Accountability and Transparency in Kenyan Health Sector

Accountability and Transparency in Kenyan Health Sector

In the health-care sector, corruption can mean the difference between life and death (Hussmann, 2020). It has serious implications for health care access, quality, equity, efficiency and efficacy. It stands in the way of the long-term aim of universal health coverage. Every year, an estimated US$ 500 billion in public health spending is lost due to corruption around the world (ibid). This is significantly more than what would be needed to provide universal health care. During the COVID-19 pandemic, corruption has continued to be seen in different parts of the world. There is a lack of transparency and accountability on different states spending both in the global north and developing countries.  Corruption in the health sectors takes different forms; theft and embezzlement of funds, lack of data sharing and interference with the procurement process (Kohler & Dimancesco, 2020). This article will focus on procurements as the main corruption in the health sector.  The Kenyan MoH has been accused of corruption in terms of malpractices during the procurement process. 

Transparency in health sector

If there is a lack of transparency and accountability in the procurement system, publicly financed vital drugs are extremely prone to corruption (Kohler & Dimancesco, 2020). According Savedoff and Grépin describe bribes for inspectors, improper bidding procedures for purchasing, diversion of the public drug supply to private practice, kickbacks for referrals, and pharmacies or drug shops selling illegal items as examples of corrupt activities that may occur in the pharmaceutical procurement process (Savedoff & Grépin, 2012). Bribes or kickbacks are also common kinds of corruption in public procurement, according to Ware et al. (2007). Individuals with procurement duties may participate in corrupt activity, while the government as a whole may play a role by awarding promotions to physicians’ eager to make advantageous procurement choices for corporations with ties to the state (Kohler & Wright, 2020).

How can we combat the systemic risks of corruption that endanger people’s health and well-being? For starters, we must ensure that the entire procurement process is transparent. Transparency necessitates the release of publicly available information on procurement decisions (Kohler & Wright, 2020). This can help to prevent price manipulation, and overpayments by allowing prices paid for the same health items to be compared across local, regional and global levels. Data sharing can also reveal trends of normal procurement behavior and detect any outliers that could indicate overpayment, collusion or bribes. 

Accountability in Health Sector

During outbreaks and normal time, we must ensure that accountability systems exist to keep governments accountable to the people they serve. This necessitates the use of metrics to track what is being acquired, why it is being procured, where it is being procured, and how much it is costing. Civil society plays an important part in this (Ibid). A strong civil society can ensure that issues, whether they are related to corruption or not, are not overlooked. The efficiency of the limited resources deployed to respond to the epidemic will be harmed if this does not happen (Kohler & Wright, 2020). Corruption hazards will eventually result in more deaths if they are not addressed. Public procurement is a complicated and sometimes overlooked topic, but it has enormous ramifications for the population’s health. 

Towards transparent and accountable procurement process

The government of Kenya has put transparency and accountability measures in the health sector. Following charges that government officials stole over $ 400 million in crucial medical supplies, in  August 2020, President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered Kenya’s Ministry of Health (MOH) to reveal details of all procurement transactions made during the COVID-19 outbreak (France 24, 2020). Despite allocating significant resources to the COVID-19 response in Kenya, the government failed to provide adequate protective equipment, testing, or other safety precautions to ensure that health personnel could respond to the pandemic safely and efficiently (Human Rights Watch, 2021).  Since the first instance of COVID-19 was discovered in Kenya, over 577 health personnel have died as a result of the virus (France 24, 2020) .  This shows the need to place more emphasis on eliminating corruption in the health sector in Kenya. 

Even in times when there are no health outbreaks, eliminating the risk of corruption in public procurement is difficult. In 2017, the United States (US) halted $21 million aid to Kenya’s health ministry due to allegations of corruption (Houreld, 2017).  The US Embassy in Nairobi, mentioned that this action was due to the continued concerns about claims of corruption and inadequate accounting system within the Ministry. Further, the US Embassy claimed to be working with the state to improve accounting and internal controls within the Ministry of Health (ibid). 

Applicability of transparency and accountability in Kenyan Health Ministry

In 2020, during the Ministry of Health COVID-19 scandal a directive by the Kenyan President, ordered the health ministry to build a ‘transparent system’ that would allow all ministry’s procurement processes to be made public. He ordered the building and implementation of the system within 30 days. He claimed that ‘this level of transparency, along with the use of technology, will go a long way toward ensuring that our people have faith in those placed in institutions to handle the Kenyan taxpayer’s and development partners’ resources in an open and transparent manner’ (France 24, 2020). However, there are few published reports or data on whether this directive was implemented or not. Though the key players (Chairman and CEO of a health parastatal) during the COVID-19 MoH corruption cases were asked to step down from their position. They both got clearance from the ruling party to vie for respective seats in the upcoming election. It is such action that leaves one wondering if these people were acting on behalf of the state and were rewarded with party nomination in exchange. This questions Uhuru’s directives on fighting corruption in the MoH.  Further, it shows lack of transparency. 

Data sharing is key to ensuring transparency. The MoH should ensure it shares its data both at local level and regional level. At the local level, the MOH should ensure that the different counties’ health sectors share data on the procurement process from bidding to open tendering and contract awarding. This can reveal trends of routine procurement behavior and detect any outliers that could indicate overpayment, collusion or brides. This will help both the national and county government in ensuring there is transparency and data sharing. In case of price manipulation, this can easily be detected. 

On accountability, the civil society plays an important role in providing checks and balances to government spending. The Kenyan civil society has been at the key front in questioning the government in policies and practices. In 2017, it was due to the civil society participation in demonstration over corruption in MOH that the US suspended direct aid to the ministry as shown in figure 1. This resulted in the US embassy putting pressure on the government to establish internal controls and accountability in the ministry.

Image Source: Civil Society demonstration against the corruption in the MoH- Kenya: Houreld, 2017


In this article, we have examined the threats that corruption poses to the population. First, the article has examined the different ways in which corruption takes places in the health sector with a more emphasis on the malpractices in the procurement process. Secondly, the article has explored the different transparency accountability mechanisms in the health sector. Thirdly, Kenya has been used as a case to find out how transparency and accountability has been implemented and if they are applicable. 

Though, the Kenyan government has put much effort ‘on paper’ on eliminating corruption in the procurement process by establishing transparency and accountable mechanisms. The implementation of such efforts have not been documented. In addition, the ruling party goes ahead and issues direct party nominations to the people involved in the malpractices. This leaves one to wonder if the government is true to itself on the fight against corruption in the health sector and on building transparency and accountable procurement systems. 

Muthoni Kahuho (Kenya) is a member of the 2022 cohort of the Future Africa Fellowship

Corruption in Zimbabwe: The Command Agriculture Scandal

Corruption in Zimbabwe: The Command Agriculture Scandal

Zimbabwe is affected by corruption just like any other country in the world. Corruption has debilitating effects and affects the most vulnerable citizens, the women, the children, and the elderly at most. For the past two decades the Zimbabwean economy has been on the meltdown and one of the major causes has been corruption. Although the Government showed its political will by ensuring the establishment of a national anti-corruption body there are so many challenges which came about.

In 2015, the government of Zimbabwe launched the Command Agriculture programme. The programme has been run by the military, which organised the procurement of inputs and supervised their distribution to farmers.  Inputs were initially provided by way of loans to the farmers with their debts being guaranteed by the State.  However, there was a high default rate on the loans – 85 per cent – so the State as guarantor of the loans has had to bear most of the cost of the programme. Between 2015 and 2018 the programme was funded outside the national budget, and an amount of US$3 billion in unbudgeted funds was expended on the programme during this period. The US$3 billion came to public notice when the Auditor-General revealed it as unappropriated expenditure when she appeared before the Public Accounts Committee. It can be noted that a programme meant to benefit the farmers was mismanaged leading to misappropriation of state funds.

Corruption in Zimbabwe

One of the main issues that has bedeviled Africa is corruption. Corruption cases are on the rise, and this has negatively affected the development of the African continent. Thomas Hobbes alluded to the fact that man is naturally selfish, and this has been the case in most African countries as public officials have turned to corruption for their own personal gain. The concept of power also directly explains why corruption is on the rise. Lord Acton in 1887 argued that power is corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Those in top positions have constantly abused their power hence it has become a challenge to fully eradicate corruption. According to Dike (2007:1-19), corruption is the violation of established rules for self – gains. It is the effort to secure wealth or power through illegitimate means at the public expense. Corruption in most state public enterprises manifests itself in the form of bribery, embezzlement, fraud, extortion, abuse of power, conflict of interest, favouritism, ghosting, nepotism, and graft (Shana 2006:1). Corruption is primarily a result of poor governance, thus a solid framework of administrative strategies to manage society’s needs is required across state public enterprises. When formal systems break down in governance, it becomes harder to implement and enforce laws and policies that ensure accountability and transparency (UNDP 2004:2) in the management of public activities.

This paper will describe a corruption case that transpired in Zimbabwe. Corruption in Zimbabwe has become endemic within its political, private, and civil sectors. Zimbabwe ranks 157th out of 180 countries in the 2021 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index where a high ranking corresponds to a perception of high corruption in the public sector. On a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean), the Corruption Perceptions Index gave Zimbabwe a score of 23. The government of Zimbabwe has made several strides in creating legislation and bodies that deal with corruption in the country. The Zimbabwean Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) was established after the passing of the Anti-Corruption Commission Bill in June 2004. The Commission is a signatory to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Protocol as well as the African Union (AU) and United Nations Convention on Anti-Corruption. However, according to a 2009 report by Global Integrity, the Commission is highly inefficient and “has very little authority to take steps aimed at stopping corruption in Zimbabwe”. Out of 147 corruption cases reviewed by the Commission in 2006, only four were completed. It is however important to note that corruption cases in the country are mostly centred within the executive, as the leaders are the ones who are at the top of instigating corruption tendencies. Corruption in Zimbabwe has been manifested in the form of bribery, embezzlement, fraud, extortion, abuse of power, conflict of interest, favouritism, ghosting, nepotism and patronage politics. According to Transparency International, corruption is costing the country $2bn annually (Kunaka,and Matsheza, 2020)

Command Agriculture Scandal

The Targeted Command Agriculture is a Zimbabwean agricultural scheme aimed at ensuring food self-sufficiency that was introduced at the start of the 2016 – 2017 farming season following the drought of the previous season. The scheme was introduced as Zimbabwe struggled with economic problems which include persistent high inflation, slow structural transformation, high dependence on low productivity agriculture caused by natural disasters such as drought. It was announced in August 2016 (Pindula, 2017).

The scheme targeted farmers near water bodies who could put a minimum of 200 hectares under maize per individual. These were found to be 2,000 in total and each farmer was required to produce at least 1,000 tonnes of maize. Each participating farmer was required to commit 5 tonnes per hectare towards repayment of advanced loans in the form of irrigation equipment, inputs, and chemicals, mechanized equipment, electricity, and water charges. Farmers would retain a surplus product produced more than 1,000 tonnes. The programme cost $500 million. Each farmer was earmarked to receive US$250,000. The programme has been plagued by corruption scandals, poor delivery and costs a small fortune due to poor repayment patterns. There are allegations of possible abuse of funds under the controversial command agriculture scheme amid claims that there are no records and accountability of how close to US$3 billion was disbursed. According to Lands and Agriculture ministry permanent secretary Ringson Chitsiko, and the ministry’s finance director Peter Mudzamiri, the US$3 billion cited in Auditor-General Mildred Chiri’s 2018 report never reached the ministry. Records to show how the funds were utilised were not available (The Independent, 2019). The Auditor General noted that US$3 billion was never documented and hence cannot be accounted for. The funding disappeared through the system and the authorities are clueless on how the money was used.

The failure to account for the US$3 billion means the government is running a shadowy parallel fiscal structure, funding corrupt and self-serving programmes. The command agriculture scheme run by the Office of the President and Cabinet has in the past been implicated for several corrupt activities where names of fictitious resettled farmers were smuggled into the beneficiaries’ list while some agricultural extension officers were nabbed after selling inputs meant for the scheme.


Command Agriculture was a plan that seemed sensible on paper, but was described by Minister of Finance, Professor Mthuli Ncube, as a programme that “created opportunities for arbitrage, leakages and corruption”, (Ministry of Finance and Economic Development. 2019. 2020 Annual Budget Statement, Ministry of Finance and Economic Development). There was a need for the Office of the President to decentralize the programme so that other sectors could focus on it. In most instances the Office of the President is overwhelmed by other responsibilities and spearheading the programme created loopholes for manipulations, mismanagement and corruption.

Successful production and implementation of Command Agriculture can be facilitated through land administration policy – including land audits and forms of taxation – that encourages more intensive, commercial use. But farm investment will only flow if the conditions are right, which means getting the leases issued, the contestation over land resolved through land compensation and private and public finance made available in flexible forms, and not through state schemes that are prone to corruption and patronage. Hence the government needs a land policy that audits the land use as well as the finances that are being administered to the farmers. Land audits will also be vital for making sure that the people getting financing for agriculture have land.

A decentralised electronic data management is proposed, along with the capacitation of Agritex offices and ‘command centres’. Investigations of abuse are promised, whereby “culprits will be quickly brought to book”. The Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) should open investigations into how some beneficiaries of the government’s controversial Command Agriculture programme abused the scheme, looting inputs and fuel. Command Agriculture is a high-profile plank of economic policy for the ‘new era’ extending from maize and wheat to include soybeans and livestock in the coming season. In line with the wider rhetoric around stamping out corruption, military discipline and well-designed logistics operation must be applied.

All cases of corruption, regardless of form, must be treated as high level criminal cases thus attracting longer and deterrent court sentences. This is because the devastating effects of corruption are felt by the general populace and that must be addressed. If individuals who engage in corruption activities are aware of the dire consequences of corruption, they will not engage in it. Some corrupt activities are not even legislated against, thus those who commit such offences are left free as they cannot be prosecuted.

Valerie Rumbidzai Jeche (Zimbabwe) is a member of the 2022 cohort of the Future Africa Fellowship

The Ghost Loans Case Scandal in Mozambique

The Ghost Loans Case Scandal in Mozambique

An immense case of financial fraud labelled the Ghost Loans Case and classified amongst the greatest corruption cases in sub-Saharan Africa. The unique nature of the case displayed itself as it traversed four continents – Africa, North America, Europe and the Middle East. The Ghost Loans Case as it was unanimously known played a vital role, whereby it made western financial institutions liable in the corruption of African political elite.


Key stakeholders include Manuel Chang the former minister of finance. He signed off on loans on behalf of the state government. The previous Credit Suisse Bank Group employees i.e. Andrew Pearse, Surjan Singh and Detelina Subeva. VTB Capital Bank from Russia which financed Mozambique Assets Management Company. U.S government investigated and issued an arrest warrant for Manuel Chang’s involvement in the financial fraud case. The Mozambique government indicted him on charges of money laundering, swindling and abuse of power in relation to the case. Finally, the South African government arrested and detained Manuel Chang whose extradition verdict lay within the Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola.


Mozambican senior officials and executive employees from Credit Suisse and Russia’s VTB Capital Bank collaborated to orchestrate this fraudulent scheme that involved $2 billion. The senior Mozambican officials amongst them, former Minister of finance Manuel Chang used three crucial state-owned companies and diverted at least $200 million in the form of kickbacks and bribes in 2013. The companies that received the loans included Ematum (fishing company), Proindicus (maritime security firm) and Mozambique Assets Management. However public suspicion arose upon discovery that the state did not guarantee the loans repayment. This automatically compelled the state to pay back the loans secured. Therefore, the Mozambican public debt increased to a total worth $1.4 billion. 

This discovery was made during the International Monetary Fund’s assistance program to the country. The IMF and international donors proceeded to freeze loans and suspended much needed aid to Mozambique. Subsequently, that secret loan led the coastal nation to suffer a debt crisis so severe it has deprived citizens of the most essential services like road maintenance and maintained hospitals. In December 2018, South African Police acted on an international arrest warrant issued by the U.S and arrested Manuel Chang. Meanwhile British authorities arrested three former Credit Suisse bankers: Andrew Pearse, Surjan Singh and Detelina Subeva. The charges brought against them involved creation of maritime proxy projects as a means to raise money for self -enrichment. They also diverted portions of the loan proceeds that acted as payment in the form of bribes and kickbacks to themselves and senior government officials.

Current Status of the Case

After the arrests, the U.S. and Mozambique both issued competing extradition requests for Chang in 2019. However, subsequent changes such as the newly appointed South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola who decided to reverse the initial verdict led to a stalemate in the case. Mozambique issued, pending appeal, an immediate extradition of Chang. As it stands, Manuel Chang is still held in custody in South Africa awaiting the final verdict to be given by the Justice Minister declaring which state he will be extradited to.


The former Credit Suisse Bank group employees pleaded guilty and admitted to the charges. The case exposed a number of political elites involved in helping Manuel Chang carry out the operation in 2013. Additionally, following the withdrawal of Mozambique extradition appeal, The South Africa Justice Minister Ronald is now left with more latitude to review the case on the basis of upcoming developments.


Credit Suisse Bank denied any involvement in the fraud case. They insisted that the 3 former employees proceeded to default the banks’ internal controls and sought to conceal their actions. Court proceedings affected by the absence of Manuel Chang in Mozambique. Whereby the government claims that Chang has cases to answer in Mozambique and has initiated court proceedings comprising of defendants in Manuel’s case. Even so his continued absence compromises court proceedings and much needed clarity on facts.

Furthermore, the South Africa Justice Minister Ronald Lamola delayed giving an appropriate verdict on the case. This is due to contention within President Ramaphosa’s government, as two conflicting factions have vested interests in the case. To begin with, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola is leading a “rule of law” faction which wants to send Chang to the US to face corruption and fraud charges. However, another hard line faction with close ties to the FRELIMO ruling party in Mozambique continued to push for his extradition to Mozambique so as to conserve friendly relations with its neighboring state. This created a dilemma for President Ramaphosa to choose between approving a legally robust decision and following the Justice Minister’s lead or opting for the politically expedient choice to send Chang back to Mozambique.


This case displayed the reality that only through relentless pursuits and substantial political will, can the decay of corruption be truly eliminated. The U.S government demonstrated this by being the first to issue an indictment as well as an international arrest warrant for Manuel Chang that led to his arrest in South Africa. In addition, the competing extradition appeals from both the U.S.A and Mozambique indicated the urgency of both states to ensure justice is pursued. Consequently, this will help to prove whether the verdict will be made in order to uphold integrity and the rule of law or will political expediency hold more pre-eminence at the end of the day. Indeed, the ball is now in the South African Court. 

Anita Mugo (Kenya) is a member of the 2021 cohort of the Future Africa Fellowship

Aid for Development? Not in Zimbabwe

Aid for Development? Not in Zimbabwe


The aid for development narrative has outlived its relevance in most African countries considering that even after two decades they are still “developing countries”. Zimbabwe is one country with abundant aid, poverty, corruption, high rates of unemployment, and food insecurity among a host of issues. The question therefore is why has aid failed to promote development? This article’s key hypothesis is that Zimbabwe’s dependency on aid is not entirely helpful and that there is need to craft alternatives to ensure development. The focus of the article is Lean Season Assistance (LSA) food aid in Matobo and Mangwe districts of Zimbabwe. Focus is also given to the impact of LSA on the indigenous communities and ultimately anticipations on food security and development.

Lean season assistance and food security

Lean season assistance (LSA) is a routinely emergency response to drought related food insecurity in rural Zimbabwe during the period August to March. Households are selected through a participatory community led targeting process facilitated by the implementing organization after mobilizing communities through the local leadership. During these gatherings, the villages establish local household food insecurity indicators which they use as a basis of ranking and selection of the most food insecure households. Registered households receive monthly food rations of 7.5kg cereal, 1.5kg pulses and 0.75 kg vegetable oil per individual in the household. In January 2022, the Lean Season Assistance (LSA) programme scaled up its response at the peak of the program to support 648,718 people in 12 districts until March. This was an increase from 542,352 people supported in December 2021 (World Food Programme Situation Report: 2022). These figures are proof of the magnitude of food insecurity in the country and the tremendous contribution of food aid yet low returns in overall development.

Relatively, the LSA has infected indigenous communities with dependency syndrome and indirectly contributed to the low yields in the two districts. It is not denied that climate change has affected yields and food aid has saved communities from hunger yet the negatives outweigh the positives. Communities rely more on food aid rather than farming as households with high yields from recent farming season are exempted from the program. Hence, they would prefer food aid than toiling on their farms to the extent of killing each other for food. Incidents were being reported by communities of threats to kill, others made to lose insanity and actual deaths as a result of the programs. This side of food aid is rarely documented as implementing organizations make a living out of the programs. It is therefore difficult to implement development initiatives in such divided and aid dependent communities. Moreover, the government social services have reduced due to overreliance on donor funded food aid with the elderly, child headed households, and people with disabilities (PWDs) bearing the brunt as they have no access to the distant ward centers during food aid registrations. 

Image source: Unsplash

According to World Bank 2018, The State of Social Safety Nets.  Zimbabwe spends only 0.4% of GDP on social protection, which is far less than 1.5% of GDP regional average for Sub-Saharan Africa meaning that the vulnerable individuals in the communities remain food insecure and poor. Recently, the Deputy Minister of agriculture, Douglas Karoro revealed that the drought experienced during the 2021/22 farming season has adversely affected the country’s food security situation. It is devastating to note that even with the abundant food aid, communities are food insecure. Thus, evidence that eroded indigenous farming communities and traditional systems, and over reliance on food aid cannot replace the practicality of agriculture to food security.

Nokulunga Ndlovua, a citizen of Zimbabwe, is a member of the Future Africa Fellowship 2022 cohort

Vital Kamerhe:  20-Year Sentence, A Dead Judge And a Waltz With the Law

Vital Kamerhe:  20-Year Sentence, A Dead Judge And a Waltz With the Law

When does corruption start? Does it start with the first call to an offshore bank, the first transfer of illicit funds or does it start some time before – during a sleepless night – and in the depths of the mind where no law reaches?

Vital Kamerhe was the Chief of Staff to Felix Tshisekedi, the President of the cobalt-rich Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). When the President came into office in January 2019, one of his goals was to provide improved infrastructure and affordable housing to the Congolese people through his ‘100- day program’. However, soon after funds were disbursed, construction stalled whilst costs rose.

The players in this murky game are not hard to spot. First, we must have a government official with power to disburse funds and the willingness to look away. This was Kamerhe. As Chief of Staff, he could sign off on contracts and release funds. Second, we must have the pseudo-credible middlemen – the ones who make the show, by working to deliberately stall projects and inflate prices. These are the Lebanese businessmen Jammal Samih, CEO of Husmal and Samibo – two companies involved in the construction of social housing – and Jeannot Muhima Ndoole, who heads the Import-Export Department for the President.

On the other hand, there were members of civil society, such as the NGO Government Spending Watch, which reported that 80% of the contracts were awarded without tenders submitted. The president was also a key player – permitting the law to take its course. This may not have been done for altruistic reasons as there had also been reports of a rift between the President and his Chief of staff.

For the first time in a long time in Congo’s history, a high-ranking political official seemed to dance to the beat of the law. This was regardless of the fact that Judge Raphaël Yany, the judge overseeing the corruption trial, was murdered in May 2020.  The police had earlier reported that he died of a heart attack, but an autopsy report revealed that he died from knife-like injuries to the head. This happened even though he had six policemen guarding him during the course of the trial.

Notwithstanding Judge Raphaël Yany’s murder, both Vital Kamerhe and Jammal Samih were sentenced to 20 years of hard labor in June 2020 and faced millions of dollars in fines. Beyond this, Kamerhe was also disqualified from running for office in Congo for the next 10 years. Jeannot Muhima was sentenced to two years of hard labour. The impact of this ruling has brought some hope to the Congolese people – a glimpse of what is possible if the law is allowed to take its course.


Arguably, this hope was short-lived. On 14 April 2021, Kamerhe, from the relative comfort of his hospital bed, congratulated his ‘comrades’ for appointments as ministers and deputy ministers in the government. In fact, they got positions in areas, such as Budget, Land affairs as well as the Justice Department.

This case is familiar. Similar plays and players can be found across the continent. In this game, the law is a web through which birds fly unscathed, but flies are caught. The consequences of the actions of a few are left on the many. Whilst their politicians and those associated with them continue to misappropriate public funds – $304M was initially budgeted for infrastructure building and a large percentage of this remains unaccounted for –  the people of Congo remain as poor as ever – with the majority living below the poverty line, spending less than $2/day to live.

State Capture: All in the Family

State Capture: All in the Family

In the aftermath of the Tunisian revolution in 2011, some 550 properties, 48 boats and yachts, 40 stock portfolios, 367 bank accounts, and approximately 400 enterprises were seized from deposed President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his clan. The Confiscation Commission in Tunisia estimates that the total value of these assets combined – the total worth of the Ben Ali clan’s belongings – was approximately $13 billion or more than one-quarter of Tunisian GDP in 2010.  By the end of 2010, around 220 firms owned by Ben Ali and his extended family had taken 21% of all private sector profits in Tunisia.

They were able to drive profits of their firms to such high levels by taking advantage of and manipulating Tunisia’s Investment Laws. Ben Ali’s relatives flocked to sectors with regulations such as: telecoms, air, maritime transport, banking and real estate. The entry restrictions to these sectors translated into greater market share, higher prices and more money for the firm’s of Ben Ali’s extended family.

Demonstrators hold placards during a protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied, on the anniversary of the 2011 uprising, in Tunis, Tunisia January 14, 2023. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
Demonstrators hold placards during a protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied, on the anniversary of the 2011 uprising, in Tunis, Tunisia January 14, 2023. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Many countries use entry restrictions to serve domestic interests such as protecting consumers from poor quality goods and services or protecting growing domestic firms from unfair foreign competition. When existing regulations did not sufficiently shield the family businesses from competition, the President designed and decreed new regulations to ensure his family firms gained from these new regulations. 

In Tunisia such regulations served to protect the President’s family’s business interests at the expense of the Tunisian consumers and firms who had to foot the bill. Six months after he was ousted, the President and his wife were found guilty by a Tunisian Court for embezzlement and misuse of public funds and sentenced to 35 years in prison

Beyond the central figures of Ben Ali and the Confiscation Committee, numerous key stakeholders played pivotal roles in this complex saga, shedding light on the intricate dynamics of corruption and resistance.

Key Stakeholders

  • Institutions: The Tunisian legal system and judiciary played a crucial role in holding the Ben Ali clan accountable. Investigative bodies and law enforcement agencies, such as the Confiscation Commission, were instrumental in identifying, seizing, and valuing the extensive assets amassed by the former president and his family.
  • Activists: Civil society and human rights activists, spurred by the revolutionary spirit, were at the forefront of exposing and condemning the corruption. Organizations like the Tunisian League for Human Rights and the National Anti-Corruption Network actively campaigned for justice, pushing the boundaries of the public discourse on corruption and accountability.
  • Lawyers: Legal professionals and advocates played a critical role in navigating the complexities of the legal system to ensure that justice was served. The efforts of lawyers who represented the victims and worked towards dismantling the legal defenses erected by the Ben Ali family were indispensable.
  • Politicians: Reformist politicians within Tunisia played a significant role in both exposing and combating corruption. Their efforts were essential in pushing for legal and institutional changes aimed at preventing such abuses of power in the future.
  • International Community: The global response to the Tunisian revolution and subsequent revelations of corruption was instrumental. International organizations, such as the United Nations and Transparency International, provided support and scrutiny. The global community’s attention added pressure on the Tunisian government to address the corruption issue transparently.

The exposure of the extensive corruption orchestrated by Ben Ali and his family holds profound significance on multiple levels.

  • Democracy and Governance: The case underscores the challenges faced by emerging democracies in establishing robust institutions capable of withstanding corruption. The scrutiny and subsequent legal actions serve as a testament to the importance of resilient legal and judicial systems in safeguarding democracy.
  • Economic Implications: The magnitude of assets seized, representing over a quarter of Tunisia’s GDP in 2010, highlights the economic repercussions of unchecked corruption. This revelation prompts a critical examination of the impact corruption can have on a nation’s economic stability and growth.
  • Global Anti-Corruption Efforts: The international response to the Tunisian case emphasizes the interconnectedness of the global fight against corruption. It sets a precedent for collaborative efforts between nations and organizations to combat corruption and reinforces the notion that corrupt leaders will be held accountable on the international stage.
  • Civil Society Empowerment: The active role played by activists, lawyers, and other civil society actors demonstrates the power of collective action in challenging corrupt regimes. The Tunisian case serves as an inspiration for citizens globally, highlighting the role they can play in demanding accountability and transparency.

In conclusion, the exposure and prosecution of the Ben Ali clan’s corruption transcend mere historical events; they serve as a poignant lesson in the ongoing struggle for democracy, economic integrity, and global anti-corruption efforts.

Sharon Kitur (Kenya) and Ayokanmi Oyeyemi (Nigeria) are members of the Future Africa Fellowship 2021 cohort.