European secrecy must end if Africa’s potential is to be unlocked

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Countries are putting pressure on the European Commission to remove them from the controversial ‘blacklists’ of tax havens and countries deemed not to be cooperating in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. [AMISOM/ Flickr]

Having shown their serious intent at the lectern and on panels, G20 and African leaders must now move beyond speeches and pledges and take concrete, demonstrable steps to help the African continent harness its full potential, writes Acting-President of Nigeria Yemi Osinbajo.

Professor Yemi Osinbajo is the vice-president and acting-president of Nigeria.

This year’s G20, led by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, should be commended for prioritising African development.

The recent Africa Partnership conference – held last month ahead of this week’s G20 summit in Hamburg – marked a significant moment to focus on what both African and G20 governments can do to address economic and political challenges in one of the world’s most vibrant continents.

Africa is ready to overcome its challenges along with its partners, who have often promised prosperity.

France, Germany, Italy and the UK have – as key European G20 members – the opportunity to add flesh to the bones of promises made in the coming days, as the EU moves to finalise its Anti-Money Laundering Directive.

These countries could demonstrate a real commitment to help curb corruption in African and other countries (not to mention their own) by ensuring that the beneficial owners of companies, trusts and similar legal mechanisms are made publicly available.

Nigeria is already leading by example with our current efforts at ensuring that there is no hiding place for corrupt individuals and corporations.

This common sense measure would ensure that legal and tax authorities in Nigeria and elsewhere have rapid and easy access to this information – bypassing the myriad, complex and bureaucratic information-sharing agreements that currently impede investigations.

Putting this information in the public realm would also ensure that African journalists, civil society organisations and ordinary citizens can analyse this information, helping to identify corruption and establishing trust in a global system that many currently feel is rigged against them.

The Anti-Money Laundering Directive would also be a deterrent, forcing the would-be criminal and corrupt to think twice before engaging in illicit activity.

Curbing corruption and illicit deals would help African governments secure much needed revenues. According to a High Level Panel led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, Africa is estimated to be losing more than $50 billion each year in illicit financial flows.

My country has worked for years to recover billions of dollars of assets stolen, much of it secreted away to Europe.

Anonymous shell companies and trusts, the 21st century’s ‘getaway cars for the corrupt’, have often facilitated these illicit flows and stolen assets. That money could help finance infrastructure and social programs in Nigeria and other African countries.

That is more important now than ever.  Africa is home to all ten countries with the highest fertility rates in the world and this population boom will further strain governments already struggling to meet the needs of their people.

An estimated 22.5 million jobs per year will need to be created to meet the demand of this African youth explosion. It is a demographic with the same energy, dynamism and ambitions as their peers in developed nations.

But our efforts to create sustainable economic growth are undermined by corruption facilitated by the legal and financial systems of G20 countries.

If the governments fail in this endeavour to provide for their youth, the likely political instability and massive population displacements could dwarf the refugee crisis currently impacting Europe.

So if European countries sincerely want to help Africa succeed they must help African governments curb corruption.

They can show their commitment to a true partnership with Africa by delivering game-changing EU anti-money laundering regulations that prevent the criminal and corrupt from hiding behind anonymity and stealing Africa’s future from its people.

Failure to do so could undermine all their other efforts to help Africa prosper.

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