Conflict and Corruption
In the past two decades, the problem of corruption has attracted considerable attention and has had a significant influence on how intervention strategies in post-war countries are devised. The aim of this paper will be to outline some of the conceptual problems associated with defining corruption, its links to conflicts and the impact which international efforts have had on fighting corruption in post-war societies.
In the past two decades, the problem of corruption has attracted considerable attention and has had a significant influence on how intervention strategies in post-war countries are devised. The aim of this paper will be to provide an analysis of the complex relationship which exists between corruption, conflict and the subsequent peace-building process in countries emerging from conflicts.
To begin with, there are several conceptual problems associated with how corruption is defined and understood – even in countries, where no violent conflicts have taken place, it could require an enormous endeavour in order to pin point exactly what corruption should stand for (Heidenheimer and Johnston, 2002: 161). Therefore, a good starting point would be the most widely used definition of corruption: ‘Behaviour which deviates from the formal duties of a public role because of private regarding (personal, close family, private clique) pecuniary or status gains’ (Nye, 1967: 419).
However, when this definition is applied to countries emerging from war, two significant problems arise (Harvey, 2012, online). To begin with, the above mentioned definition constraints the appearance of corruption only to a particular segment of the population, namely those individuals who occupy a position within a public office, thus failing to acknowledge that corruption could in fact occur even when such a role is non-existent (Philp, 2008: 311). At the same time, however, this definition is also problematic because it fails to draw a boundary between corruption and similar phenomena, thereby stretching the concept and making it too broad (Harvey, 2012, online).
Because of these conceptual problems, for the purposes of the present study an alternative definition of corruption will be employed: ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’ (Transparency International, 2009: p. x).
Problems associated with corruption
Over the past two decades, increasing efforts on behalf of the international community, many governments, and civil society organizations have focused attention on the persistent problem of corruption in transitional economies, as well as in developing and industrialized states, blaming it for slowed economic growth and deterioration in the quality of public service delivery (Spector, 2008c: 1). Although many have struggled to design effective anti-corruption strategies,) without a doubt, the once so-called ‘conspiracy of silence’ (Andreski, 1978:347, in Leenders, 2012: 6) has been transformed. The recent interest academic interest in corruption evolved out of concerns that in many less developed countries, efforts to boost ‘modernization’ or ‘development’ – re-packaged and made pertinent by the World Bank and the IMF’s ‘structural adjustment programme’ – had failed to deliver (Leenders, 2012: 6). Against this background, it has increasingly been asserted that corruption raises serious obstacles to economic growth and associated ‘good governance’, and that the phenomenon constitutes a drain on emerging economies (Lambsdorff, 2005: 8).
In addition to that, it has been documented that in the cases of developing countries where corruption practices have been noted, this has discouraged foreign investment, thereby slowing down and even inhibiting economic growth (ibid.: 4-7). Parallel to that, the existence of corruption practices has been positively associated with the flourishing of shadow economies and grey markets, thus depraving the state of any revenue collected in the form of taxes (Spector, 2008b: 5). Next, the widespread use of corruption practices not only undermines any efforts to reduce poverty and social exclusion, but also leads to the disproportionate accumulation of wealth in certain social segments (Li et al. 2000: 155). In addition, corrupt governments lack political legitimacy (Anderson and Tverdova, 2003: 91) and undermine the rule of law, thus leading to lack of confidence on behalf of the general public, which in itself can facilitate violence. Having outlined some of the problems associated with corruption in post-conflict states, the next section of this paper will draw attention to the relationship which exists between corruption and conflicts.
The impact of corruption on conflict and the peace-building process
Boucher et al. (2007: 4-5) notes that there exists a consensus as to the links between corruption and conflict; the general measures needed to control corruption and the general measures needed to control corruption in post-conflict settings. Here, it should be noted that corruption in some cases could potentially have a positive impact in the early stages of post-war transition and contribute to the peacekeeping process. But as Le Billon warns, ‘corruption always has debilitating long-term effects and thus cannot play a part in building sustainable peace’ (2003: 8-9). Therefore it is of crucial importance that a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy is devised and implemented in the early stages of the transition towards more stable governance.
In countries emerging from war conflicts, where legitimacy and the bureaucratic apparatus is yet to be restored, ‘public office’ is usually tenuous or non-existent, and often contested (Harvey, 2012, online). For this reason, whilst restoring peace and security, one also creates an environment in which corruption practices could flourish, because it is the legal framework of the new regime that will set the boundaries for deviant conduct. When we attempt to build peace, we create standards and rules that, once in place, can be broken (Philp, 2008: 322). Having this in mind, it becomes easier to comprehend the unprecedentedly high levels of corruption in post-conflict settings.
Whilst corruption practices are placed in context, it becomes necessary to acknowledge and recognise that any successful prevention strategy should be tailored so as the address the needs of the country in question, rather than being based on common factors and elements which have been documented elsewhere. One pattern that cannot be easily be ignored, however, it that corruption practices are much more common in post-conflict settings rather than in developing countries in general, the reason for this being the variety of opportunities which the former seems to present (Spector, 2008a; 9). In addition to that, there appear to be several factors associated with corruption in countries, which are emerging from war: insecurity, deprivation, presence of non-governmental organisations, as well as the amount of aid allocated by the international community (both financial and in the form of other resources) (Maxwell et al. 2012: 140). In fact, corruption can become deeply embedded in the fabric of governance (Harvey, 2012, online).
Post-conflict environments are characterised by weak societal structures, a problem that is linked to a weak civil society and a lack of independent mass media. In the words of Bertram Spector: “years of violence can rob society and the mass media of their capacity to organise, mobilise and educate citizens; oversee government effectively; and advocate and pressure for reforms” (2008a 14). Moreover, prolonged conflict can adversely affect the practices associated with legitimate forms of governance, such as transparency and accountability (Giraldo, 2006: 6). The absence of these is a direct leftover of the conflict period, but unless they are tackled and public trust in the operation of the government is re-established, this will severely undermine any efforts aimed at reducing corruption (UNDP, 2010: 12).
Bolongaita (2005: 3-5) suggests that corruption poses four major obstacles to achieving establishing long-term peace and ensuring post-conflict success. To begin with, corruption, whether it is a real problem or only a perceived one, dissuades potential donors, be they non-governmental organisations or countries, from allocating resources due to a lack of trust or confidence. Next, even in cases where aid is provided, it might not necessarily reach its beneficiaries. This is due to the fact that many corrupt agencies and officials can divert the financial resources and use them at their own discretion for personal profit, meaning that no one of the problems faced by the population of the country are addressed. In addition, once corruption is embedded in a country, it leads to the accumulation of debt in the public sector, as well as absolute deprivation. Last, but not least, the draining of financial resources creates the need for more funds, in order to fill in the gaps in budgets and available financial assets. These are provided by borrowing even more funds, which, in turn, are subject to more corruption and embezzlement, creating a vicious cycle. As this becomes more institutionalised, the problems of social exclusion and absolute deprivation within the population are also exacerbated. Ultimately, this refuels the conflict, forcing the country and its population to take up the same path, which the society has tried to abstain from previously.
In order to reduce the spreading of corruption in the post-conflict period several interventions can be made. As Boucher et al. 2007 advices, it is of great importance that peace agreements contain anticorruption clauses, thus allowing the international community to actively support and supervise the implementation of these, whilst at the same time promoting transparency, accountability and integrity (Boucher et al. 2007: 58-59). At the same time, the peace negotiation process should not solely concentrate on reducing the violent conflict, but also create the platform upon which the new political, economic and social institutions of the state will be re-established. For the successful sustainability of security and the promotion of peace within the state, the root causes of the conflict should be addressed and any underlying tensions should be resolved (ibid.). Having outlined the problematic relationship which exists between conflict, corruption and post-conflict societies, the next section of this paper will draw attention to the effectiveness of interventions undertaken in countries that have suffered from violent conflicts.
The effectiveness of intervention
However, the establishment of peace within conflict-ridden countries appears to be a burdensome task, having in mind that nearly half of all post-conflict countries return to war within five years of signing a peace treaty (Giraldo, 2006: 6). Other critics of international peacekeeping efforts have expressed the criticism that liberal peace-building has shown to be counterproductive, as it “created very weak states and institutions that are dependent upon foreign support and subject to tests of power-sharing and corruption” (Richmond and Franks, 2007: 30). The imposition of liberal democratic forms of governance can result in unforeseen problems, as it fails to take into account country-specific factors (Rondelli and Montgomery, 2005: 16). Therefore, unless the specific needs of the countries are not taken into account, the chance for successfully tackling corruption will remain quite slim. One notable exception, where international interventions have resulted in the stabilisation of a country and tackling of corruption, is Indonesia (Bolongaita, 2010: 25-26). Thus, it is of vital importance to ensure that the problems of security and peace are resolved first, before a step can be taken towards the re-establishment of a strong national government that is able to tackle corruption-related problems (Rondelli and Montgomery, 2005: 18-19).
The aim of this paper was to provide an outline of the links which exist between conflict-torn states and corruption and whether international efforts have been successful in tackling the problem of corruption. As it was shown, in order to successfully resolve any challenges posed by corruption in the developing world, the global community should devise strategies that are able to address a country’s specific needs, but also adhere to good practice. Although significant progress has been made in the area of tackling corruption in the post-war countries from the developing world, this is a long-term goal which can only be achieved with perseverance and consistency in the advocated interventions. Future research in the realm of corruption and transitional societies could potentially adopt a comparative approach and seek to establish common factors between post-conflict countries and countries which have experienced changes in the models of governance, i.e. post-communist states. It is likely that corruption within the latter will take different dimensions, yet such a research project could potentially identify and advice on good practice, which after careful consideration and evaluation could be used to tackle corruption in post-conflict states.
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