Investigating Transnational Crime and Corruption: The Africanist Press Project on Illicit Financial Flows in West Africa

By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah

In November 2023, the Africanist Press is launching a transnational research project that aims to investigate and document sources of illicit financial flows (IFFs) in West Africa. The Africanist Press is a non-profit organization of investigative journalists and academics established in the U.S. in December 2002 to report on corruption, human rights, and democratic governance in Africa.

The Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) project will focus on the Mano River corridor of West Africa that includes the countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and Ivory Coast. The project is designed to study the history of multinational corporate operations and economic activities in the region from the 1970s to the present day. The Mano River corridor of West Africa is a region endowed with immense natural resources, including diamonds, gold, bauxite, aluminum, uranium, timber, and agricultural goods. Such abundance has long fueled colonial and more recent struggles to determine not just how resources were extracted, but also who secured the profits. Multinational corporations from Europe, North America, and increasingly Asia have actively competed for control of these resources. With its rubber and coffee plantations in Liberia and Ivory Coast, its diamond mines in Sierra Leone, and the bauxite and iron ore reserves in Guinea, the Mano River region remains a site of immense wealth and also a hotbed of political and social conflicts and environmental and epidemiological disasters.

The countries in this region, reviewed in terms of global development indexes, have the worst rankings in the world relating to health, economic growth, and human development, with high rates of poverty and maternal and infant mortality. Much of the wealth and domestic revenues accrued from mining and agricultural capital and other large-scale foreign direct investment projects are lost to corrupt and clandestine networks and financial crime syndicates. The proceeds in fact are often shipped directly through clandestine operations to offshore destinations, otherwise known as tax havens.

While social scientists have begun to grapple with the global history of tax havens, offshore banking, and corporate contracts (eg: Vanessa Ogle at Yale and Hannah Appel at UCLA), historians of Africa have not yet developed a clear picture of how financial networks developed, or how they shaped states’ economic development trajectories in the “post-colonial” period. Indeed, scholars and policy experts are only now beginning to combine forces to shine the spotlight on financial crimes syndicates. Despite these budding efforts, scholars still have no agreed upon methods for how to monitor illegal financial flows. More to the point, in countries with a weak civil service, unreliable technology, and poor infrastructure, such as exists in the Mano River region, it is exceedingly difficult to locate reliable evidence working alone. Transnational and multidisciplinary teams are thus essential.

The IFF project intends to build just such a team. Among its goals are: to develop accessible and replicable methodologies to effectively monitor, document, and report on IFFs and organized crime in West Africa. The project will also apply statistical modeling to estimate the specific impacts of IFFs on social service delivery, especially in terms of reproductive governance in the region. For example, it will quantify the impact of financial corruption on maternal and infant mortality in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Liberia to help illustrate the direct effects of IFFs on population health.

By showing direct links between financial corruption and poorly funded health and poverty reduction programs, it will demonstrate how revenues potentially recovered from anti-IFF campaigns can be used to finance public health, sanitation, nutrition, clean water, and other poverty reduction programs that would reduce the chronic statistics on maternal and neonatal deaths in Mano River countries.

The project seeks to create a comprehensive database of IFFs in the Mano River region to illustrate the historical roots, transnational dimensions, and contemporary networks that support and sustain organized crime in West Africa.

The overall goal of the project is to produce reports that will influence future development policies and contribute to a better understanding of ongoing debates about international development and global security.

More information about Africanist Press investigation and report can be found on our website: AfricanistPress.Com

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