AU Anti-Corruption, Nelson Mandela, and the New Diaspora Day: The Challenge of Poverty and Corruption

Cyril Ramaphosa

By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The month of July 2019 has been quite remarkable in terms of containment of poverty and corruption, particularly in Africa. On July 11, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) commemorated the African Union’s Anti-Corruption Day in compliance with the African Union Resolution AHG-Dec 126 (XXXIV). It was a day meant to call attention to the problems and implications of corruption, especially how they impede economic growth and development.

On July 18, the Nelson Mandela International Day was also observed by the United Nations Association of Nigeria (UNAN). The UNAN organised not only a community service, cleaning the Freedom Park in Lagos, but also a symposium on The Mandela Legacy and Commitment to Eradication of Poverty under Goal 1 of Agenda 2030. Emphasis was placed on how the Legacy of Nelson Mandela impacts on the eradication of poverty within the context of Goal 1 of Agenda 2030.

Again, on July 23rd, the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) decided that every July 25 would henceforth be observed as a National Diaspora Day to mark the various contributions of Nigerians in the Diaspora to national development. The Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation, the Directorate of Technical Cooperation in Africa and the Nigerians in Diaspora Alumni Network played host to the 2019 National Diaspora Day. The adoption of a National Diaspora Day, without doubt, is coming on the heels of the appointment of Honourable Abike Dabiri-Erewa as Chairperson and Chief Executive of the NIDCOM, meaning that the NIDCOM can now be expected to give more life to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the protection of national interests henceforth.

What is particularly noteworthy about the foregoing three cases of international and national days is the issue of and nexus among corruption, poverty and national development. Again, without jot of doubt, corruption breeds galloping poverty, poverty impedes development, lack of development generates insecurity, while insecurity threatens the maintenance of international peace and security. And perhaps more disturbingly, when the maintenance of international peace and security is made difficult, there is no way another scourge of World War can be prevented. It is in light of these recognitions that the international community has been adopting various days to be observed to commemorate some important international events with the ultimate objective of preventing another scourge of war.

Put differently, International Days, grosso modo, are special days set aside to be remembered by all Member States of the United Nations and its UN Special Agencies. In this regard, there is no month of the year that there is no celebration of an International Day. In January, for instance, there is the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust celebrated on the 27th in compliance with 34 C/Resolution 61 and A/RES/60/7. Every February 13 witnesses the World Radio Day. The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (14C/Resolution 11; A/RES/2142 XXI) is celebrated on March 21. April 30 is for International Jazz Day (36C/RES 39), while May 3 and 16 are for World Press Freedom Day and International Day of Living Together in Peace (UNESCO 26 C/Resolution 4.3 and A/RES/72/130). Again, while the World Environment Day is observed on June 5 (112 EX/15; A/RES/2994 (XXVII), July 26 is reserved for the International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem (38 C/66). August 23rd is for the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition (29 C/RES 40).

September 15 and 21 are for International Day of Democracy (A/RES/62) and International Day of Peace (A/RES/36/67; A/RES/55/282). And perhaps more interestingly October 24 (A/RES/168 (II); A/RES/2782(XXVI) is United Nations Day, November 10 (UNESCO 31 C/RES 20) is World Science Day for Peace and Development and December 10 is Human Rights Day (A/RES/423 (V).

All these days are quite significant in terms of their purposes. But the month of July is particularly of importance regarding the issues of poverty alleviation, corruption eradication, and commitment to global development. For instance, October 17 is reserved as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (A/RES/47/196). July 11 is not only the UN World Population Day (UNDP decision 89/4615, A/RES/45/216), but also the African Union’s Anti-Corruption Day. And also of relevance is the Nelson Mandela International Day commemorated on every July 18.

In the strong belief that there cannot be any meaningful development without peace or security and vice versa, the United Nations has set aside July 30 as International Day of friendship and August 29 as International Day against Nuclear Tests and September 5 as International Day of Charity. If we espy these days, it can be seen that the United Nations is seeking to maintain global peace and security by promoting international friendship, discouraging nuclearisation and promoting altruism or charity giving.

The goodness in the quest for global peace and security is not in doubt. What is in doubt is whether corruption can be eradicated and whether poverty can really be alleviated in light of Africa’s political recklessness on which governance is largely predicated. As noted above, at the last July 18 commemoration of Nelson Mandela Day, the United Nations Association of Nigeria organised a symposium on Mandela’s commitment to poverty eradication. Earlier on July11, it was the ICPC-organised lecture on the efforts of the African Union in the containment of corruption (vide Vie Internationale of, July 21, 2019).
Thus, all the UN international Days are remembered in one way or the other in Nigeria but with differences in emphasis. However, to what extent has the commemoration of the days enabled the attainment of the objectives of the days? Do the UN Member States believe in the days? If they do, to what extent have they shown evidential or concrete commitment to them? And perhaps more importantly, in which way can it be said that the observation of the UN International Days has been helpful to national development or reduced abject poverty or reduced the level of institutional corruption in Nigeria, in particular, and Africa, in general?

Mandela’s Legacy and Poverty Eradication

The “2019 Nelson Mandela Day and Symposium on the Mandela Legacy and Commitment to Eradication of Poverty under Goal 1 of Agenda 2030,” as theme of symposium, is quite interesting for two main reasons: type of legacy and commitment on the one hand, and complex intellectual challenges, on the other.

In terms of type of legacy, the type of legacy Nelson Mandela left behind and the type of poverty Nelson Mandela is committed to are necessarily raised. And true, legacy is a bequest or something left by will. It is about anything or a characteristic, derived from an ancestor. In this regard, Nelson Mandela was a man of many parts, hence, we really should be talking about Mandela’s legacies: lessons of endurance from his anti-apartheid struggle and his eventual imprisonment; lessons from his leadership style, especially in terms of not wanting to be a sit-tight president; lessons even from his marriage, commitment to African Unity and development, etc.

This distinction between type of legacy and poverty is necessary because Goal One of Agenda 2030 is that there should not be poverty, no room for poverty at all, regardless of its categorisation. The objective of ‘no poverty’ is a component of the overall objective of achieving sustainable development on the basis of its three dimensions: economic, social and environment. In this regard, there are talks about poverty, abject poverty, extreme poverty, etc. Poverty is essentially about the state of being poor and lacking means of subsistence, and by implication, a situation of need, the requirement of means of comfort.

As explained by the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which is the central UN platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Agenda 2030 ‘is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognise that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan.’

From this statement, prosperity for humanity is a need. Global peace is another type of need. It is useful to also note that Agenda 2030 talks about goals and targets at the same time. In this regard, the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development has it that there are 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets. What is a goal and what is a target, especially in the context of Nelson Mandela’s commitment to poverty eradication? Secondly, as regards the main intellectual challenges to be addressed in the topic, there are four of them: Nelson Mandela Day, Mandela Legacy, Mandela’s Commitment to Poverty Eradication, and Eradication of Poverty under Goal 1. These challenges are not only critical issues in international relations on their own right, but do also have intertwined implications for national development and poverty.

For instance, there is the need to differentiate between Nelson Mandela Day and Nelson Mandela International Day. Nelson Mandela Day has an implication limited to national and territorial sovereignty, while Nelson Mandela International Day has a multilateral and universal dimension. True, both days are meant to honour Nelson Mandela, but they are of different origin and design. The manifestations of the days were also different at the time of conception. It should be recalled that, on April 27, 2009 the Nelson Mandela Foundation, in collaboration with the 46664 Concerts, came up with the idea of the need for an official Mandela Day and, for the purpose, did invite the international community to so consider.

It was in reaction to the call and in recognition of the person of Nelson Mandela, that discussions on the need to really have a special international day in Mandela’s honour began. And true enough, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), in its Resolution 72/243, adopted on 22 December 2017, decided to convene a high-level plenary meeting, called Nelson Mandela Peace summit. The Summit focused on global peace and was held in honour of the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela. This suggests that we can rightly talk about a legacy of peace, a legacy of commitment to global peace to be celebrated in the post-Mandela era.

Perhaps more interestingly, there is another point of difference between the national and the international day, which is that Mandela Day was not and is still not conceived to be a public holiday, but simply conceived to honour and remember the legacy of Nelson Mandela at the national level. At the international level, it is conceived to remember his belief in the need for an Africa completely free from economic chicanery and poverty, as well as his commitment to global security and peaceful coexistence. His spirit of forgiveness is an important legacy and should also remain noteworthy in political governance. This brings us to the explication of the extent of commitment of Mandela to the eradication of poverty, not simply in terms of general poverty, but also within the framework of Goal 1 of Agenda 2030.

And true, Goal 1 of Agenda 2030 is not couched in ambiguous words. It simply provides that there should be ‘no poverty.’ What is it that had been done to advance the efforts at eradication of poverty? To what extent have such concrete efforts mitigated poverty in Africa and elsewhere? And perhaps more importantly, why is it that poverty has remained recidivist in spite of Mandela’s legacy and his commitment, in global politics, and especially in Africa? What type of agenda has the United Nations Association of Nigeria in combating poverty in Nigeria? Many people have observed that poverty exists because of unemployment. Is unemployment the main dynamic of poverty?

Unbelievable but True

Nelson Mandela is a very disciplined man with a large heart of objectivity of purpose, forgiveness, pacifism, altruism, and self-contentment. These factors made him to forget and forgive the inhuman treatment meted out to him during the anti-apartheid struggle, and particularly during his 27 years of incarceration, as well as seek to promote better intra- and inter-African understanding, global peace and security.

Most unfortunately, however, Nelson Mandela not only did his best as an individual, his best does not appear to have been much appreciated by the larger African society he left behind for two main reasons: his conception of poverty has an economic character, while the real problem of poverty in many parts of Africa is that of the mind. It is the poverty of vision, poverty of ideas that constitutes the pillar on which political governance is based. And true enough, Africa has become a terra cognita for increasing fraudulent activities, inhumanities, and policies of under-development.

The second reason is that the African leaders Mandela left behind do not always promote democracy but sit-tight type of political governance. Political governance in the post-Mandela era, consciously or otherwise, has prompted disunity of African people. One main example is the very case of the successors of Nelson Mandela and the question of xenophobic attacks, particularly on Nigerians in South Africa. The most recent case is that of Tayo Faniyan just last week. Xenophobic attacks in South Africa have been dividing the people of Africa. If Mandela were to be alive today as President of South Africa, would there have been anything like xenophobia in South Africa?

Consequently, if the legacy of Mandela is to have impact in whatever ramification
we may want to think of, there is the need to address the challenge of poverty of good ideas, extra-African driven or dependentist development policies, and dishonesty-driven political governance in Africa. These are values to which there has to be commitment of every follower of Nelson Mandela, and particularly in this case, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and other institutions named after him: Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MIND), Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology, Nelson Mandela University Arusha, etc;

The truth, without any shadow of doubt, is that poverty is corruption-driven in Africa. Besides, corruption also has a biblical foundation. As provided in Genesis 6:12, ‘And God looked upon the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth.’ Moses said in Deuteronomy 31:29 thus: ‘for I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I commanded you; and evil will befall you in latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands.’ And perhaps more notably, 2 Peter 2:19 has it that ‘while they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage.’ In which way is the problem of corruption and poverty in our land not a reflection of these biblical provisions?

There cannot be an easy way to bring an end to the problem of poverty without, first
of all, bringing corruption to an end. Corruption is a resultant from dishonest thoughts, human wickedness, criminal activities and other unacceptable mania of life. If there is to be ‘no poverty’ as required by Goal 1 of Agenda 2030, the approach cannot be to begin to address it from macro-economic policies in essence, but a priori from a change of mindset. The problem is how to change the attitudinal mind set. Our celebration of July 18 in honour of Nelson Mandela should therefore go beyond the traditional method of celebration to including how to preach the gospel of self-contentment, peaceful coexistence, Godliness and forgiveness, all of which were characteristic of Nelson Mandela’s integrity. Mandela strongly believes in educational development as an instrument of empowerment but this belief is necessarily a resultant from his mindset.

Above all, unless the whole people of Africa contest the predication of the conduct
and management of development challenges on corruption-driven political governance, there is no way poverty will not continue to thrive. It is good enough that South Africa has taken part in the making of a new Africa, especially in terms of the African Renaissance agenda proposed by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki. However, this column strongly believes that the attainment of the objective of a poverty-free Africa, in particular, and a poverty-free world, in general, within the framework of Goal 1 of Agenda 2030, is largely dependent on the extent to which corruption is effectively nipped in the bud. Put differently, corruption militates against development efforts. Lack of development breeds disaffection, anti-national sentiments, setbacks, and poverty.

Thus, Africa should stop talking about poverty in terms of economic needs. Emphasis should, first of all, be on promotion of culture of good governance that is largely based on honesty of purpose and corruption-free society. The truth of the matter, however, is simply that when elections that often enable the emergence of political leaders are not only held but also rigged, the foundation for dishonesty and poverty is already laid. This also means that the subsequent quest for educational development, peace and security cannot but be largely also predicated on dishonesty. Even if it is difficult to have a hundred per cent honest society, there must still be unconditional enforcement of the rule of law at all times to serve as a deterrence to would-be agents of corruption.

In the words of Mandela, ‘like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.’ This is simply to buttress the point of bad governance as a source of poverty, that human beings are in charge of political governance, and therefore, also responsible for the problems created there from.

Nelson Mandela also has it that ‘overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice, it is the protection of fundamental human rights, the rights to dignity and a descent life.’ Again, this statement underscores the point of good governance in which emphasis is placed on the importance of human life and, particularly, on the protection of fundamental human rights.’

And perhaps more interestingly, Nelson Mandela strongly believes that ‘while poverty persists, there is no true freedom.’ This statement is particularly of interest, especially from the perspective that there can never be freedom in its true sense for as long as poverty continues to thrive. He argued further that education is the only and most powerful weapon to change the world. In this regard, and particularly in the context of Goal 1 of Agenda 2030, the need for education is another way of asking for public enlightenment on why poverty should be combated by whoever is seeking poverty eradication.

In light of the foregoing, one main challenge for the newly established Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, and particularly the National Diaspora Day, is not simply how to make the Nigerians in Diaspora contribute to nation-building, but also usefully how to engage them in bringing about a corruption-free society, a society that will be free from toga of irrationalities and politico-economic chicanery. Without a corruption-free society, the contributions of the Nigerians in Diaspora cannot but be corrupted and become new instruments of underdevelopment. This should not be.