Skip to main

Theme: Political

The rise in global insecurity is pushing many US security partner countries to reignite or revise a familiar but risky approach to expanding national defence industrial capabilities. Sometimes referred to as ‘defence offsets’ or ‘industrial participation’, this approach requires foreign defence companies to invest in the local economies of countries as a condition for the purchase of major weapons systems. Defence offsets can benefit local defence industries, but they also contain many aspects that make them particularly vulnerable to corruption. US defence companies are rapidly responding to these partner demands with increasing US government support and within an incredibly lax US regulatory environment.

April 11, 2024 – New research from Transparency International warns that the United States is ignoring potentially dangerous corruption risks around opaque defence contract payments (aka ‘offsets’) that threaten to undermine U.S. and international security.

As the U.S. escalates its defence collaboration globally, Blissfully Blind breaks down the complex web of corruption risks associated with offsets – financial sweeteners added to overseas arms sales in addition to the military hardware the country receives.

Read the report

Offsets are increasingly common parts of international arms deals but the huge amounts of money involved combined with a lack of transparency, especially for offsets going to economic sectors outside defence, makes them especially vulnerable to corruption.

Defence companies are incentivised to offer big offset packages to secure lucrative deals. Foreign officials in importing countries may choose to buy from whichever firm they can personally gain the most, regardless of whether they offer best value for the people they represent.

 

Gary Kalman, Executive Director at Transparency International U.S. (TI-US), said:

“The culture of offsets in international arms sales may seem an odd practice to the public. Imagine the look you’d get from telling a car dealership that you’ll only buy a car from them if they help fund your child’s school.

“The corruption and other risks of these side deals are so great that, in most industries, the practice is banned. Yet, in the defence sector offsets are standard practice.

“At the very least, we need the type of transparency and accountability called for this in this report.”

 

Key Findings:

  • The global value of defence offsets is projected to reach $371 billion for the 2021-2025 period, with U.S. defence firms estimated to provide between $36.5 billion and $52.4 billion for FY 2021 and FY 2022 combined.
  • Among arms importing countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, and the UK all face high or very high corruption risk due to a lack of transparency, support for risky types of investments, and weak monitoring or enforcement around offset contracts.
  • Other arms importing countries, including Australia, India, Israel, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, and Ukraine have specific high-risk aspects of their offset policies.
  • Corruption in defence offsets can undermine efforts to obtain critical defensive capabilities, waste government funds, complicate U.S. government and defence company relations with key security partners and weaken citizen faith in governments.
  • Meanwhile, U.S. defence companies show weak controls to prevent corruption in offsets. Many lack explicit policies and procedures to address the risks.
  • The U.S. government’s ‘hands-off’ approach to overseeing offsets effectively leaves defence firms to mark their own homework. Regulation of offset agreements by the Commerce Department is inadequate.

This report comes at a critical moment. There are increasing demands for offsets from purchasing countries and greater collaboration with countries like the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia – all nations with minimal anti-corruption safeguards in their defence sectors. 

And in the U.S., there are now moves by Congress to further weaken the already lax checks on offset arrangements by significantly raising the dollar value of arms deals that require congressional review before they can go ahead.

 

Colby Goodman, Senior Researcher at Transparency International – Defence & Security and author of the report, said:

“A surge in demand for defence offsets, inadequate anti-corruption measures by U.S. defence companies, poor safeguards in many U.S. partner nations, and lenient oversight from Washington has created a perfect storm of corruption risks, which has the very real chance of undermining any public benefit of the offsets to the importing country.

“It’s essential that these corruption risks are confronted and mitigated, with responsibility falling on both the U.S. and importing countries to enact meaningful reforms.”

 

The report makes a series of targeted recommendations to the U.S. government that would enhance the oversight of defence offsets and significantly address corruption risks, while also ensuring U.S. defence firms do not face unnecessary barriers to their business with international partners:

  1. Increase transparency by strengthening reporting on defence offsets and political contributions. Prioritize detailed private disclosures through the State and Defence Departments and establish an interagency task force to improve overall private and public transparency.
  2. Assess corruption risks by taking a proactive approach to mitigate corruption risks in offsets by reviewing agreements and conducting comprehensive studies on past arrangements. A focus should be on indirect offsets (investments not directly related to the equipment being sold in the contract)  and partner country controls.
  3. Penalize wrongdoing by enhancing the investigation and prosecution of offset-related corruption, establishing watchlists for offenders, and enforcing strict penalties for non-compliance with reporting requirements.
  4. Encourage stronger foreign offset policies by urging U.S. partner countries to do the following: adopt transparent and effective offset policies, emphasize the disclosure of offset details similar to Australia, demand stricter oversight of high-risk activities, and ensure robust enforcement against violations.

 

Notes to editors:

Transparency International is a global network with chapters in more than 100 countries to end the injustices caused by corruption.

Blissfully Blind is a joint research report from Transparency International – Defence & Security, one of Transparency International’s global programs that works to reduce corruption in defence and security sectors worldwide, and Transparency International U.S.

The report was produced through a comprehensive approach that included reviewing U.S. defence offset laws and regulations, analysis of U.S. arms sales data and reports, and 30 interviews with industry experts, U.S. government officials, and representatives from partner countries such as India, Malaysia, and South Korea.

Defence offsets are side deals made between a purchasing government and a foreign defence company in connection with a major arms sale. They are an inducement offered by a defence company and/or a requirement by the purchasing government and would not exist without an arms sale. Offsets typically involve defence companies investing in the local defence industry or other economic sectors in the purchasing country. Offsets can be direct, that is tied to the specific equipment or service sold, or indirect, a broad investment unrelated to a specific contract.

April 9, 2024 – In the face of Haiti’s escalating crisis, marked by a surge in gang violence, a recent UN report underscores the critical need for an unwavering commitment to accountability and anti-corruption measures across public and defence sectors. 

A UN Human Rights Office report calls for immediate and bold action to tackle the “cataclysmic” situation in Haiti. 

In 2023, 4,451 people were killed and 1,668 injured due to gang violence. The number skyrocketed in the first three months of 2024, with 1,554 killed and 826 injured up to 22 March. 

The report identifies key factors contributing to the crisis including an illicit economy incubated by corruption that facilitates the patronage of armed gangs by elites, and widespread corruption that contributed to the pervasive impunity in the country’s justice systems. 

 

Responding to the worsening situation and intensified gang violence in Haiti, Sara Bandali, Director of International Engagement at Transparency International UK, said: 

“We stand firmly with UN High Commissioner Volker Türk in making Haiti’s security crisis a top priority to protect its people and end the spiral of suffering.  

“With gang violence and ‘self-defence brigades’ on the rise, and a government that is highly susceptible to corruption, the resurgence of private military security companies could also further destabilise the country.  

“The urgency to confront the twin issues of corruption and governance failures is paramount. Accountability and anti-corruption efforts across public bodies and the defence & security sector are critical for the nation’s return to peace, stability, and security, and should never be traded off. 

 

Notes to editors: 

Transparency International – Defence & Security previously warned about the destablising effects of private military security companies on Haiti following the assassination of the country’s president in 2021. 

Our Hidden Costs report provides further detail on private military security companies and the risks they pose to fuelling corruption and conflict.

 

Photo by Heather Suggitt on Unsplash.

Transparency International Defence & Security’s (TI-DS) 2023-2025 Gender Mainstreaming Strategy aims to promote the capacity of the organisation to mainstream a gender perspective and move towards good and best practice approaches of gender-sensitivity and gender-responsiveness. Gender-sensitivity ensures that TI-DS programmes, projects and activities reduce the risk of harms to partners and participants and reduces risks of reproducing gender inequalities. Gender-responsiveness is more of a pro-active effort to challenge harmful gender norms at the root of corruption and its impacts. Both approaches require attention to gender at every stage of programme cycles, from deign to implementation and monitoring, evaluation and learning.

By Patrick Kwasi Brobbey (Research Project Manager), Léa Clamadieu and Irasema Guzman Orozco (Research Project Officers) 

 

Corruption in defence and security heightens conflict risks, wastes public resources, and exacerbates human insecurity. It is crucial to recognise the gravity of corruption in the defence and security sector and develop institutional safeguards against it. Against this backdrop, Transparency International – Defence & Security (TI-DS) is launching the 2025 Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI) – the premier global measure of institutional resilience to corruption in the defence and security sector. This blog outlines what the GDI entails, its relevance, how it is produced, and essential information about the launch.   

What is the GDI? 

The GDI analyses institutional and informal controls to manage the risk of corruption in public defence and security establishments. The index focuses on five broad risk areas of defence: policymaking, finances, personnel management, operations, and procurement. To provide a broad and comprehensive reflection of these risk areas, the GDI assesses both legal frameworks and their implementation, as well as resources and outcomes. 

Because of its focus, the index provides a framework of good practice that promotes accountable, transparent, and responsible governance in national defence establishments. The GDI is a critical tool in driving global defence reform and improving defence governance.  

Previously dubbed the Government Defence Anti-corruption Index, the GDI was first released in 2013. Updated results were published in 2015, before the index went a major overhaul in 2020.  The project now runs in a five-year cycle, so the new iteration will be published in 2025.  

Gender: A New Dimension of the GDI 

For the first time, the GDI will incorporate a gender approach. The 2024-2026 TI-DS Strategy acknowledges that corruption in the defence sector involves gendered power dynamics that produce different impacts, perceptions, risks, forms of corruption, and experiences for diverse groups of women, men, girls, boys, and sexual and gender minorities. In alignment with the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda, many defence and security institutions now recognise gender. Nevertheless, their efforts mainly focus on achieving gender balance, mainstreaming, and representation. There is a lack of visibility on gendered corruption risks in the defence and security policy agenda, as anti-corruption measures and gender concerns are often addressed separately. 

Consistent with our commitment to addressing this, the 2025 GDI adopts a gender perspective to assess the gender dimensions of corruption risks in this sector. For this iteration, gender indicators have been developed and will be piloted. The gendered corruption risk indicators cover four cross-cutting themes: legal and normative commitments, gender balance strategies, gender mainstreaming strategies, and prevention and response to gender-based violence.  

Integrating gender into corruption risk assessments like the GDI can help produce gendered anti-corruption interventions that recalibrate uneven power relations affecting people of diverse genders and minority groups. Additionally, it will help to identify evidence-based best practices in the gender, anti-corruption, and security space. 

Why is the GDI important? 

The GDI offers an evidence-based approach which emphasises that better institutional controls reduce the risk of corruption. It constitutes a comprehensive assessment of integrity matters in the defence sector and plays a crucial role in driving global defence reform, thereby improving defence governance. 

The relevance of the index is enshrined in the rationale for creating it. The GDI recognises that:  

  • Corruption within the defence and security sector impede states’ ability to defend themselves and provide the needed security for their citizens. For instance, in Iraq in 2014, 50,000 ‘ghost soldiers’ were found in the budget – soldiers that existed only on paper and whose salaries were stolen by senior or high-ranking officers. The Iraqi forces were left depleted, unprepared to face real threats and unable to protect citizens and provide national security.
  • The secrecy of the defence sector contributes to the wastage of resources and the weakening of public institutions, facilitating the personalisation/privatisation of public resources for private gains via defence establishments. According to the 2020 GDI, 37% of states in the index had limited to no transparency on procurements.
  • Efficacious public institutions and informal mechanisms are central in preventing the wastage of state funds, the misappropriation of power, and the development of graft in the defence and security sector. In 2023, it was revealed that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence was planning to overpay suppliers for food intended for troops. This led to official investigations and ultimately saw the auditions in the Ukrainian parliament pass legislation that enhances transparency in defence procurement.

These examples underscore the importance and timeliness of the GDI in rooting out corruption in national defence and security sectors. 

How is the GDI created? 

The GDI consists of questions broken down into indicators spanning the five corruption risks. These serve as the basis of data collection in countries carefully selected using the TI-DS selection criteria, which predominantly centre on the susceptibility of a country’s defence institutions to corruption. These countries will be drawn from the following TI regions: sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia Pacific and South Asia, and Western Europe and North America.  

TI-DS uses a rigorous methodology consisting of an independent Country Assessor conducting research and providing an original, context-specific data that is accurate and verifiable. The data are then first extensively reviewed by a TI-DS team of topical and methodology experts before being sent to external reviewers (specifically, peer reviewers and relevant TI national chapters and governments) for additional quality checks. As part of its commitment to transparency, TI-DS has published the GDI Methods Paper that outlines the methodological and analytical considerations and choices . 

Overview of the Launch 

The 2025 GDI research project, which will be conducted in six waves representing the TI regions, began on Tuesday 26 March 2023. A webinar was organised for TI national chapters whose countries are in the first wave. This information session ensured mutual learning between TI-DS and the chapters. Other webinars will be organised later for chapters whose countries are in the subsequent waves. 

TI-DS has secured ample funding for the sub-Saharan African wave of the 2025 GDI. However, as the GDI is of utmost importance and requires timely execution, we are working towards securing additional funding to cover the administrative and operational costs of the remaining five waves. TI-DS invites the stakeholders to get in touch via gdi@transparency.org to help support the remaining waves. Thank you. 

March 28, 2024 – Transparency International – Defence & Security (TI-DS) is excited to announce the start of work on the next iteration of the Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI), the leading global benchmark of corruption risks in the defence and security sector.  

The GDI 2025 is TI-DS’s flagship research product and follows on from the GDI 2020. This latest iteration includes expert assessments of around 90 countries as well as the introduction of a gender perspective, recognising the nuanced impacts of corruption across different gender and underrepresented groups. 

The GDI provides a framework of good practice that promotes accountable, transparent, and responsible governance in the defence & security sector. It is a useful tool for civil society to collaborate with Ministries of Defence, the armed forces, and with oversight institutions, to build their capacity in advocating for transparency and integrity. 

Countries are evaluated by independent assessors who assess the strength of anti-corruption safeguards and institutional resilience to corruption in five key areas: 

  1. Financial: includes strength of safeguards around military asset disposals, whether a country allows military-owned businesses, and whether the full extent of military spending is publicly disclosed.  
  2. Operational: includes corruption risk in a country’s military deployments overseas and the use of private security companies.  
  3. Personnel: includes how resilient defence sector payroll, promotions and appointments are to corruption, and the strength of safeguards against corruption to avoid conscription or recruitment. 
  4. Political: includes transparency over defence & security policy, openness in defence budgets, and strength of anti-corruption checks surrounding arms exports. 
  5. Procurement: includes corruption risk around tenders and how contracts are awarded, the use of agents/brokers as middlemen in procurement, and assessment of how vulnerable a country is to corruption in offset contracts.  

These independent assessments go through multiple layers of expert review before each country is assigned an overall score and rank. This makes the GDI extremely rigorous in its methodology.  

The amount of work required to produce the GDI means the new country results will be released in six waves: 

  • Sub-Saharan Africa 
  • Middle East and North Africa 
  • Central and Eastern Europe 
  • Latin America 
  • Asia Pacific and South Asia 
  • Western Europe and North America 

The first wave is provisionally due to be published in early 2025.  

 

Notes: 

The GDI was previously known as the Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index (GI), with results published in 2013 and 2015. The Index underwent a major update for the 2020 version, including changes to the methodology and scoring underpinning the project. The 2025 results can be compared with those from 2020 to get a picture of global trends in defence governance, and which countries are improving. 

The GDI is a corruption risk assessment of the defence and security sector within a country, which assesses the quality of mechanisms used to manage corruption risk –and evaluating the factors that are understood to facilitate corruption. 

It is not a measurement of corruption and does not measure the amount of funds that are lost to corruption, identify corrupt actors, or estimate the perceptions of corruption in the defence & security sectors by the public. 

TI-DS has secured funding for the sub-Saharan African wave and is working towards securing additional support to cover the costs of producing the remaining five waves. We invite all stakeholders, including public agencies, multilateral organisations and INGOs, to get in touch via gdi@transparency.org to help support the remaining waves.

February 16, 2024 – Transparency International is to shed light on a critical yet overlooked threat at this year’s Munich Security Conference: the use of ‘strategic corruption’ as a covert geopolitical weapon. 

Our panel, on February 16 at 3.30-4.15pm CET, jointly hosted with the Basel Institute on Governance, will explore how ‘strategic corruption’ is a weapon wielded by states to further geopolitical aims and poses a grave threat to international peace and security. This insidious form of corruption goes beyond traditional corrupt practices like bribery and embezzlement and involves sophisticated schemes designed to destabilise and manipulate states from within. 

Transparency International Defence & Security welcome the focus on corruption high on the agenda at Munich.Corruption is an existential threat to states and societies and a critical barrier to the protection of individuals. It is behind every pressing security issue facing the world today. 

The implications of corruption within defence and security sectors are especially profound. These sectors involve huge amounts of money and high levels of secrecy are particularly susceptible to corruption.  

We are calling for governments to: 

  • Recognise the role of corruption as a consistent threat behind all of the security risks assessed in the Munich Security Index and the Munich Security Report. Acknowledge that corruption deepens all inequalities within and between states, which drive current conflicts and geopolitical tensions. 
  • Address corruption as a security threat by integrating anti-corruption measures as a priority in all defence and security policies and practices. Recognise long-term insecurity and inequalities, driven by corruption, as the consequence of short-term payoffs in defence and security decision-making.  
  • Introduce robust anti-corruption controls for arms transfers, including corruption risk assessment and mitigation,and making sure recipient countries have strong anti-corruption governance. Governments should also actively work on finding and addressing the risks of corruption leading to arms being diverted. 

Make transparency the norm in defence and security, granting access to information as the rule and restricting it on national security grounds as the exception. 

 

 

Notes to editors:  

The Corruption panel will take place on February 16, at 3.30-4.15pm CET (GMT +1) 

It will feature President Arévalo from Guatemala, Prime Minister Denkov from Bulgaria, Transparency International Global Vice Chair Ketakandriana (Ke) Rafitoson and US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. 

It will be live streamed on the MSC website.

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.”

Josie Stewart, head of Transparency International Defence & Security, reflects on a busy week at the Tenth session of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in Atlanta.

 

The 10th session of the Conference of the States Parties (CoSP) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) showed two things very clearly: the fight against corruption is receiving more attention than ever – but that attention has not yet translated into enough action, especially in defence and security.

Let’s start with the good news. The past week, I and more than 1,000 others spent six days running around a bustling conference centre in Atlanta, USA. Countries sent large delegations, and negotiations continued late into the nights. Unlike previous CoSPs, the 10th session saw significant attendance from global civil society, ensuring transparency and meaningful engagement.

And there is more good news. Thanks in part to the host country’s leadership, we saw corruption recognised as the security threat that it is. During the two days of opening remarks from participants, speaker after speaker acknowledged the impact that corruption has on stability, peace, and security, and I also had the pleasure of taking part in a panel discussion on this topic. We hope to see this sentiment reflected in the flagship resolution of the CoSP, the Atlanta Declaration, once it is published.

But here come the caveats. We all spent a lot of time admiring the problem, rehashing time and again the fact that corruption is bad, and there was a lot of preaching to the choir. Even in the many policy discussions and panel events that took place alongside the formal negotiations, where there was markedly little challenge, new thinking that could really push the anti-corruption agenda forward, or focus on concrete actions that could and should be advanced.

Without concrete actions, acknowledgement of corruption as a security threat remains just the first step to addressing it. And at CoSP10, the international anti-corruption community was a long way short of real action when it comes to addressing corruption in defence and security.

I’ve seen the effects of this first hand – and they are devastating.

During my time leading the UK Government’s anti-corruption agenda in Afghanistan, I witnessed the devastating effects of neglecting corruption. The failure to prioritize combating corruption led to the disintegration of the Afghan national defence forces as the Taliban advanced. In South Sudan, while working on defence governance reform, I saw how accountability and transparency were sidelined, allowing corruption in the military to fester.

Corruption is about money and power, and there’s an abundance of both in defence and security. Yet anti-corruption policy communities rarely have meaningful engagement with national security and defence policy communities. Until this week, there was no discussion about defence and security at the UNCAC CoSP

So now the words are there at least, what needs to be done?

We’re challenging states to examine how well their anti-corruption efforts are identifying and taking on the tough political choices that are needed in order to address corruption as a security threat, and we’re challenging states to focus on addressing corruption within their defence and security sectors as a critical aspect of their wider anti-corruption agendas. We want an agreed resolution on this in two years’ time, when the next UNCAC CoSP takes place.

We need to call corruption in defence and security by its name: a threat to human, national and international security. These words are now being spoken by many, but getting from words to actions, from acknowledgements to clear commitments, is the next challenge, and it is a challenge that we are committed to meet head on.

The UN Secretary-General’s New Agenda for Peace, released in July, makes twelve modest but achievable recommendations on how we can prevent conflict and build peace better. None of them mention fighting corruption, but that doesn’t mean it is completely off the cards. Marking United Nations Day, our evidence and advocacy officer Emily Wegener looks at how corruption can – and indeed must – be embedded in its implementation.

“Wars do end!”, Scott Straus wrote in 2012, reflecting on the fact that the number of civil wars in Africa halved between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s. A decade on, things are looking much less positive. The number of state-based conflicts in Africa nearly doubled in the ten years following 2012, with even higher numbers of non-state-based conflicts. Globally, we saw the highest number of state-based battle-related deaths since 1984 in the last year (figures from the Peace Research Institute Oslo).

It’s clear that new approaches to peacebuilding and conflict prevention are needed. The New Agenda for Peace, one of a series of eleven policy briefs published by the UN’s Secretary-General António Guterres in preparation for his ambitious Summit of the Future in 2024, outlines the UN’s vision for a collective security system.

Transparency International Defence & Security (TI-DS) welcomes this New Agenda for Peace and embraces its strong emphasis on conflict prevention and national ownership. Moreover, TI-DS appreciates that trust, solidarity and universality have been made the three core principles for an effective collective security system. is closely linked to countering corruption, an aspect surprisingly absent from the New Agenda for Peace, prompting us to question why.

Corruption is a fundamental threat to human security. All of the ten lowest-ranking countries in the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) exhibit low to very low states of peace in the 2023 Global Peace Index (GPI), with four of them being amongst the lowest-ranking countries in the GPI too.

This trend continues in the defence and security sectors, which are often directly linked to conflict and insecurity, and closely connected with instability such as coups. 62% of the countries ranked in the  ) indicate high to critical levels of corruption risks across their defence sectors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, five of the ten lowest-ranking countries on the GDI also show low to very low levels of peace according to the GPI.

Connecting recommendations with anti-corruption efforts

The core of the New Agenda for Peace consists of twelve recommendations for action. These recommendations provide significant opportunities for the integration of anti-corruption measures, by:

  • Integrating anti-corruption measures into national conflict prevention strategies, to “shift the prevention and sustaining peace paradigm within countries”.
  • Reinforcing commitments to SDG 16 and SDG 16.5, the Goal on peace, justice and strong institutions and its target on substantially reducing corruption and bribery, as part of accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda (Agenda for Peace Action 4).
  • Encouraging International Financial Institutions (IFIs) to support anti-corruption programmes as part of funding for conflict prevention, stabilization, and peacebuilding (Agenda for Peace Action 4), and advising IFIs on funding anti-corruption activities to “build a stronger collective security machinery” (Agenda for Peace Action 12).
  • Empowering the Peacebuilding Commission to lead thematic discussions on integrating anti-corruption into peacebuilding as an issue affecting both peace and development (Agenda for Peace Action 12).
  • Addressing the diversion of small arms and light weapons (SALW) by strengthening anti-corruption measures (Agenda for Peace Action 7).
  • Including the social and economic costs of defence sector corruption in the proposed study on the social and economic impact of military spending (Agenda for Peace Action 7).  

Not explicit, but a starting point

Although it fails to offer the strong language on anti-corruption, the New Agenda for Peace nonetheless offers multiple entry points for integrating anti-corruption into conflict prevention and peacebuilding. The extent to which this is done in practice will play a key part in determining the Agenda’s ultimate success.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The deposed Niger government’s efforts fighting corruption contrast markedly with the neglect shown in neighbouring Burkina Faso ahead of the previous coups which rocked the region. Transparency International Defence and Security’s Mohamed Bennour, Michael Ofori-Mensah and Denitsa Zhelyazkova compare the collapse of the two nations and show how ECOWAS can reinforce democracy in the region.

Upon his election as chair of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS last month, Nigeria’s new president Bola Tinubu made plain his intentions to champion democracy in efforts to arrest the spate of military uprisings that have disrupted the region in recent years.

It wasn’t long however before another arrived, this time in Niger. ECOWAS swiftly threatened military intervention. ECOWAS and other power brokers traditionally tend to respond to events of this kind with talk of zero tolerance and sanctions – tough words but sentiment that, too often, is accompanied by minimal analysis of the root causes.

Transparency International in Niger are among the civil society groups that have observed a trend leading to coups in their country: the discovery of lucrative natural resources. In November, the Niger-Benin pipeline, the largest in Africa, is due to start exporting crude petroleum for the first time. This will multiply Niger’s crude exports by five, with an expected GDP increase of 24 per cent. Before this, the discovery of uranium in 1974 coincided with the overthrow of Niger’s leadership. Then an oil boom in 2010 was swiftly followed by another coup.

The resources vary but the outcomes follow a pattern.

The removal of Niger’s president Mohamed Bazoum has been lamented by our colleagues on the ground. This is because he had been showing willingness to step up to the long-ignored challenge of confronting corruption in the country.

Supporters of Bazoum protested in the street against the coup, together with CSOs and unions. Some have expressed their scepticism about the military being able to solve the governance challenges and issues of insecurity faced in the country.

The scepticism is driven by the fact that Niger’s security had been progressing better than in neighbouring countries, with fewer terror fatalities than those recorded in Mali and Burkina Faso.

There have been counter protests in Niger. Yet Bazoum had only been in power for two years. ANLC, (Transparency International’s chapter in Niger) had enjoyed political support from the president and parliament for the adoption of an anti-corruption law, central to addressing risks in defence and security and other sectors. This law, if and when implemented, will protect informants, witnesses, experts and whistleblowers. It will also criminalise bad practices common in Niger, such as the over-invoicing of public contracts and refusing to declare assets of civil and military figures.

Contrasting situation in Burkina Faso – decline and lost trust

The strides that had been made in Niger contrast with the decline seen in Burkina Faso, which until last week had been the nation that had suffered a coup most recently. There, a failure to secure enough resources for the army put paid to its elected leaders. Endemic corruption within the security forces contributed to the eroding of the perceived legitimacy of authorities. Public trust in government was lost. Several reports from Transparency International Defence and Security have shown how this creates dynamics for the expansion of non-state and extremist groups.

Corruption is not a victimless crime. In April, 44 civilians were killed by terrorist groups in north-eastern Burkina Faso.  Later that month, a further 60 were killed by men in national military uniform in the northern village of Karma.

Ironically, Burkina Faso was considered immune to the regional spread of violence until relatively recently. Almost overnight, the land-locked state found itself a focal point in the expansion strategies of various extremist groups when a Romanian citizen was abducted in Tambao on Burkina Faso’s north-east border with Mali and Niger in 2015.

Ever since, terrorist groups, including the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), and the Burkinabe-founded Ansarul Islam have been exploiting an unresolved socio-economic crisis amid endemic corruption.

At a summit in February, the African Union announced that Burkina Faso and Mali will remain suspended from the continental bloc. Adding more pressure to the countries’ leadership, ECOWAS also extended existing sanctions on both countries, “reaffirming zero tolerance against unconstitutional change of government“.

Sanctions can be a useful tool. They deliver a clear stance against illegal and undemocratic change of power. However they do not offer lasting solutions to some of the core issues behind the takeovers. And they can risk exacerbating grievances and harming the most vulnerable groups.

In order to build a democratic and secure future in Burkina Faso, corruption in the defence sector must be tackled. There must be a focus on pragmatic reforms to ensure, and safeguard, transparency, accountability and efficacy. And civil society must be involved in the process. Our Government Defence Integrity Index provides evidence supporting arguments that the more open to civil participation and transparent a government is, the higher the level of institutional resilience to corruption.

Until last month, Niger had what Burkina has needed. National civil society was engaged with both government and the military, working for greater transparency and tackling defence sector corruption.

Now, our colleagues in Niger have called for “the immediate restoration of a civil regime supported by inclusive governance and the preservation of civic space. These measures are essential to maintain the principles of transparency and accountability that we defend.”

Not for the first time, as the international community scrambles to respond to events in the country, and watches as they continue to unfold, we have been reminded that corruption is a fundamental threat to security. Access to and control over natural resources drives power struggles that extend beyond country borders. Only driving out corruption will suffice to break the cycle for all those suffering in the Sahel.