Laurence Cockcroft began his working career in 1966 as an ODI Fellow and economist in the Ministry of Rural Development in newly independent Zambia. His earlier introduction to the rural environment in Africa had begun four years earlier as a volunteer (VSO) in northern Nigeria where he had initiated farm level surveys by the students at a Citizenship Training Centre. In Zambia he was introduced to the issues of small farm development, then a priority for the Government of Kenneth Kaunda, which remain under debate and largely unresolved to this day.
In 1970 he was offered a post in the Planning Ministry of Tanzania again to work on the rural sector but with a special focus on livestock. In the course of two years he focused on development of the livestock sector leading to a $25 million World Bank project. For the next four years he was involved in planning similar projects in Ghana, Cameroun and Nigeria but became dissatisfied with the relationship between African governments and the World Bank which had been characterised by unrealistic expectations on both sides, and where politics and corruption were clearly distorting projects and their impact.
Companies, Politics and History
In 1977 Cockcroft joined Booker Agriculture International, a subsidiary of Booker PLC, which had extensive interests in tropical agriculture especially in the sugar industry from Guyana to Papua New Guinea. He managed its consulting business and took an active part in its poultry business which extended from the US to Zimbabwe. In 1983 and 1987 he stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Social Democratic Party in Halifax, Yorkshire. But underlying political and social issues in Africa as constraints on development continued to fascinate him, especially the question of how Africa's pre colonial past impacted on the present. He researched a book on this theme, published as 'Africa's Way : A journey from the past' by I. B. Tauris in 1989.
A Charitable Foundation and Grass Roots
In 1985 he was invited to work with the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, a Sainsbury Family Trust, to help develop its own programme in Africa. Over the next twenty years this focused on, first, the diffusion to small farmers of achieved agricultural research results and, second, the development of micro finance programmes. In the first case these programme extended to seven countries and in the second case to Cameroun, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (for both, see web links below). In varying ways these were managed through local Trusts and an investment company and deployed in total about £50 million both as grants and equity. The programmes, modified over time, continue on an expanded basis.
Corruption and Transparency
By the early 1990s it was impossible to disguise the fact that in Africa development was being impeded by corruption. Introduced by Joe Githongo, a senior accountant in Kenya, to the concept of Transparency International, Cockcroft became both a co-founder, a member of both its first international Board and the Board of its UK Chapter, serving as Chairman from 2000-8. In these roles he has been particularly active in assisting with the development of chapters in Africa, in launching TI's Business Principles for Countering Bribery, in launching pioneering work on corruption in the global arms trade, and in promoting the wholesale revision of the UK's anti bribery laws, leading to the Bribery Act of 2010 – the first to outlaw bribes paid abroad.
Writing 'Global Corruption'
From 2010-12 he has been drawing on twenty years of experience in TI in order to write 'Global Corruption', designed to probe deeply into the forces which continue to drive corruption and the way forward in combating it.