The Yale Global Justice Program presents
Khadija Sharife, Poynter Fellow, writer, investigative journalist and senior Africa editor at the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and Andrew Feinstein, author of the critically-acclaimed The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade and Executive Director of Shadow World Investigations:
“Exposing Corruption in the Global Arms Trade.”
The global arms industry is less regulated than the global trade in bananas; and it is the leading source of corruption worldwide. Poor, contradictory and weakly enforced governance systems have allowed for reporting between importing and exporting nations to become a largely private affair, devoid of meaningful scrutiny. Arms deals are often concluded by politicians, military leaders, corporate executives and dubious intermediaries, who all benefit financially or politically. Corruption is rife and often ignored, leading to unneeded military supplies being purchased for the bribes rather than the nation’s security. Such trade is conducted with virtual impunity under a cover of national-security rhetoric. Investigative journalists and whistleblowers have exposed many of these deals which would otherwise never have been known.
While, in the Cold War, the arms trade was driven by efforts to militarize allies, now it is sold as a means of development and defense against terrorism. Democracy and justice have been systematically undermined, even bypassed, through opaque relationships between powerful foreign funders – often major arms manufacturers – and officials in recipient nations, usually developing countries. Bloated arms imports are especially common in countries under sanctions and those with large natural resource sectors (exporting oil, gas, gold, etc.). The role of legal and financial opacity within harmful corporate vehicles, the hidden role of offsets and the use of secrecy jurisdictions are typical red flags.
These relationships have propped up authoritarian regimes while causing regional conflict. Thus, Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest arms importer from 2015 to 2019, mainly from the US and UK, is a key exporter of arms to conflict zones such as Yemen. Authoritarian-run Uganda has received more military training from the US than any other country (save Burundi) in sub-Saharan Africa while countries in the Sahel including the Niger and Chad are militarized by the US as a counter to Islamist terrorism. All these countries are ruled by dictators or corrupt regimes.
As a young democracy, South Africa bought $10bn of arms most of which it had no use for and has barely used. At least $350m in bribes were paid to politicians, senior officials, military leaders, corporate executives and intermediaries. To avoid exposure, the country’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) fired Andrew Feinstein as chair of its parliamentary public accounts committee when he sought to launch a commission of inquiry. In 2001, Feinstein resigned from parliament in protest. The deal, and its subsequent cover-up, marked the point at which the ruling ANC lost its moral compass: those who had sacrificed to attain democracy were willing to destroy its institutions to protect themselves from scrutiny.
Andrew Feinstein is the author of the critically-acclaimed The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade which reveals the corruption and malfeasance at the heart of the global arms business. The Washington Post described the book as “the most complete account of the trade ever written”, while the Independent praised its combination of “amazing storytelling … with a level of detail that may well be unique.” Feinstein is currently Executive Director of Shadow World Investigations, an NGO that details and exposes the impact of bribery and corruption on democracy. He was named amongst the 100 most influential people in the world working in armed violence reduction.
Poynter Fellow Khadija Sharife (LLM) is a writer, investigative journalist and senior Africa editor at the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. Her focus is illicit financial flows, natural resources, and political economy. She is the former director of Plateforme de Protection des Lanceurs d’Alerte en Afrique and the author of “Tax Us If You Can: Africa.”