The looting of Africa by its elites with the witting or unwitting complicity of overseas partners is an old, sad song. Looters are flexible and clever. As Britain and France tighten the screws on money laundering, looters have begun to look elsewhere. A recent investigation by Canadian media and African Arguments shows the growing popularity of Montreal as a place for francophone African elites to launder their money. Over a dozen politically connected francophone Africans have purchased real estate worth CAD 26 million, usually without a mortgage. While this is clearly evidence of a trend away from more traditional money-laundering cities, Montreal is far from the big leagues. A UK parliamentary committee estimated in 2016 that $130 billion from all geographical sources is laundered through the London real estate market each year.
In Nigeria, the war against corruption was the centerpiece of the successful 2015 presidential campaign of Muhammadu Buhari. On June 5, acting President Yeni Osinbajo (Buhari is on medical leave in London) reiterated the administration’s tough stance on corruption, and specifically called on foreign countries and institutions to cooperate in tracking down Nigerian money laundered through their jurisdiction.
The need for international cooperation against money laundering and other forms of corruption is obvious. Yet, in the case of the United States, the approach to African corruption has been inconsistent. Over the past year, the Council on Foreign Relations has published two reports with a specific focus on tacking corruption in Africa: “Improving U.S. Anticorruption Policy in Nigeria” by Matthew Page, and “How the Trump Administration Can Help Combat Kleptocracy in Africa” by Allen Grane and me. Both pieces have concrete, practical recommendations for the United States.