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Conflict and corruption

Written by Saad Mustafa on Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Corruption can manifest itself in several stages of a conflict. In the 1980’s it was one of the initial drivers of conflict in Burundi, Guatemala and El Salvador. In all three, corruption catalysed a wide range of grievances against the central government by various social groups. Corruption can also thrive after the conflict has ended preying on weak institutions which have not been allowed to fully form and develop.


Corruption can manifest itself in several stages of a conflict. In the 1980’s it was one of the initial drivers of conflict in Burundi, Guatemala and El Salvador. In all three, corruption catalysed a wide range of grievances against the central government by various social groups. Corruption can also thrive after the conflict has ended, preying on weak institutions which have not been allowed to fully form and develop. It is for this reason that countries caught up in conflict should and must address this social ill.

Arguably, corruption is a more acute problem in post-conflict environments than in peaceful settings. The milieu of a post-conflict arena allows corruption to be catalysed by greed and ideology and runs the risk of alienating vital sections of society who could otherwise play a crucial role in guiding the country towards a more prosperous future. The chaos and corruption that most often defines these states can reverse very expensive gains as shown in Afghanistan and weaken already unstable and fragile governance structures thus reducing the hope of economic growth and future prosperity. In a worst case scenario, rampant corruption can retrogress countries towards the very instability and conflict from which they have just broken free.

Corruption can take many forms: embezzlement, nepotism, cronyism, bribery and fraud are just some. The harmful effects of each is magnified in post-conflict countries where huge inflows of foreign aid can distort the political balance and provide an increased incentive to engage in corrupt practices. For example, in Liberia over half the country’s $750 million of aid is off-budget and therefore not subject to government control. Further, a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction highlights that the United States’ inability to control aid flow in the country is increasing the risk that some of the money is inadvertently fuelling insurgency. The two examples emphasise that the need for robust and transparent local governance institutions is even greater in such situations. Aid initially earmarked for crucial development of basic services and the establishment of a stable and self-sufficient economy can be diverted misappropriated and stolen. This not only undermines advancement but reduces public confidence in governments which are already weak to begin with.

For this reason it is important to chart how disparate post-conflict countries have risen to the challenge and addressed the harmful effects of corruption. Rwanda, Liberia and Serbia, the three case studies in our new report ‘Counter-corruption reforms in post-conflict countries’, have not fully eradicated corruption, but each has taken major steps to addressing it. The strategy adopted has reflected the unique intricacies of their respective security, political and social dynamics. Whilst there is no one panacea for corruption, the report has highlighted two key areas to addressing corruption risk:

  1. Political will: a genuine motivation within the political elite to eradicate corruption from their shores is essential. Establishing institutions and legislating anti-corruption doctrines only provides the framework. The real driver will always be the political elite and it is up to them to implement the norms and laws of the land both in letter and in spirit.
  2. Free speech: It is essential for countries to allow their citizens, officials and media to express views and draw attention to stories which may not always portray the government in the best possible light. Freedom of speech is cornerstone for any society to hold governments practices to account. With regards to counter-corruption, the multiple stakeholders can play a crucial role in discovering cases of corruption, bringing them to the attention of the relevant authorities, and creating a space for real debate within society on how best to tackle it.

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Read 10728 times Last modified on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 11:47

Saad Mustafa

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