On the Spot: TI Chair Huguette Labelle in East Africa

I’ve been to Africa many times. I’ve visited cities and huts, met with heads of state and shared meals with local communities, but this was a special trip. It was the first time since being elected to head of our international anti-corruption movement that I am travelling to the region.

With this in mind, I landed in East Africa last week, in Addis Ababa to be exact, and set to work with Rima Al-Azar, Transparency International’s (TI) Africa and Middle East Regional Director who is accompanying me on this trip and helping to move our agenda forward.

My first day on my East Africa trip, which will include visits to Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda, started with a meeting to congratulate a newly-elected member of the African Union Advisory Board in order to discuss opportunities for collaboration between TI and the Board. This is particularly important to us because the mandate of this AU group is to promote and encourage the adoption and implementation of anti-corruption measures on the continent.

We then met with Commissioner Ali Sulaiman of the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC). The Commissioner’s concern was how to reconcile “high perception with low reality,” his claim that there is a perception of high corruption in Ethiopia with a tangible reality of low corruption. This proved to be an interesting discussion considering that Ethiopia scores 2.6 out of a possible 10 in our 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), indicating a serious corruption problem. The index is a solid reference point, as it is based on corruption-related data from expert and business surveys carried out by a variety of independent and reputable institutions.

Lunch with Transparency Ethiopia’s staff was a wonderful experience sitting outside in the gardens of the Ghion Hotel and eating under the mango tree while preparing for the next meeting. The weather proved perfectly mild and sunny, doing justice to Ethiopia’s reputation as the country with 13 months of sunshine (their calendar consists of 13 months). We discussed the country’s new NGO law, which classifies domestic NGOs as foreign if they receive more than 10% of their income from abroad, and how this could impact on the organisation’s anti-corruption work.

Preparation during lunch proved useful as what was originally intended to be a 30 minute meeting with Minister Bereket Simon, advisor to the Prime Minister, was extended to one hour. The CPI was again one of the topics discussed. I explained the methodology and emphasised that Transparency Ethiopia, like any chapter or affiliate of the international movement, was not involved in any way with the compilation of data for the CPI. The organisation cannot be held responsible for Ethiopia’s ranking. The CPI data is compiled independently of TI chapters and does not obey an advocacy agenda. This point had to be underlined in order to help the Ethiopian government understand that Transparency Ethiopia is not a biased organisation but rather it seeks a collaborative approach wherein civil society has a role in countering corruption.

Something to look forward to: Minister Simon informed us that the World Bank is carrying out work to analyse governance in the most important sectors of the Ethiopian economy. This should certainly provide more insight into the “high perception with low reality” issue.

Following the meeting I had dinner with Transparency Ethiopia’s Board of Directors where I had my first taste of injira. Again, we discussed what is on everyone’s mind here: the NGO law. We concluded the dinner by going through Transparency International’s accreditation process and Transparency Ethiopia expressing their willingness to formalise our partnership and become a National Chapter in Formation.

The second day in Addis Ababa was spent meeting with the European Ambassadors to the African Union and to Ethiopia, with whom I explored possibilities for collaboration both at the national and regional levels. Ambassador Alphons Hennekens from the Netherlands, Transparency Ethiopia’s main donor, met with us as well and a long day of important meetings ended with an invitation from Commissioner Sulaiman to experience a traditional Ethiopian dinner including music and dances from different Ethiopian regions. A delight indeed.

This entry is based solely on Huguette Labelle’s reporting from her trip through East Africa and written up by Rima Al-Azar and Mike Sidwell at the TI secretariat to share with the readers of this blog.

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