Could An International Anti-Corruption Court Work For Africa?


Last week the Vice-President and son of the President of Equatorial Guinea Teodorin Obiang was fined $33 million for his misuse of public money by an appeal court in France.

The ruling follows his 2017 conviction for embezzlement. Obiang has acquired a number of properties in France over the years, including the €25 million Avenue Foch mansion and owns a number of luxury cars, artworks and designer items. According to prosecutors the President’s son has plundered Equatorial Guinea’s wealth to fund his own lavish lifestyle. Meanwhile, around two-thirds of Equatoguineans survive on less than $2 a day.

Obiang’s lawyers have accused France of meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state. However, corruption often extends beyond national borders, with prosecutors routinely working across multiple jurisdictions in order to gather their evidence.


National government frequently fail to address grand corruption within their borders. This is not a problem unique to Africa. However, the African Union (AU) has identified corruption as a particular challenge facing the continent and its developmental ambitions.


Governments across the region have all too often appeared either unwilling or unable to take action against the corrupt. Unwillingness often comes when those in power have a vested interest in protecting the corrupt, or are themselves implicated. Even when allegedly corrupt individuals leave office they usually remain well connected.


In some cases governments may be willing but unable to advance the fight against corruption through prosecutorial means. Securing convictions for grand corruption requires resources, time and often the cooperation of actors across multiple jurisdictions.

Additionally, all too often the drive to stamp out corruption becomes politicised and fairly or unfairly becomes labelled as a political witch hunts. This leaves voters and civil society in a quandary.


There is already an International Criminal Court (ICC) and the United Nations (UN) International Court of Justice. However, the latter only adjudicates matters between states and the former is focused on war crimes and crimes against humanity.


The case for an International Anticorruption Court (IACC) acting on the principle of complementarity has been made by US district judge Mark L.Wolf. President Buhari has also spoken of his support for an international tribunal on grand corruption.


Handing matters over to international court would help prevent claims that prosecutions are politically motivated in nature. Such a court could also benefit from skills and training of an international standard to advance complex cases, channelling both expertise and funding from respected multilaterals such as the United Nations (UN). Quite aside from the punitive aspect its creation alone would send a powerful message to the corrupt and serve as a disincentive going forward.


To date 184 countries globally have signed the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), including many African nations. The next step forward must add substance to this commitment. After all, as it stands corruption presents one of the biggest threats to the universal achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in Africa and beyond.

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