Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia…
As in previous years, many of the countries near the bottom of the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index have been severely affected by violent conflict in recent years.
Somalia, in last place on the index with just 10 points, has faced a decade-long insurgency by terrorist group Al Shabaab. Syria and South Sudan, both on 13 points, and Yemen (14) have all been ravaged by ongoing civil war.
Such low scores indicate that bribery, stealing of public funds, and profiteering by authorities is an everyday fact of life in these countries.
Why is this the case?
In short, conflict and corruption can each cause and exacerbate the other.
In countries at peace, high levels of corruption can lead to instability. According to the World Bank, the likelihood of violent conflict increases when governments do not adequately prevent corruption or ensure justice. Corruption, and impunity for corruption, undermines the legitimacy of state institutions, and the impact of corruption on job opportunities and social cohesion can also lead to instability: corruption fuels grievances which can spill over into violence.
In Venezuela, which ties with Iraq on 18 points out of 100 in this year’s CPI, corruption is a major factor in mass public outrage with the government, which has contributed to mounting crisis which risks descending into violent conflict.
In parallel, conflict can create a breeding ground for new forms of corruption. Increased pressure on the supply of resources and massive instability can both be exploited for personal gain. These corruption patterns can remain in place after the war is over, further hampering peace-building, reconstruction and development.
Corruption opportunities often abound once the fighting has stopped, as inflows of foreign aid, or new opportunities to exploit natural resources, are combined with weak rule of law. This is further exacerbated by the absence of actors fostering transparency and accountability, such as the media and civil society.
It is essential that anti-corruption be made a pillar of reconstruction efforts in war-torn countries. Without it, a cycle of corruption, instability and conflict can mar a country’s journey towards peace, prosperity and rule of law for years. Often this process has to start at the very beginning. In Afghanistan, for example, in order for government procurement to be professionalised, a new system for recruiting qualified personnel had to first be established.
What does it tell us?
As our analysis of the 2018 CPI demonstrates, strong, democratic institutions are key to curbing corruption. The conflict and post-conflict zones at the bottom of the index add further – albeit extreme - examples of how corruption can thrive when these institutions are weak.
On the other hand, the high concentration of war-torn states at the bottom of the CPI highlights the scale of the corruption challenge faced by the countries that rank amongst them, like North Korea, which scores only 14 points, Equatorial Guinea (16) and Guinea Bissau (16).
In Equatorial Guinea, for instance, impunity for raiding state coffers is not a by-product of war or instability, but appears to be a deliberate policy benefitting the ruling elite. The president’s son and vice-president, who was convicted for corruption in a landmark trial in France in 2017, collects luxury cars, designer watches and flaunts his playboy lifestyle on Instagram. Meanwhile, most of the population live on less than US$2 per day, and lack safe drinking water and reliable electricity.
People in such countries, like those who have lived through wars and violence elsewhere, deserve better from their leaders.
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