Understanding and Implementing the Common African Position on Asset Recovery (CAPAR)

… Global Stakeholders sensitized on Africa’s Asset Recovery Agenda

The High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) from Africa and its secretariat – the Coalition for Dialogue on Africa (CoDA), in collaboration with the Working Group on the Implementation of the Common African Position on Asset Recovery (CAPAR), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Nigeria, and Albany State University, Georgia, USA on Friday, 9th December 2022, conducted a workshop focusing on Understanding and Implementing the CAPAR..  

The workshop was held on the margins of the 20th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) which concluded on Saturday, 10th December, 2022, at Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington DC, USA. 

The workshop aimed at bringing a stronger understanding of the CAPAR and the African asset recovery agenda to global stakeholders while highlighting their roles in its successful implementation. 

In his opening statement, the chair of the workshop, Barrister Akere T. Muna, member of the High-Level Panel on IFFs from Africa and Co-Chair of the CAPAR Working Group, highlighted the importance of holding the conversation on asset recovery at this time, using the IACC, a global forum, given the necessity for cooperation and self-awareness by Africa’s international counterparts in ensuring the legal recovery of its assets. 

He noted that the commitment of the global north to supporting the recovery of Africa’s assets cannot be ignored or done without, and the narrative of corruption in Africa should not continue without addressing the role of non-African entities in enabling this conversation.

He particularly noted the recent Glencore scandal and the ensuing investigation which highlights the major role played by multinationals in facilitating corruption on the African continent.  

Speaking also at the workshop, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, SAN, OFR, Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices & Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), which represented the government of Nigeria in her capacity as the Champion for anti-corruption on the continent, stressed that the trajectory of advanced economies which had developed largely on domestic public resources indicated that leaving the issue of IFFs from Africa unattended was an existential issue. 

This, he said, was most evident during the Covid-19 pandemic which was the most recent illustration that domestic public resources were critical to African countries meeting their own needs through the central role of the state. 

Prof. Owasanoye added that while Africa is carrying a debt burden and in search of cheap loans and Official Development Assistance (ODA), there is a huge leak of much-needed resources through IFFs, which has been going on since pre-colonial periods and still exists today. 

He further underlined that Africa still faces an active pushback from the global North on its efforts to recover stolen and diverted assets. 

While recommending solutions, he noted that African countries needed to bring together their resources, and their power to push for solutions that had been identified through many studies and processes. 

According to him, without dealing with IFFs, Africa cannot and will not achieve the SDGs nor control its development priorities.

While giving an overview of CAPAR, Dr. Esa Onoja, Chief of Staff to the ICPC Chairman, explained the journey leading to the development and adoption of the CAPAR including the fact that it was founded in the AU Special Declaration

on IFFs and also stemmed from the AU’s assembly theme for 2017 on winning the Fight Against Corruption. 

Dr. Onoja went on to highlight the necessity for the CAPAR including its importance in stemming or reversing IFFs. 

Following his explanation of its four pillars, he highlighted the policy recommendations proposed by CAPAR including the need to prioritize cooperation and partnerships toward the recovery of the assets by advocacy and engagement at regional and global levels. 

Steve Karangizi, former Director of the African Legal Support Facility and member of the CAPAR Working Group, stressed the need and process of establishing a regional escrow account which is a key element of the CAPAR, adding that select institutions that can host Escrow accounts such as Africa’s continental and regional development Banks exist established for such a purpose. 

According to Karangizi, the benefits of enacting such accounts include increased credibility of the asset recovery process as well as the minimization of value erosion of the assets in question. 

Finally, Mr. Karangizi underlined that CAPAR and its ensuing proposed frameworks for implementation recommend innovative ways in which an escrow account or multiple escrow accounts could be established to preserve and grow assets of African origin kept outside the respective countries at great loss and to the detriment of development aspirations of African States.

Albany State University, a key partner in the organization of the workshop and the work of asset recovery was represented by Professor Roger-Claude Liwanga. He spoke on whistleblower protection as a necessary instrument for the implementation of CAPAR. He stressed that corruption was more attractive where the possibility of detection and investigation was minor and as such, it was imperative to encourage whistleblowers to make disclosures about the assets that were or are being illicitly removed from Africa.

He further noted the troubling reality faced by whistleblowers in many countries where enacted penal codes contain a broad definition of defamation, which exposes them to the high risk of criminal prosecutions. 

Emphasizing the need to address inconsistent whistleblower protection across the African continent, he stated that the African Union needed to adopt its own continental whistleblower protection policies which cater to the protection of whistleblowers who report violations, thus increasing the accountability of companies and preventing them from retaliating against whistleblowers among other policies.

Advocate Donald Deya spoke on the crucial role of civil society in the process of implementing the CAPAR. He highlighted that their role applied to both African and non-African civil societies given the need for all-inclusive action on the asset recovery agenda. 

He went on to emphasize the work of the civil society in driving action to the anti-IFFs agenda since the release of the HLP report and even before that. This has led to increased awareness at the policy-making level as well as changes in national, regional, and global laws which now support improved financial regulation in favor of developing nations. 

As part of its participation in the 20th IACC, the delegation of the CAPAR Working Group engaged non-African stakeholders in various sessions and as part of selected panels. These engagements were carried out to improve understanding of the CAPAR and consolidate support for its holistic implementation as well as Africa’s recovery agenda at the global level. 

It should be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and AU Champion on the African Anti-Corruption Year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (February 2019) had affirmed the need to develop a common African position on the recovery of African assets hosted in foreign jurisdictions. This recommendation was adopted by African Union Heads of Government in February 2020.

CAPAR aims to assist African Union Member States to identify, repatriate and effectively manage these assets in a manner that respects their sovereignty. It outlines Africa’s priorities for asset recovery in four pillars: detection and identification of illicitly removed assets; recovery and return of illicitly removed assets; management of recovered assets; and cooperation and partnerships to harmonize the process of identification and recovery.