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Corruption has serious effects on development, human rights, peace and security. But too often it is viewed as a bureaucratic crime and its real-life impact on people is still overlooked and underestimated.  

International processes have the power to change this. The 2024 Summit of the Future in September can be a “roadmap to getting things right” – but so far, the agenda includes very little about corruption. On the margins of the UN Civil Society Conference in Nairobi in May, our webinar aimed to put it on the map.  

In this blog, Emily Wegener, our Evidence and Advocacy Officer, summarises the key takeaways from the webinar.  

Betrayed by the Guardians: The Human Toll of Corruption in Defence and Security from Transparency International UK on Vimeo.


When we think about corruption, our first thought is often about the culprits: politicians stealing large amounts of public money, businesspeople bribing officials to get their way, officials handing out contracts to friends or family. Public discussions as well as policy solutions often centre around political ramifications and changes to technical processes.  

As a result, we often think of corruption as a purely bureaucratic crime. The human suffering that it inflicts on populations across the world every day remains silent. To give it a voice, Transparency International Defence & Security published its latest briefing, Betrayed by the Guardians: The Human Toll of Corruption in Defence and Security. Sharing five personal experiences of corruption in defence and security from around the globe, drawn from first-hand conversations with those willing to give  testomony, and from investigations conducted by media and international organisations, it sheds light on the dramatic and direct effects on peace, security, and stability caused by corruption in the notoriously secretive and closed off defence and security sector. 

The panellists at our launch event on May 8 gave testimony to what happens when the very institutions responsible for the protection of civilians fail to fulfil their mandate, act with impunity, and break public trust. Here is what they said:  

  • Peggy Chukwuemeka, Executive Director of the Parent-Child Intervention in Nigeria, shared how her home region in Southeast Nigeria went from being one of the most peaceful parts of the country to one of the most unsafe. She told how violence by non-state armed groups led to the deployment of state security forces to the region. Random and unjustified checks on civilians, which seemed more like a demonstration of power, and extortion of bribes by security forces occurred frequently. But those affected were often scared to speak up or lacked safe reporting mechanisms. Peggy explained how the violence also had gendered dimensions, due to lack of female security personnel to make women in the communities feel safer, and higher vulnerability of female community members to violence and extortion.
  • Sayed Ikram Afzali, Chief Executive Officer of Integrity Watch, Transparency International’s Chapter in Afghanistan, shared his experiences from participating in the country’s National Procurement Commission. He heard reports that the soldiers were receiving much less food than they were supposed due to ongoing corruption in the military’s procurement system. The president of the commission ordered  a committee to be formed to investigate this claim, but even the formation of this committee, or any other kind of independent oversight of the security sector, was blocked by corrupt political networks. Surveys by Integrity Watch showed how examples like this inflicted high and ever-increasing bribe payments on an already impoverished population. Ultimately, pervasive and little-addressed corruption in the Afghan National Security Forces enabled the complete breakdown of their ability to function, which made the rapid Taliban takeover in 2021 possible.
  • Jacob Tetteh Ahuno, Programmes Officer at Ghana Integrity Initiative, Transparency International’s chapter in Ghana, shared how citizens in the border regions observed vehicles carrying goods in and out of the country via unapproved routes. Bribery of security guards stationed along these roads is one of the reasons why some of these vehicles were able to smuggle weapons into the country, which are then used by non-state armed groups to terrorise local communities. 
  • Najla Dowson-Zeidan, our former Advocacy and Engagement Manager and lead author of Betrayed by the Guardians, explained how, while writing the briefing, she found the common theme in the stories to be those with power abusing their power at the expense of vulnerable people, for their own profit. The title of the publication reflected how we rely on defence and security forces to protect our lives and security, so when corruption occurs in these sectors leading to people’s lives becoming endangered and unsafe, these forces have betrayed their mandate.  

What these stories show us is that the consequences of corruption go far beyond the economic and the political. It is a social issue, a development issue, and a human rights issue. But what can be done to improve the situation? And how can upcoming ‘big moments’ at the international level, such as the Summit of the Future and its key outcome, the Pact for the Future, be a pathway to much-needed systemic change?  

The speakers and audience at our webinar made several suggestions for what UN Member States can do this September at the Summit of the Future to accelerate systemic change:  

  • Acknowledge the devastating impact that corruption, as a root cause and consequence of conflict, has on human lives and livelihoods, and the pressing need to holistically address it across all sectors. 
  • Include clear commitments on addressing corruption in the Pact for the Future that include clear targets and objectives, and resourcing to achieve this. 
  • Learn from cases like Afghanistan by acknowledging corruption as a national security priority, especially in fragile contexts, and responding to it through a whole-of-society approach with a strong and supported civil society. 
  • Bridge the gaps between different policy communities so that corruption is no longer seen as separate from development, peace and security, and these communities come closer together to work on tackling these issues. 
  • Increase the transparency of defence budgets and allow for more independent oversight to enable civil society and the media to tackle corruption and increase accountability for human rights abuses of defence and security forces. 

The stories shared in our briefing and during the webinar paint a clear picture of the devastation and suffering caused by corruption. The time for change is now: The Summit of the Future offers a once-in-a-decade opportunity to bring forward innovative, ambitious and impactful systemic change to end corruption. Tackling it is a core part of our journey to sustainable peace and development. Our future is safer without corruption – let’s make a Pact that saves lives.

May 7, 2024 – A new briefing from Transparency International Defence & Security (TI-DS) sheds light on the profound personal and societal impacts of corruption within the defence & security sectors and tells the often-overlooked stories of those who have suffered as a direct consequence. 

Betrayed by the Guardians demonstrates how institutional weaknesses, gaps in oversight, systematic abuses of power, and lack of accountability within defence institutions have a disastrous impact on people’s lives. 

Read the report 

As well as shedding light on the human impact, TI-DS makes the case for some of the key systemic steps needed to address the risk of corruption in these sectors. 

The briefing features a series of compelling personal stories from around the globe, including: 

  • Amid the chaos and destruction of civil war in Sudan, exacerbated by corrupt arms trading despite international embargoes, Mazin’s life was shattered. His brother was hospitalised after a violent robbery by unaccountable military personnel, and his family’s business was destroyed. 
  • In Myanmar, 160 civilians, including 40 children, were killed when a village was bombed by the military junta. The weapons used in the airstrike were produced from raw materials and equipment supplied from private companies operating out of Singapore, despite sanctions and arms embargoes on Myanmar.  
  • Shoja witnessed the pervasive corruption within the security sector in Afghanistan. He recounts how wounded soldiers faced amputation unless they could afford to bribe military doctors or leverage connections for better treatment. 


Sara Bandali, Director of International Engagement at Transparency International UK, said:  

“This briefing not only highlights the devastating human consequences of corruption in the defence and security sectors – it also serves as an urgent call to action.  

“The stories presented here reveal a collapse in the accountability mechanisms that are supposed to prevent the misuse of power, especially in the sector that is supposed to protect us. When these safeguards fail, a pervasive culture of impunity takes hold, disproportionately harming those with the least power. 

“By implementing robust frameworks of institutional integrity and accountability, governments worldwide can mitigate these impacts and safeguard security and human rights for all.” 


Ara Marcen Naval, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International Defence & Security, said: 

“Too often, I witness corruption being brushed off as a bureaucratic offense, with the focus on the culprits, the loopholes that let them off the hook, and the heavy economic and political toll it takes.  

“But what about the people whose lives are shattered by corruption? Especially within defence & security institutions – the very ones tasked with safeguarding us – the stakes couldn’t be higher.  

“I’ve seen first-hand how corruption betrays the trust placed in our guardians. It’s not just a crime; it’s a blatant injustice, a roadblock to development, and a flagrant violation of human rights.” 


As the international community prepares for the Summit for the Future in September 2024, TI-DS reminds that corruption is not victimless. To address corruption in the defence & security sectors, we call on governments to: 

  1. Strengthen anti-corruption measures in defence

Reinforce governance of the defence sector with integrity measures by strengthening anti-corruption laws, regulations, and codes of conduct. Transparency International Defence & Security’s Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) provides further guidance on good practice for defence sector resilience against corruption. 

  1. Increase transparency in defence decision-making

Open up the secretive world of defence policymaking, budgets, and spending, ensuring they are accountable and bringing corruption risks and misconduct to light. 

  1. Mobilise agents of change

Encourage the active participation of civil society, international organisations and media as agents of transformation, working hand in hand to drive out corruption in defence and security. 

  1. Protect whistleblowers

Enact robust whistleblower protection systems that encourage and shield those willing to stand up and speak the truth. 

  1. Promote global anti-corruption efforts

Join international sanctions and agreements, including the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), and resist ‘defence exceptionalism’ – the idea that the defence & security sectors are exempt from normal transparency and accountability processes – in these frameworks. 



Join us at 3pm BST tomorrow (May 8) for our webinar ahead of the UN Civil Society Conference in Nairobi. The event will feature a discussion by anti-corruption champions and peacebuilders from around the world on how the upcoming UN Summit of the Future and its accompanying Pact of the Future can be a pathway to much-needed systemic change on how we view and address corruption in defence & security.

In this briefing, we showcase the experiences of people whose lives have been torn apart by corruption within the defence and security sector. Their stories are gathered from across the world, drawn from first-hand conversations with those willing to give testament, and from investigations conducted by media and international organisations. 

These stories demonstrate how institutional weaknesses, gaps in oversight, systematic abuses of power, and lack of accountability within defence and security institutions have a disastrous impact on people’s lives. We make the case for some of the key systemic steps needed to address the risk of corruption in these sectors. 

February 15, 2024 – As African leaders gather in Addis Ababa for the 2024 African Union (AU) Summit, the urgent agenda of addressing peace and security takes centre stage.

While ensuring the safety of citizens remains the primary obligation of governments, many African countries grapple with persistent conflicts and an alarming recurrence of coups. Internal conflicts, often fuelled by the illicit arms trade and the unlawful exploitation of natural resources, has threatened the stability of several countries on the continent.

Corruption has served as a catalyst for conflicts in Burkina Faso, Sudan, Mali, Nigeria and the Central African Republic, which has poured fuel on the flames of grievances against political leaders and incited violent upheavals.

By eroding public trust and undermining the effectiveness of defence and security institutions, corruption has eroded the rule of law and perpetuated instability. This has led to diminished access to essential services for many and fostered environments conducive to human rights abuses. There is a pressing need to recognise corruption as a security threat in itself and prioritise anti-corruption efforts within security sector reform and governance (SSR/G).

It is imperative that AU members unite in addressing corruption within defence and security sectors as a crucial step toward achieving conflict resolution, peace, stability, and security goals.

Transparency International Defence & Security calls on states to:

  • Recognise corruption in defence as a security threat: Governments must acknowledge the threat of corruption to national security and allocate resources accordingly.
  • Empower civilian oversight: Governments should encourage active citizen participation in oversight to enhance transparency and accountability.
  • Integrate anti-corruption in peace efforts and SSR: Embed anti-corruption measures into conflict resolution, peacebuilding and security sector reform agendas for more resilient societies.

Peace and stability in Africa and around the world cannot be safeguarded without making the efforts to address the insidious threat of corruption proportionate to the threat which it represents.

January 18, 2024 – Transparency International Defence & Security welcomes the seizure of $8.9million that was siphoned off by corrupt Nigerian officials from funds meant to be used to equip the country’s military in its fight against Boko Haram.

The Royal Court in Jersey, a British Crown Dependency, last week ruled that the funds were illicitly obtained by Nigerian officials in 2014.

Instead of being used for legitimate purchases of military equipment, the funds were moved out of Nigeria to a bank account in Jersey. The true source of the funds was obscured using foreign bank accounts and shell companies but the money ultimately benefited family members of Nigeria’s former ruling party.

Nigeria received an ‘E’ in Transparency International Defence & Security’s Government Defence Integrity Index, indicating a very high risk of corruption. Our assessment from 2018/19 showed Nigeria still faces considerable corruption risk across its defence institutions, with extremely limited controls in operations and procurement.


Josie Stewart, Head of Transparency International Defence & Security, said:

“We welcome the Royal Court’s decision to seize these misappropriated funds and begin the process of returning them to the people of Nigeria. This money, rather than supporting the security forces fighting Boko Haram, was diverted to enrich the country’s ruling class.

“This case underscores the pervasive risks of corruption in the defence sector, where the secrecy and complexity inherent in international arms deals, coupled with the large amounts of money at stake, create an environment ripe for abuse of office.

“It is incumbent on the Jersey authorities to return these funds openly and accountably to avoid them being stolen again. The successful return of these assets to the people of Nigeria will not only serve justice but also highlight the critical need for greater transparency in the global arms trade.”


Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director of CISLAC/Transparency International Nigeria, added:

“While we wholeheartedly welcome the decision, we are hopeful that when repatriated, the funds will be judiciously utilised in improving the living standards of common Nigerians.

“We find it disturbing that money, rather than supporting the security forces fighting Boko Haram, was diverted to enrich the country’s ruling class.

“We on this note call on Nigerian Government to strengthen the procurement process in the defence and security sector through enhanced transparency and accountability, regular review as well as independent auditing.

“We also call on relevant legislative Committees in the National Assembly and Civil Society to galvanise external oversight of the Defence and Security through regular tracking and scrutiny of budgetary allocation, appropriation, implementation and procurement activities.”

L’impact corrosif de l’abus de pouvoir sur les perspectives de paix et de justice en Afrique de l’Ouest a été illustré lors de notre dernier événement organisé à Peace Con ’23. Les intervenants de la région ont déploré une “célébration” de la corruption dans des pays où des millions de dollars destinés à la lutte contre le terrorisme ont disparu, tandis que des soldats ont perdu la vie en raison d’un manque d’équipement. Nos responsables du plaidoyer Ara Marcen Naval et Najla Dowson-Zeidan font le point sur les idées et les recommandations formulées par leurs collègues du Sahel.

Le Cadre : un moment charnière où le monde se trouve à mi-parcours des objectifs de développement durable (ODD) et entame des discussions sur le nouvel agenda pour la paix des Nations Unies. Il s’agit d’un moment crucial pour faire la lumière sur la corruption en tant que catalyseur menaçant de conflit, entravant la paix et le développement durable.

Dans ce contexte, Transparency International Défense et Sécurité a réuni au début du mois un panel composé d’intervenants basés au Burkina Faso, au Niger et au Nigeria, foyers de conflits en Afrique de l’Ouest, à l’occasion d’un événement organisé par l’Alliance pour la paix dans le cadre de la conférence sur la paix 2023. Notre session était intitulée “S’attaquer à la corruption pour la paix : Les approches anti-corruption pour lutter contre la fragilité et l’insécurité”. L’objectif ? Souligner le rôle indispensable de la lutte contre la corruption dans la réalisation de la vision de paix, de justice et d’institutions fortes de l’ODD 16 et écouter la voix de celles et ceux qui ont consacré des années à la redevabilité de leurs secteurs de sécurité, à amplifier leur efficacité et à leur donner les moyens de faire face aux conflits et à l’insécurité et de protéger la vie des civils.

Le panel a appelé à ce que la lutte contre la corruption devienne une priorité absolue, comme le prévoit l’objectif de développement durable n° 16. Il est temps qu’un mouvement mondial œuvre à la redevabilité des gouvernements, ouvrant la voie vers un avenir où la corruption est démantelée, où la justice prévaut et où le développement durable prospère pour tous.

Témoignages de première ligne

Nous avons entendu des récits provenant de trois pays : Nigeria, Niger et Burkina Faso.

Nigeria – la corruption est célébrée

Bertha Eloho Ogbimi, représentant le Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) au Nigeria, a illustré la manière dont la corruption effrontée a entravé les progrès dans la résolution de l’insécurité et de l’insurrection dans le pays au cours des dernières années. Le conflit a ravagé la nation, alimenté par la corruption qui siphonne les fonds, affaiblit les forces de sécurité et empêche une résolution efficace.

La corruption au Nigeria a rendu la population vulnérable et les voies de la paix non résolues. Bertha a brossé un tableau saisissant de la situation, en décrivant les différents domaines de risque mis en évidence dans l’évaluation de l’indice d’intégrité de la défense gouvernementale (GDI) du Nigeria. Des exemples ont été présentés, tels que le détournement d’argent des budgets publics, comme dans le cas de la saga du Dasukigate, où jusqu’à 2 millions de dollars auraient été détournés d’un budget consacré à des acquisitions d’armes.

Ce scandale a laissé les forces de sécurité et de défense en manque de ressources pour faire face aux multiples menaces, tandis que les rôles clés étaient attribués sur la base du népotisme plutôt que de l’aptitude.

Plus alarmant encore, Bertha a décrit comment des membres du personnel militaire ont eu recours à des ventes d’armes destinées à lutter contre l’insurrection pour compléter leurs revenus. Bertha a fait référence à des enquêtes qui “ont prouvé sans l’ombre d’un doute que l’une des principales raisons pour lesquelles cette insécurité n’est pas encore traitée de manière holistique est le fait que certaines personnes profitent financièrement des retombées de l’insécurité”.

La responsable de programme de la CISLAC a ensuite parlé des agences de sécurité qui ont pris le contrôle de petites entreprises appartenant à des citoyens, les soumettant à un chantage pour payer une protection financière sous la menace d’être accusées d’être impliquées dans des activités terroristes.

Elle a souligné l’impunité qui règne dans le secteur. Même les affaires de corruption qui, dans un premier temps, parviennent devant les tribunaux et attirent l’attention des médias s’essoufflent après un certain temps et semblent ne pas donner lieu à des poursuites. Bertha a dépeint une sombre réalité en déclarant : “Au Nigeria, la corruption est célébrée… les gens sont promus pour récompenser leur corruption. Il ne devrait pas en être ainsi et cela ne peut pas être la norme”.

CISLAC a milité sans relâche pour la lutte contre la corruption dans le secteur de la défense, en s’engageant activement auprès des institutions de défense nigérianes.  Cependant, l’organisation a constaté des obstacles à un engagement plus large de la société civile sur ces questions, ce qui compromet la mission de démanteler l’impunité et d’assurer la redevabilité du secteur. Bertha a souligné le besoin urgent de renforcer la société civile, en encourageant sa participation informée. Il s’agit là d’un effort permanent poursuivi par la CISLAC en collaboration avec des partenaires dans l’ensemble du pays.

Niger – traduire des défis en recommandations

Shérif Issoufou Souley a représenté l’Association Nigérienne de Lutte Contre La Corruption (ANLC). Il a décrit l’inaccessibilité de la défense et de la sécurité du Niger aux yeux des communautés et de la société civile.

Opaques et donc non scrutés, il a décrit comment ces secteurs héritent de pratiques anciennes de secret et de répression établies à l’époque coloniale. Shérif a mis en lumière ” le manque de redevabilité, l’opacité et le manque de communication avec les civils de ce secteur “.

Ajouté au contrôle limité découlant du secret défense, cet environnement est devenu un terrain propice à la corruption et à la mauvaise gouvernance. Shérif a mis en évidence les domaines critiques où la corruption s’est infiltrée.

L’opacité due à l’utilisation abusive du secret défense est un obstacle même pour les organes de contrôle au sein des départements d’audit et législatifs, y compris la commission de la défense et de la sécurité du parlement. Un récent audit indépendant mandaté par le ministère nigérien de la défense a révélé que des dizaines de milliards de francs CFA (dizaines de millions de dollars américains) ont été attribués au budget des marchés publics du ministère de la défense, sans que l’on sache ce qu’il est advenu de cet argent, ce qui a des conséquences évidentes sur les ressources dont disposent les forces armées.

En réponse aux scandales de corruption alarmants dans le secteur, l’ANLC a mené un plaidoyer pour l’adoption de textes législatifs garantissant la transparence et la redevabilité à travers des mesures de lutte contre la corruption dans ce secteur. Cet avant-projet de loi est maintenant approprié par des parlementaires au Niger. ANLC a par ailleurs travaillé à la mobilisation de la société civile, en organisant des débats publics sur la sécurité et la corruption et en réunissant des comités de civils et d’acteurs de la sécurité. L’objectif était de “promouvoir la bonne gouvernance et de s’attaquer à la corruption… afin que l’armée et la société civile puissent travailler main dans la main pour résoudre ces problèmes”.

Le dialogue civilo-militaire établi par l’ANLC a débouché sur un forum national pour la paix et la sécurité, regroupant des acteurs de tous les secteurs et de toutes les régions du Niger. Les défis ont été traduits en recommandations qui ont été présentées au président de la République du Niger, Mohamed Bazoum. ANLC a expliqué que la méfiance entre les civils et les forces de sécurité dans les régions frontalières nuit à la sécurité. Les forces de sécurité doivent établir de meilleures relations avec les populations locales.

Burkina Faso – pris en otage par la corruption

Enfin, apportant une perspective claire du Burkina Faso, Sadou Sidibe, conseiller principal du DCAF en matière de réforme du secteur de la sécurité (RSS), a révélé l’impact périlleux de la corruption sur les efforts de RSS. “La corruption est le carburant de l’insécurité”, a-t-il dit, rappelant à tout le monde l’impact profond qu’elle a sur la sécurité humaine. “Aujourd’hui [au Burkina Faso], la corruption est devenue systématique… la sécurité et le développement sont pris en otage par ce problème.

Les jeunes officiers militaires qui ont mené le coup d’État de 2020 ont justifié leur prise de pouvoir en soulignant la corruption qui régnait dans le secteur de la défense, où une grande partie du budget alloué aux programmes d’acquisition avait été détournée par des fonctionnaires corrompus.

La justification de la junte pour le second coup d’État, en 2022, s’est également appuyée sur des allégations de corruption – cette fois-ci affirmant qu’une grande partie des dépenses destinées à la lutte contre le terrorisme avait été détournée par leurs prédécesseurs.

Par conséquent, la corruption est dorénavant au cœur du débat au Burkina Faso, et Sadou a décrit comment la corruption est devenue endémique à différents postes, que ce soit dans la chaîne de la commande publique, la gestion du budget et même dans certains cas avec les bailleurs de fonds.

Pour aborder ces questions, le DCAF en partenariat avec l’autorité supérieure de contrôle d’Etat et de lutte contre la corruption (ASCE-LC) a organisé des ateliers régionaux avec les principaux organes de contrôle du Mali, du Niger et du Burkina Faso, ainsi qu’avec la société civile, afin de discuter et de convenir des meilleures pratiques en matière de gestion des ressources dans la gouvernance du secteur de la défense.

Sadou a mis l’accent sur les domaines clés dans lesquels la réforme institutionnelle peut jouer un rôle dans l’élimination du potentiel de corruption : le renforcement de l’autonomie des fonctions d’audit et la réglementation du secret défense afin de permettre une veille et un contrôle externes.

Il y a eu des avancées positives ces dernières années, comme l’exemple de RENLAC, une coalition d’organisations de la société civile burkinabè de lutte anticorruption qui a réussi à engager un procès et à faire déférer un ministre de la Défense pour corruption en 2018. Mais M. Sadou a souligné l’importance pour le rôle important que doit jouer le système judiciaire en donnant suite aux affaires de corruption afin de montrer qu’il n’y a pas d’impunité. Alors que les budgets de défense dans la région ont explosé au cours des cinq dernières années, notre dernier intervenant a souligné l’importance de mécanismes de contrôle efficaces pour réduire la menace de la corruption dans le secteur.

En outre, pour garantir un développement pacifique et durable avec la sécurité humaine au cœur, il est primordial que la corruption reste au premier plan des conversations nationales, régionales et mondiales.

Comme l’a bien résumé Martijn Beerthuizen, président de notre panel et coordinateur politique au ministère des affaires étrangères des Pays-Bas, “la corruption remet en cause la confiance dans le secteur de la sécurité et s’attaquer à la corruption en tant que problème nous aidera à garantir des sociétés pacifiques”.

Le message retentissant du panel était clair : Nous devons aller de l’avant avec une détermination inébranlable, unis dans notre mission de démanteler l’emprise de la corruption, de faire respecter la justice et d’ouvrir la voie à des sociétés harmonieuses et sûres.

Relevant Links

The corrosive impact of abuse of power on prospects for peace and justice in West Africa was illustrated at our latest event staged at Peace Con ‘23. Campaigners from the region lamented a “celebration” of corruption in countries where millions of dollars earmarked for fighting terror have gone missing, while soldiers have lost their lives amid a lack of equipment. Our Advocacy leads Ara Marcen Naval and Najla Dowson-Zeidan round-up insights and recommendations shared by colleagues in the Sahel.

The Setting: a pivotal moment in time, where the world stands at the midpoint of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and embarks on discussions about the UN’s New Agenda for Peace. It is a critical moment to shed light on corruption as catalyst for conflict, hindering peace and sustainable development.

Against this background, Transparency International Defence and Security convened a panel of speakers from West African conflict hotspots Burkina Faso, Niger and Nigeria earlier this month for an event at the Alliance for Peace’s 2023 Peace Con . Our session was entitled “Tackling Corruption for Peace: Anti-Corruption Approaches to Address Fragility and Insecurity”. The aim? To underscore the indispensable role of combatting corruption in achieving SDG 16’s vision of peace, justice and strong institutions and to hear the voice of those who have dedicated years to holding their security sectors accountable, so that they can effectively confront conflict, insecurity and safeguard civilian lives.

The panel demanded that fighting corruption becomes a top priority, as enshrined in SDG 16. It’s time for a global movement to hold governments accountable, paving the way for a future where corruption is dismantled, justice prevails, and sustainable development thrives for all.

Testimonies from the frontline

We heard stories from three countries: Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Nigeria – corruption is celebrated

Bertha Eloho Ogbimi, representing the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) in Nigeria, illustrated how brazen corruption has obstructed progress in resolving the country’s insecurity and insurgency in recent years. Conflict has ravaged the nation, fuelled by corruption that siphons funds, weakens security forces and hinders effective resolution.

Corruption in Nigeria has left the population vulnerable and routes to peace unresolved. Bertha painted a vivid picture, outlining various risk areas exposed in Nigeria’s Government Defence Integrity index (GDI) assessment. Examples were shared of money being drained from public budgets, as in the case of the Dasukigate saga, where up to $2 million was reportedly embezzled from an arms procurement budget. This scandal left the security and defence forces under-resourced to face down multiple threats, while key roles were awarded based on nepotism rather than suitability.

Even more alarming, Bertha described how military personnel resorted to supplementing their income through weapon sales meant to combat insurgency. Bertha referred to investigations that ‘have proven beyond doubt that one of the major reasons why this insecurity is yet to be holistically addressed is because of the fact that some persons are benefitting financially from proceeds of insecurity’.

CISLAC’s senior programme officer talked about security agencies taking over small businesses belonging to citizens, blackmailing them into paying protection money to prevent accusations of      being engaged in terrorist activities.

She emphasised the impunity in the sector. Even cases of corruption that initially reach the courts and the attention of the media die down after a while and seem to not proceed. Bertha painted a grim reality, saying: “In Nigeria, corruption is celebrated … people are promoted to award corruption. This ought not to be so and cannot be the norm.”

CISLAC has relentlessly championed the fight against defence sector corruption, actively engaging with Nigerian defence institutions. However, they have seen barriers to wider civil society engagement in these issues, undermining the mission to dismantle impunity and ensure accountability of the sector. Bertha stressed the urgent need to empower civil society, fostering their informed participation. This is an ongoing endeavour pursued by CISLAC in collaboration with partners across the nation.

Niger – translating challenges into recommendations

Shérif Issoufou Souley represented the Association Nigérienne de Lutte Contre La Corruption (ANLC). He described the inaccessibility of Niger’s defence and security in the eyes of communities and civil society.

Hidden from view and therefore unscrutinised, he described a legacy of long-standing practices established during colonial times of secrecy and repression. Shérif shed light on “this sector’s unaccountability, opaqueness and lack of communication with civilians”.

Compounded by limited oversight stemming from defence secrecy, this environment has become a breeding ground for corruption and misgovernance. Shérif highlighted critical areas where corruption has seeped in.

Opacity driven by the abusive use of defence secrecy is an obstacle even to oversight bodies within audit and legislative departments, including parliament’s defence and security committee. A recent independent audit commissioned for Niger’s ministry of defence revealed that tens of billions of CFA Francs (tens of millions of US dollars) have been attributed in the MoD’s public procurement budget, but with no sign of what happened to the money, with clear implications for the resources available to the armed forces.

In response to alarming corruption scandals in the sector, ANLC has advocated for legislation for transparency and accountability in the sector, through anti-corruption measures. This draft law is now supported by a group of parliamentarians in Niger. ANLC has also been working on mobilising civil society, organising public debates on security and corruption and bringing together committees of civilians and security actors. The goal has been “to promote good governance and tackle corruption… so that military and civil society can work hand-in-hand to address these issues”.

The civil-military dialogue established by ANLC led to a national peace and security forum, grouping actors across sectors and geographies within Niger. Challenges were translated to recommendations which were presented to the President of the Republic of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum. Distrust between civilians and security forces in border regions undermines security, he was told. Security forces need to build better relations with local populations.

Burkina Faso – held hostage by corruption

Finally, bringing a vivid perspective from Burkina Faso, DCAF’s senior Security Sector Reform (SSR) advisor Sadou Sidibe revealed the perilous impact of corruption on SSR efforts. “Corruption is the fuel for insecurity”,  he said, reminding everyone of the profound impact it has on human security. “[In Burkina Faso] today … corruption has become systematic… security and development are taken hostage by this problem.”

The young military officers who led the 2020 coup justified their seize of power by pointing to the corruption prevalent in the defence sector, where a lot of budget allocated for procurement programmes had been diverted by corrupt officials. The junta’s justification for the second coup, in 2022, also hinged on claims of corruption – this time that a lot of anti-terrorism expenses had been diverted by their predecessors.

Consequently, corruption  is now centre-stage as an issue for debate in Burkina Faso, and Sadou described how corruption has become endemic in various positions, whether in the command chain, budget management and even in some cases with funders.

To address these issues, DCAF, in partnership with the the High Authority for State Audit and the Fight against Corruption (ASCE-LC),  has organised regional workshops with the key oversight bodies in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso – together with civil society – to discuss and agree on best practice      in resource management in defence sector governance.

Sadou pointed to key areas where institutional reform can play a role in rooting out the potential for corruption: strengthening the autonomy of audit functions and regulating defence secrecy to enable      external oversight and scrutiny.  There have been positive developments in recent years, such as the example of RENLAC, a Burkinabe coalition which managed to engage a case to prosecute the Minister of Defence for corruption in 2018,. But  Sadou emphasised the important role of the justice system in following up corruption cases to show that there is no impunity. With defence budgets in the region soaring over the past five years, our closing speaker emphasised the importance of effective oversight mechanisms to reduce the threat of corruption in the sector.

Furthermore, to ensure peaceful, sustainable development with human security at its core, it is paramount that corruption remains at the forefront of national, regional, and global conversations.

As Martijn Beerthuizen, the Chair of our panel and Policy Coordinator at the Netherlands MFA, aptly summarised, “Corruption challenges trust in the security sector and tackling corruption as an issue will help us ensure peaceful societies.”

The resounding message from the panel was clear:  we must forge ahead with unwavering determination, united in our mission to dismantle corruption’s grip, uphold justice, and pave the way for harmonious and secure societies.

Relevant Links

Responding to the latest annual data on global arms transfers, published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) this month, Sara Bandali, Transparency International Defence and Security Director of International Engagement, said:

While international arms sales have decreased over the last decade, the bloody legacies of corruption in arms transfers linger.

Across Africa’s Sahel region, national weapon stockpiles have been depleted, with the corrupt diversion of arms bolstering groups such as Islamic State and Boko Haram. Killing of civilians and sexual and gender-based violence perpetuates, with the people of countries such as Nigeria and Mali left no safer by the arms that have entered their nations.

These risks are not constrained to the Sahel. Our latest Government Defence Integrity index shows almost half (49 per cent) of global arms imports are going to countries facing a high to critical risk of defence corruption.

Governments should strengthen transparency and accountability in arms transfer decision making to meet the reporting obligations of the Arms Trade Treaty. The scrutiny of lawmakers, auditors and civil society can deliver arms deals that truly enhance security.
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A forum tracking progress towards the 2030 sustainable development agenda has been taking place in Niger this week. With matters of security preoccupying policymakers and the public across the region, the moment has come for commitments made by United Nations members to be translated into action.

The aim of the ninth Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development is to take stock of how far countries have progressed towards the implementation of five of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an ambitious set of development targets to be met by 2030.

However Goal 16, “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions”, is not part of the review, although the security challenges facing countries including Niger, Nigeria and Mali should serve to remind delegates of the urgent need to address corruption-related risks to defence and security.

Goal 16 includes commitments to fight corruption, increase transparency, tackle illicit financial flows and improve access to information to achieve peaceful societies. Without meaningful action to reduce corruption, little progress will be achieved in the five SDGs selected for discussion: Goals 6 (clean water and sanitation); 7 (affordable and clean energy); 9 (industry, innovation, and infrastructure); 11 (sustainable cities and communities); and 17 (partnerships for the Goals).

Corruption, organised crime, the use of illicit financial flows to fund terrorism and violent extremism and forced displacement of people threaten to reverse much development progress made in recent decades. Mali is a case in point. Impunity to corruption, terrorism, drug trafficking and other forms of transnational organised crime undermine stability and development.

In Nigeria, where high-profile elections have been fought in recent days, memories of the deadly End SARS protests continue to linger.

Elsewhere conflicts and instability add to natural disasters, causing untold human suffering. Our ability to prevent and resolve conflicts and build resilient, peaceful and inclusive societies has often been hampered by endemic and widespread corruption.

We must take action and do so by embracing a “whole-of-society approach,” fostering dialogue, cooperation, and partnerships between state and non-state actors to promote transparency, accountability, and effective oversight, in line with Goal 16 of the SDGs.

Failing to take action on SDG 16 following the forum would be a missed opportunity, especially when coordinated efforts and commitments are needed from states in and out of Africa, to address the complex problem of corruption and its threat to human lives.


Jacob Tetteh Ahuno, Projects Officer, Ghana Integrity Initiative; Mohamed Bennour, Transparency International Defence and Security Project Manager; Ara Marcen-Naval, Transparency International Defence and Security Head of Advocacy; Bertha Ogbimi, Programme Officer, CISLAC; Abdoulaye Sall, President of CRI 2002


Image: Lagos, Nigeria, during the End SARS protests of October, 2020.

Our latest research catalogues conflict and corruption around the word – harm caused by leaving the privatisation of national security to grow and operate without proper regulation.

Post-Afghanistan, exploitation of global conflicts is big business. Most private military and security firms are registered in the US, so we are calling on Congress to take a leading role in pushing through meaningful reforms under its jurisdiction. The time has also come for accreditation standards to be enforced rather than only encouraged, at both a national and international level.

Michael Ofori-Mensah, Head of Research at Transparency International Defence and Security, describes some of the dangers documented in our latest research paper.

Unaccountable private military and security companies continue to pursue partnerships that in recent years have led indirectly to the assassination of presidents and journalists, land grabs in conflict zones, and even suspected war crimes.

From Haiti to Saudi Arabia to Nigeria, US-based organisations – the firms that dominate the market – have found themselves associated with a string of tragedies, all while their sector has grown ever-more lucrative.

Transparency International Defence and Security’s latest research – Hidden Costs: US private military and security companies and the risks of corruption and conflict – catalogues the harm playing out internationally as countries increasingly seek to outsource national security concerns to soldiers of fortune.

Hidden costs from the trade in national security

While the US and other governments have left the national security industry to grow and operate without proper regulation, the risks of conflict being exploited for monetary gain are growing all the time.

Hidden Costs documents how the former CEO of one major US private military and security company was convicted – following a guilty plea – of bribing Nigerian officials for a US$6bn land grab in the long-plundered Niger Delta.

Our research also highlights that the Saudi operatives responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s savage murder received combat training from the US security company Tier One Group.

Arguably most damning are the accounts from Haiti, where the country’s president was killed last year by a squad of mercenaries thought to have been trained in the US and Colombia.

Pressing priority

Many governments around the world argue that critical security capability gaps are being filled quickly and with relatively minimal costs through the growing practise of outsourcing.

Spurred on by the US government’s normalisation of the trade, US firms are growing both their services and the number of fragile countries in which they operate.

The private military and security sector has swelled to be worth US$224 billion. That figure is expected to double by 2030.

The value of US services exported is predicted to grow to more than $80 billion in the near future, but the industry and the challenge faced is global.

The risks of corruption and conflict in the pursuit of profits are plain.

These risks are as old as time. But their modern manifestations in warzones must not be left to spill over. The 20-year war in Afghanistan cultivated dynamics that threaten further damage, more than a decade after governments first expressed their concerns.

Required response

International rules and robust regulation are urgently needed. We need measures that ensure mandatory reporting of private military and security company activities. The Montreux Document lacks teeth, operating as it does as guidance that is not legally binding. Code of conduct standards must also become mandatory for accreditation, rather than purely voluntary.

Most private military and security firms are registered in the US. So Transparency International Defence and Security is also calling on Congress to take a leading role in pushing through meaningful reforms under its jurisdiction. There is an opportunity arriving in September, when draft legislation faces review.

Policymakers have long been aware of the corruption risks and the related threats to peace and prosperity posed by this sector. The time for action is well overdue. No more Hidden Costs.

By Julien Joly, Thematic Manager, Corruption, Conflict and Crisis, Transparency International Defence & Security


Corruption, conflict and instability are profoundly intertwined. It has been shown time and again that corruption not only follows conflict but is also frequently one of its root causes.

Broadly speaking, corruption fuels conflict in two ways:

  1. By diminishing the effectiveness of national institutions; and
  2. By generating popular grievances.

Both of these elements contribute to undermining the legitimacy of the state, and in conflict this can empower armed groups who present themselves as the only viable alternative to corrupt governments. In turn this further contributes to the erosion of the rule of law, thus fuelling a vicious cycle.

Despite this, relatively little attention has been given to addressing corruption through peacebuilding efforts. As corruption is increasingly recognised for its role in fuelling conflict and insecurity around the world, it is imperative that initiatives seeking to address the root causes of violence and build lasting peace take this into consideration.

As a key element of the post-conflict peacebuilding agenda, Security Sector Reform (SSR) lends itself ideally to address the nexus between corruption and conflict. Applying the principles of good governance to the security sector to ensure that security forces are accountable offers legitimate avenues to mitigate corruption.

Nonetheless, evidence shows that strategies to mitigate corruption often fail to receive sufficient attention when it comes to designing and implementing SSR programmes. Such programmes overwhelmingly target tactical and operational reforms, designed for instance to train security forces or provide them with weapons and equipment, at the expense of structural reforms which would focus on bolstering accountability and reducing corruption. Similarly, in SSR policy frameworks developed by international and regional organisations, corruption is too often mentioned superficially and largely marginalised in favour of the ‘train-and-equip’ approaches described above. However, since the emergence of the concept of Security Sector Reform (SSR) in the 90s, there has been a shift from state-centric notions of security to a greater emphasis on human security. In this paradigm, based on the security of the individual, their protection and their empowerment, traditional ‘train-and-equip’ approaches to SSR have shown their limits.

It is clear that transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption are vital to ensure that security sector governance is effective. This means developing new approaches to SSR that, among other things, address corruption effectively.

In many areas, the anti-corruption community and the peacebuilding community would benefit from each other’s expertise. Reforming human resources management and financial systems, strengthening audit and control mechanisms, supporting civilian democratic oversight: these are areas where anti-corruption practitioners have been developing significant expertise over the past decades. They also happen to be key components of SSR.

But drawing from this expertise is only the beginning. In order to promote sustainable peace and contribute to transformative change in security sector governance, SSR needs to take a corruption-sensitive approach and address corruption as a cross-cutting issue. This requires implementing anti-corruption measures as a thread running through all SSR-related legislation, policies and programmes. In other words, this requires ‘mainstreaming anti-corruption in SSR’, which involves making anti-corruption efforts an integral dimension of the design, implementation and monitoring and evaluation of SSR policies and programmes.

While strengthening accountability and effectiveness in the security sector, anti-corruption provisions in SSR can be crucial in addressing some of the drivers and enablers of conflicts. Moreover, by upholding high standards of accountability, probity and integrity within the defence and security forces, anti-corruption fosters the protection against human rights abuses and violations. Ultimately, mainstreaming anti-corruption into SSR can harness its capacity to create political, social, economic and military systems conducive to the respect for human rights and dignity, ultimately contributing to long-lasting human security.

This blog is based on The Missing Element: addressing corruption through SSR in West Africa, a new report by Transparency International Defence and Security, available here.