance by global companies. Using small states like Panama, Luxembourg and several territories which fly the Union Jack, such as the Bahamas and Cayman Island, companies avoid paying tax.

One technical term for this is transfer pricing. But a more accurate description would be theft. Nicholas Shaxon explained how this works at a RAS meeting last week, giving the example of a fictional corporation that grows bananas in Ecuador. A corporation picks and packs a container-load of bananas in Ecuador, and it costs the company $1,000. It sells them to a French supermarket for $3,000. Which country gets to tax the $2,000 profit – France, Ecuador? The answer is: Where the multinational’s accountants decide.

He explained how the multinational sets up three companies, all of which it owns. Let's call them: EcuadorCo, HavenCo (in a zero-tax haven) and FranceCo. EcuadorCo sells the container to HavenCo for $1,000, and HavenCo sells it on to FranceCo for $3,000. That’s basically it. (The bananas themselves don’t go anywhere near the tax haven: this is all just paper-shuffling in New York or London.)

If you blinked, you may have missed what happened here. It cost EcuadorCo $1,000 to pick and pack the container, and they sold it on for $1,000. So EcuadorCo records zero profits, meaning no taxes. Likewise, FranceCo buys it for $3,000 and sells it to the supermarket for $3,000. Again, no profits, and no taxes. HavenCo is the key to the puzzle. It bought the container for $1,000 and sold it for $3,000 – a $2,000 profit. But it is based in a haven, so it pays no tax. In short, all the profits have been stripped out of France and Ecuador, and shoveled into the haven.  

It is now clear that grand tax avoidance far exceeds the grand corruption. But it is not illegal. It should be. As President Obama said, it's the fact that these practices are legal that's the problem. 

Shaxon also points out that almost nowhere in reports by the four global accounting firms is there any mention of tax havens and tax avoidance. They are the fixers of this global pillage. As he says when you arrive at Geneva or Findel, the beneficiary locations in Switzerland and Luxembourg, no one will ask you for a bribe.

So the TI’s Corruption Perception Index is just that – the perception of Western business. For years we have seen countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Nigeria as the most corrupt countries but the countries that actually handle, hide and benefit from global corruption in Europe are Switzerland, Luxembourg and, of course, the City of London.  I look forward to David Cameron’s analysis and comments on this when he gives the opening speech at the global corruption conference on May 12th

Illicit financial flows after ‘Panamania’: Seizing the moment

Thursday, 28 April 2016 - 6:00pm to 8:00pm

Date & Time: Thursday 28th April, 18:00-20:00 
Venue: Lecture Theatre ELG03, Drysdale Building, City University, London, EC1V 0HB
Listen to podcast
Speakers: Dr Dereje Alemayehu (Chair, Global Alliance for Tax Justice), Batanayi Katongera (Executive Editor, Transfer Pricing Inside Africa) Daniel Balint-Kurti (Investigative Journalist, Global Witness) & Rachel Owens (Senior Campaigner, Global Witness)
Chair: Nicholas Shaxson (Author, Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World)
According to a high level report by the African Union and Economic Commission for Africa, the African continent loses more than $50 billion every single year through illicit financial flows. In fact, facilitated by webs of secretive tax havens and corruption, more money leaves Africa through illegal practices each year than it receives in foreign aid and foreign direct investment combined. For years, African policymakers and researchers have played a central role in the movement calling for tax justice, but with the Panama Papers leak, the issue has been thrust to the forefront of the global agenda.
Next month, UK Prime Minister David Cameron will host a global anti-corruption summit to address issues of tax evasion and money laundering. At this key moment, how can the momentum be seized to address a system that continues to rob Africa of billions of dollars each year? Where does the responsibility lie, and what urgent actions need to be taken? Join the Royal African Society and Tax Justice Network in the heart of the City of London as we address these pressing issues with a panel of experts.


This event is free but registration is required. Please register your place on Eventbrite





Infrastructure and Mining Projects in Africa - What Are the Heritage Implications?

Tuesday, 10 May 2016 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm


Speaker: Dr Noemie Arazi (University of Brussels)  Chair: Professor Kevin MacDonald, UCL
Date & Time: Tuesday 10 March, 18:30 - 20:00 
Venue: UCL Common Ground, South Wing, Wilkins Building, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT
In this lecture, archaeologist Dr Noemie Arazi looks at the devastating effects that infrastructural and mining sector projects have had on heritage resources. In many countries, heritage legislation is out of date, and because preservation is not seen to have any immediate effect on the eradication of poverty, it has been side-lined in the development agenda.  Looking at case studies from Central Africa, Dr Arazi will give a context to the situation and present the tentative advances made by national and international practitioners  in the preservation of Africa’s historical artefacts.  

Dr Noemie Arazi holds a PhD from the Institute of Archaeology at UCL. Her study consisted of a comparative analysis using oral traditions, written sources and archaeological data to reconstruct Dia’s occupational history, one of West Africa’s oldest urban centres located in the Inland Niger Delta of Mali. Alongside her doctoral studies Noemie has also worked on archaeological salvage projects with the Museum of London Archaeological Service.

After her PhD, she was the coordinator of Project Yesod at the Ename Center for Public Archaeology and Heritage Preservation, an NGO in Belgium, then under the direction of Neil Silberman. Project Yesod’s objective was to place minority heritage, such as Jewish and Muslim cultures, in the mainstream of European heritage.

In 2008 Noemie was asked to direct Heritage Management Services (HMS), the University of Brussels’ first spin-off company in the human sciences. HMS brought her back to Africa as its activities focused on cultural heritage impact assessments and archaeological salvage in the context of infrastructural development and natural resource extraction in sub-Saharan Africa. Through HMS Noemie has been at the forefront of advocating the implementation and oversight of heritage protection in environmental and social management systems as well as on publishing non-compliance cases on this issue.

Noemie is currently launching ‘Groundworks’, a non-profit organisation that will in addition to heritage assessments also focus on community participation. She is a scientific collaborator at the Research Centre of Archaeology and Heritage at the University of Brussels (CReA), and an active member of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists (SAfA) and the International Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management (ICAHM). 


This is part of the joint seminar series on Heritage & Politics, organised in collaboration with the UCL African Studies Research Centre. Please reserve your place on Eventbrite.


Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship

Thursday, 12 May 2016 - 7:15pm to 8:45pm

Date & Time: Thursday 12th May, 19:15-20:45 
Venue: Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, Russell Square, London

Speaker:  Anjan Sundaram (Author) 
Discussant: Rene Claudel Mugenzi (Global Campaign for Rwandans’ Human Rights) Chair: Frances Harrison (Journalist) 

Anjan Sundaram’s new book tells the story of young journalists in Rwanda, under increasing pressure to toe the government line. Coming out of his time running a journalist’s training programme in Kigali, the book paints a picture of reporters co-opted and intimidated by President Paul Kagame’s regime, some facing the risk of arrest and violence. In a country often held up as a beacon of economic development and progress in the Great Lakes region, and supported by billions of dollars of foreign aid each year, Sundaram experienced a climate of fear and repression for those attempting to engage in independent journalism.

Join the author for a discussion on the book and questions of accountability, free speech and the mechanisms used by government to control the national narrative. Copies of the book will be on sale.

Anjan Sundaram is an award-winning journalist, who has reported from central Africa for the New York Times and the Associated Press. His previous book Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo was a Royal African Society Book of the Year in 2014. His writing has also appeared in Granta, The Guardian, Observer, Foreign Policy, Politico, Telegraph and The Washington Post. His war correspondence from the Central African Republic won a Frontline Club Award in 2015, and his reporting on Pygmy tribes in Congo's rainforests won a Reuters prize in 2006. His work has also been shortlisted for the Prix Bayeux and the Kurt Schork award.

Rene Claudel Mugenzi is a Rwandan/British community organiser, social development practitioner and politician. As a human rights activist he is involved in several pro-democracy campaigns related to Rwanda, such as ‘Amahoro Iwacu’ and 'Democracy in Rwanda Now’. Rene is the founder and former CEO of the London Centre for Social Impact, a leading social innovation think-tank and development organisation. In the 2015 UK general election, he stood as a candidate for Poplar and Limehouse, representing the Red Flag Anti-Corruption political party. Rene currently works as a consultant and teacher in the fields of social innovation, entrepreneurship and community project development, for which he has been awarded the Lifetime Millennium Award and the Community Hero Award in Tower Hamlets.

Frances Harrison is a British journalist who worked with the BBC. She was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, as well as the School of Oriental & African Studies, and Imperial College in London. For many years she worked as a foreign correspondent for the BBC posted in South Asia, South East Asia and Iran. From 2000-4 she was the resident BBC Correspondent in Sri Lanka. She has worked at Amnesty International as Head of News. She currently runs a research project investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka. 

Read ‘Exposing Rwanda’s war on journalism’ a review published on African Arguments

This event is free but registration is required. Please register your place on Eventbrite.






Developing Sustainable & Accessible Energy Infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa

Wednesday, 30 March 2016
Hetty Bailey, Africa APPG Policy & Research Coordinator

This is a meeting memo from the Africa All Party Parliamentray Group. A full audio recording of the event together with slides from the panel presentations is available here.


                                                                             Photograph: Sameer Halai/SunFunder/Gigawatt Global

There is growing commitment among African countries and institutions to pursue inclusive green development. The African Union and UN Economic Commission for Africa are increasingly calling for green solutions for Africa’s energy deficit with ambitions to learn from history and experiences of other regions to leapfrog traditional, carbon-intensive methods of growth. African Development Week has just concluded in Addis and saw the launch of the latest Economic Report on Africa- Greening Africa's Industrialisation. The report argues that the economic and environmental benefits stemming from greening Africa's industrialisation make the environmental approach the only viable option for the continent's continued development.


Further, Goal 7 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to ensure ‘access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’ by 2030 which compliments the African Union’s Agenda 2063 for Africa to be ‘recognized globally as a continent respectful of its environment, ecologically conscious based on sustainable development and renewable energy’. However, Dr Lopes of UNECA has calculated that investments of the order of 70 billion US dollars would be needed for Africa to add the needed 300 gigawatts of electricity capacity from renewable sources in Africa by 2030. He recognised that in addition to increased revenue collection, these investments need to be mobilised from the private sector - domestically and through FDI.


On the 22nd March the Africa APPG with support from the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund and AFFORD-UK hosted a panel event which aimed to explore the opportunities and challenges in mobilising private sector capital for sustainable and accessible energy infrastructure in Africa and the best policy approaches to support African led renewable energy initiatives.  Members of the panel included Edward George, from Ecobank, Julia Prescott from EAIF and David Kennedy, Director General for Economic Development, DFID .


Introducing the session, the chair of the APPGA and Labour MP, Chi Onwurah MP, said,

“Sustainable and accessible energy infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa is incredibly important and needs to be at the top of the agenda.


“The APPGA exists to promote meaningful and positive relationships between Africa and the UK. It is in the interests of both the UK and African nations to work together to support Africa’s economic development. This session will contribute to spreading knowledge of the many initiatives already in place and informing policy development.”


Edward George of EcoBank spoke first and set out the challenge of meeting need and demand for electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa, saying that African demand for electricity is continuously growing. He said the gap between what exists now and what is needed is enormous and explained that Nigeria has a generating capacity similar to that of London, but Nigeria has a population 20 times bigger.


“The gap between what exists now and what is needed is absolutely enormous. 40% of Africans have no access to power and in some individual countries the figure is much higher.”


Mr George saw micro-generation schemes, such as M-KOPA, as an increasingly viable, practical and affordable way of powering homes and small businesses in areas remote from mainstream electricity generation and distribution facilities.


He went on to say that in many parts of Africa electricity distribution networks were often hundreds of miles from remote rural areas and that is no realistic prospect of these places being connected to national grids.


 “For the many thousands of settlements in deeply remote rural Africa a big part of the answer is micro-generation. There is technology now in operation in over 100,000 homes in rural Africa that combines small scale solar generation for cooking and lighting with energy for mobile phones. Mobile phones give access to payment and other financial services and improve access to markets in areas like farm and forest products, tourism and craft production.”


Julia Prescott of The Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF) spoke second and drew attention to the 15 new sustainable energy projects across nine African countries in EAIF’s new business pipeline. If they all reach financial close, they will provide a total of 665 megawatts of electricity.


EAIF is a member of the Private Infrastructure Development Group. The Fund is a public-private partnership supported by the governments of the UK, The Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, private sector banks and development finance organisations.


Julia Prescot said that EAIF is already a leading provider of debt funding to the sustainable energy sector in Sub-Saharan Africa.


“These new projects have the potential to significantly widen access to sustainable electricity, help stimulate economies and make public services like education and health more productive. They are prime examples of how EAIF contributes to mobilising private sector capital and enterprise to bring a wide range of benefits to people and economies.”


Finally, the meeting heard from David Kennedy who explained that DFID’s prime aim is to contribute to alleviating poverty through the structural transformation of economies. He said people cannot be brought out of poverty without economic development. Lack of energy capacity is the single biggest constraint to economic growth.


Mr Kennedy focussed on DFID’s role in the energy sector and emphasised the importance of encouraging legal and regulatory structures in Sub-Saharan countries that enable investment and improve the ability of energy markets to work effectively, competitively and efficiently.


Following panel presentations, the panel opened up for a question & answer session with an audience made up of parliamentarians including Amanda Holloway MP & Lord Steel, African diplomats, and representatives from the private, NGO and academic sectors.


A representative from CAFOD highlighted the importance of focusing on local business enterprises and civil societies to achieve sustainable energy goals and not just large scale corporations and solutions. Mr Kennedy responded that there is no prejudice over what scale projects gets DfID capital but reiterated that large scale infrastructure is important but it is not an either/or situation. Edward George agreed that off grid and small scale is important but argued that the private sector should be directly behind this. Julia Prescott conceded that medium sized projects make a real difference in countries because they are easier than large scale projects to implement and added that if EAIF could aggregate smaller projects, then EAIF would be very interested in supporting medium scale projects.


Another issue raised was who is collecting data on which people and organisations are benefitting from FDI investments in sustainable energy infrastructure. EAIF and DFID responded that they were collecting data from their projects to ensure “companies are hitting the mark”.  


Onyekachi Wambu from AFFORD who stepped into the Chair for Chi Onwurah during votes, asked what support there was from DFID and EAIF to support local content requirements in models where infrastructure is being scaled up. He also asked whether there was a danger that if local content requirement was prioritised by African Governments it would discourage private investment.


Julia Prescott from EAIF replied that they were always looking for the most efficient cost which would also encourage competition and therefore lower local prices as a whole. She added that it does not make sense to import large amounts of infrastructure but conversely there are rarely local providers of the equipment needed. She concluded that it was difficult to prioritise local content requirements as there is the risk of not getting the lowest cost output.


David Kennedy added that in all foreign direct investment (FDI) programmes it is important to explore the possibilities of getting local supply chains operating as opposed to importing everything. He questioned whether there should be targets for local content requirements and echoed Julia in difficulties of a trade-off between cheapest costs and local content. He said local markets are often very thin and DFID wants to enhance the capabilities of the local supply base to make the connections so that it makes sense for FDIs to use local partners rather than importing materials. Edward George added that in addition to manufacturing capabilities it’s about know-how and training local people to run programmes themselves.


This memo has been adapted and expanded from the original event press release prepared by Martin Roche communications adviser to EAIF. See here.


For more information, please contact Hetty Bailey at the Africa APPG on

Hurrah for the Hackers

Wednesday, 6 April 2016
Richard Dowden

When my email was hacked recently I shocked myself dreaming up the most horrific forms of torture I would personally inflict on the perpetrators. But when Mossack Fonseca was hacked last Monday – in an organised attack by journalists – I cheered the hackers.  

We at RAS have been talking about the effect of tax evasion on Africa for over a decade. We wrote about it when Prime Minister Tony Blair was trying to launder his reputation post Iraq in 2005 by escaping to Africa. His Commission for Africa called for more aid. Meanwhile the RAS called for an end to Britain’s damaging policies such as allowing tax evasion and transfer pricing so that Africa could staunch the outflow of capital. We invited Dev Kar of the New York based organisation, Global Financial Integrity, which tracks global financial flows, to speak at parliament on the subject. Only a few MPs turned up but it gave a boost to the issue in the UK and encouragement to other NGOs such as Transparency International and Tax Justice Network.  According to GFI’s most recent research “at least a trillion dollars per year is drained out of developing and emerging economies, more than these countries receive in foreign direct investment or foreign aid combined”.

Why the surprise? It has been common knowledge for decades that vast amounts of money are sucked out of developing countries and deposited in or laundered through tax havens. The money is then transferred to domestic banks  - no questions asked. London law firms handle the paper work and protect the secrets of the respectable families like David Cameron’s who retain their wealth from generation to generation while honest citizens pay heavy taxes. There is a wonderful irony here. The Prime Minister is setting up a meeting in May to discuss the issue of tax evasion and money laundering.  Now he finds himself in the thick of it. He has certainly given the conference some pre publicity.

It is the tiny remnants of the British Empire that allow the money laundering and tax avoidance to continue. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man were once notorious for money laundering but appear to have cleaned up their act recently. But the British Virgin Islands remains unreformed, the home of the main money launderers like Mossack Fonseca.  Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General ,  tried to defend the Virgin Island’s policy as their choice and defended the islanders’ right to set their tax rates.  The pretence that they are somehow independent of the UK is nonsense. If they passed laws to legalise cocaine or ban gay rights, Britain would step in. And to suggest that they did not know the tax avoiders were mingling their money with illegal arms dealers, dictators and drug smugglers is nonsense.

We will be holding an event with Tax Justice Network on Thursday 28th April to discusss 'Illicit financial flows after ‘Panamania’: Seizing the moment'. Register your place on Eventbrite.

Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society.

'The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa': Making Sense of Current Developments

Thursday, 21 April 2016 - 7:30pm to 9:00pm

Date & Time: Thursday 21st April, 19:30-21:00  Venue: Djam Lecture Theatre, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London, WC1H 0XG
Speaker: Alex de Waal (Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation) Chair: David Styan (Lecturer in Politics, Birkbeck University)

This compelling account provides a contemporary history of how politicians, generals and insurgents in the Horn of Africa bargain over money and power, and use of war to achieve their goals. Alex de Waal reveals the business model through which leaders run their countries, determined by oil exports, aid funds and Western military assistance for counterterrorism and peacekeeping. In this presentation, de Waal will address recent developments in the region, including the South Sudan peace agreement, the Red Sea crisis that has reconfigured the politics of Eritrea and Somalia, and the wave of anti-government protests in Oromia region of Ethiopia.

‘Drawing on a thirty-year career in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, including experience as a participant in high-level peace talks, Alex de Waal provides a unique and compelling account of how these countries leaders run their governments, conduct their business, fight their wars and, occasionally, make peace. De Waal shows how leaders operate on a business model, securing funds for their political budgets which they use to rent the provisional allegiances of army officers, militia commanders, tribal chiefs and party officials at the going rate. This political marketplace is eroding the institutions of government and reversing statebuilding and it is fuelled in large part by oil exports, aid funds and western military assistance for counter-terrorism and peacekeeping. The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa is a sharp and disturbing book with profound implications for international relations, development and peacemaking in the Horn of Africa and beyond.’

This event is free but registration is required on Eventbrite. Please note that due to high demand, seats will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis from 19:15.






Book Discussion on ‘City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp’

Wednesday, 27 April 2016 - 7:15pm to 8:45pm

Date & Time: Wednesday 27th April, 19:15-20:45   Venue: Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London, WC1H 0XG
SpeakersBen Rawlence (author of City of Thorns) & Nadifa Mohamed (author of The Orchard of Lost Souls and Black Mamba Boy

City of Thorns is a vivid and powerful account, bringing together stories of nine individuals living in the Dadaab refugee camp,  northern Kenya. Created 25 years ago to hold 90,000 Somalian refugees, the camp has since expanded to hold around half a million people from several nations. This book interweaves stories of its residents within the wider forces of regional politics and humanitarian aid. 

‘Situated hundreds of miles from any other settlement, deep within the inhospitable desert of northern Kenya where only thorn bushes grow, Dadaab is a city like no other. Its buildings are made from mud, sticks or plastic, its entire economy is grey, and its citizens survive on rations and luck. Over the course of four years, Ben Rawlence became a first-hand witness to a strange and desperate limbo-land, getting to know many of those who have come there seeking sanctuary. Among them are Guled, a former child soldier who lives for football; Nisho, who scrapes an existence by pushing a wheelbarrow and dreaming of riches; Tawane, the indomitable youth leader; and schoolgirl Kheyro, whose future hangs upon her education.’

Author Ben Rawlence will be joined by fiction writer Nadifa Mohamed to discuss the personal experiences depicted in the book, the challenges of the region, and the politics of storytelling and narrative.

This event is free but registration is required. Please register your place on Eventbrite



This event is part of Africa Writes 2016, the Royal African Society’s annual literature and book festival. Celebrating its 5th anniversary in 2016, it has become the UK’s leading platform celebrating the best contemporary African writing. The festival showcases established & emerging literary talent from across the continent & its diaspora, connecting UK audiences to leading authors, poets, publishers and experts. Held 1-3 July at the British Library, the festival will bring together over 60 participants to deliver a diverse programme, including book launches, panel discussions, performances, workshops, & a book fair.





Parliamentary report suggests mistrust between communities, governments and respondents hindered the initial Ebola response

Wednesday, 9 March 2016
Hetty Bailey (Africa APPG)

A report from the Africa All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and think tank Polygeia has suggested that initial awareness messaging may have exacerbated the fear felt by communities affected by Ebola and even discouraged those with symptoms from seeking medical attention. 


Parliamentary inquiry

At Westminster between October 2014 and May 2015 the Africa APPG held a series of panel discussions on the international Ebola response. Panellists who had worked in Ebola-affected communities stressed repeatedly that the response was being hindered by a fear and a lack of trust between national actors, international actors and affected communities. 

Consequently, the Africa APPG together with Polygeia launched an inquiry into attempts to engage the affected communities in the response. The inquiry received 31 written submissions and held numerous evidence gathering meetings. To ensure the voices of affected communities were represented in the report, 23 key informants were interviewed. In Sierra Leone these were conducted by Restless Development and the Public Health and Development Initiative in Liberia. 


An epidemic of mistrust: fear & resistance

The report finds that in the initial stages of the response, mistrust of and resistance to responders was indicative of a lack of community engagement with initial responses being impersonal and fear inducing. Like other international actors in the crisis, the UK’s initial response to the Ebola outbreak has been criticised as authoritarian. Many UK actors were not educated about traditional beliefs and practices (such as washing and dressing bodies for burial) and so in the rush to save lives foreign aid workers frequently ignored these aspects and some even tried (largely unsuccessfully) to tell Sierra Leoneans that they must “put aside tradition, culture and whatever family rites they have”.  

This resulted in resistance, and at times hostility, towards the Ebola responders. The WHO recognised in April 2015 that “inadequate engagement with affected communities and families” was a “significant obstacle to an effective response”. Many NGOs responding to Ebola operated at community level but community respondents to the inquiry interviews highlighted a gap between NGO activities and the communities’ priorities.  


Bottom-up and community led approaches: fostering local ownership of health systems

The report finds that community groups played crucial roles in creating successful strategies to control Ebola and build trust between responders and communities. The chief finding being that efforts to curb the outbreak were most effective when local leaders of affected communities led the demand for assistance from their governments and the international actors, and played an essential leadership role in the management of that assistance.  

It advocates that although a top down approach (nationally and internationally) may always be necessary in a health crisis, it is only effective when the affected communities trust that response. 

However, the report also acknowledges that the need to react rapidly in a health crisis makes it almost impossible to consult communities immediately. Therefore, the key lesson in ensuring preparedness for future health crises is that health systems should be developed horizontally, local ownership should be prioritised and investment made at community level. Such approaches foster trust and create demand for health services. Communities should be consulted about their needs and local facilities and systems developed to provide permanent services which local people trust and access and which can respond effectively during a crisis. 

Co-Chair of the Africa APPG Lord Chidgey who led on the report commented: 

"The UK has a rich history of supporting programmes which focus on community engagement. However, the report finds that it is essential if we are going to achieve universal health coverage under the SDGs that all donors, actors and NGOs give much higher priority to community ownership of health. Investing in earlier community consultation and working through existing community structures would strengthen local health systems and enable them to respond more effectively to a crisis. I hope the findings of this report will help guide responses to future epidemics and long term approaches to strengthen health systems." 


For further information  

The PDF is available to download here and hard copies have been depositied in the House of Commons and House of Lords libraries. If you would like a hard copy of the report, please contact Hetty Bailey, Coordinator of the Africa APPG at the Royal African Society- or (+44)20 3073 8339


#UgandaDecides: How Museveni survived, grabbed donors by the balls, and became the very thing he warned against

Wednesday, 17 February 2016
Richard Dowden

If Shakespeare were alive today, he would probably be writing plays about African presidents rather than medieval kings. Nowhere else in the world has such dramatic and personal politics. Uganda is a case in point.

In this East African nation, the re-election of President Yoweri Museveni on 18 February has always been a foregone conclusion. Having ruled for 30 years now, he will almost certainly extend his rule after the election tomorrow and probably keep extending it until he dies in office.

Victory was ensured when his two main rivals and former associates – Amama Mbabazi and Kizza Besigye – would not unite. But even if a single opposition candidate had emerged and won a majority, the election would be annulled or a quick “recount” would reverse the results.

[See: Uganda: The opposition’s missed opportunity in parliamentary and local elections]

In the early days, Museveni did not mind criticism and discussion; he was sharp enough to debate and defend his rule. But today, anyone who gets close to challenging him gets beaten up, jailed or both. Museveni has become the stereotypical African dictator that he once denounced.

I will declare an interest here. I lived in Uganda as a teacher in the first two years of Idi Amin’s rule. And I went back as a journalist after General Tito Okello took power in 1985, when I managed to visit Museveni’s fighters in the bush. I was in Kampala the following year just his fighters took power, and I was in the front row a few days later when Museveni was sworn in as president. I interviewed the new president several times and found him an impressive debater.

After the Amin years and the subsequent political chaos, Museveni was a model of sense and stability. He opened up debate and tried to create a layered national structure for discussion and decision-making from the village to parliament. But it was only later that I realised this was only in the south. In the north, especially Acholiland where the previous regime’s leaders had come from, it was a different story. Chiefs and leaders were arrested and disappeared, and the Acholi’s precious cattle were stolen by soldiers. The region has never fully recovered.

In these early years, I saw Museveni frequently. He liked to call journalists together and debate with us. It was like bowling against a first rate batsman. He dealt with our questions thoughtfully and wittily. And in Uganda more broadly, there was open debate about policy and the presidential succession.

But the longer Museveni has ruled, the more dictatorial and remote he has become. He has reverted to crude practices such as distributing bags of money to buy votes, while his former comrades have abandoned him. The best went first, and he is now just left with servants rather than comrades.

Making politics personal

One of Museveni’s most loyal former followers was his childhood sweetheart, Winnie Byanyima. Her father, Boniface Byanyima, was headmaster of Mbarara High School, one of the best in the country, when the young Museveni came to beg for a place. Her father gave the young boy from a poor family a spot and even let him stay in his house during term time.

Winnie, 14 years younger, became close to the house guest. And several years later, she was one of the first to join Museveni’s movement and join him the bush. The two formed a close relationship, and at his inauguration, Winnie was standing just metres behind him sporting her battledress and huge afro.

After Museveni became president, she soon moved into State House too, until Museveni’s wife Janet came back from Sweden where she had lived for many years. Winnie was evicted.

Shortly after, Winnie married Museveni’s close friend, personal physician and one of the “originals” who had formed the National Resistance Army in 1981: Kizza Besigye.

The political struggle between Besigye and Musevevi today is thus personal as well as political. That’s why his supporters get extra beatings from the police and Musveni’s gangs of thugs.

Former Prime Minister Mbabazi is different. Museveni previously allowed discussion of successors, but more recently, anyone who has hinted Museveni has overstayed , that it’s time for change, or made a bid for power, has have been side-lined, sacked from government or threatened. They usually return to Museveni’s camp and keep a low profile.

Nevertheless, Mbabazi seemed to be quietly marked out as a likely successor. He was Musveni’s loyal servant, smart and hard-working, but always looked like a gofer rather than a potential boss. When Mbabazi realised he was being strung along, he left and ran on his own platform.

[See: Uganda’s 2016 elections: same same but different?]

[See: Podcast: Who will win Uganda’2016 elections?]

[See: Why it’s too early to rule out Kizza Besigye]

A tight grip on donors

Although the election will likely be about personalities, cash payments and lost ballot boxes, Uganda’s economy will also be an important factor. The economy grew at an average 7% in the 1990s and 2000s, but has now slowed to closer to 5%. Museveni had hoped the discovery of oil would be transformative but with oil prices low, the whole project is on hold.

However, Museveni does still have Western donors by the balls – donors who donate hundreds of millions to the country. Museveni’s single most powerful tool for gouging these donors is his army. By sending troops into the likes of Somalia, South Sudan and Central African Republic, he presents himself as the region’s peacekeeper. He knows that almost no European countries are willing to send troops to these places and that no other Africa country has the capacity to quickly step in. Furthermore, it is well understood that Museveni’s “peacekeepers” can also be war makers. In South Sudan – contrary to UN agreements – he has sent troops to support only one side. And with a single phone call, Museveni could withdraw from any of these countries and leave chaos behind – or even ensure it.

In 1986, Museveni wrote: “The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular is not the people but leaders who want to overstay in power”. 30 years later, Museveni has become the very intractable, narrow-minded, authoritarian leader against which he warned.

Richard Dowden is the Director of RAS.