chapter  2
17 Pages

Conceptualising corruption in peacebuilding contexts


In the long and difficult process of peacebuilding in post-conflict states, corruption has increasingly been identified as a major obstacle to success. In this chapter I argue that behind the seemingly practical questions of how best to eliminate corruption in peacebuilding contexts lie a number of substantial conceptual problems linked to how we define corruption and how we understand its place in unstable political contexts. These problems are rarely squared up to in the peacebuilding literature, and the corruption literature rarely deals with peacebuilding as a distinct problem area.1 In an attempt to bridge the two areas, I begin by identifying a set of problems with current definitions of corruption and by developing a definition of corruption that has a number of key advantages over those current in the literature. The case for reconceptualising corruption is based on the need to capture an objective core to the concept and to ensure that both this universal element and a range of more local and cultural standards are recognised. The proposed definition focuses squarely on the idea that there are norms, rules and expectations of public office and that corruption involves their transgression and the consequent subversion or distortion of public office. Given this understanding of corruption, peacebuilding contexts will be uniquely prone to corruption because of the existence of multiple, competing sets of rules, norms and expectations of public office. In attempting to impose order, we are effectively seeking to make one set of rules hegemonic. This inevitably results in a disjunction between peacebuilders’ standards and the expectations of many of those with whom they work, in a context in which there are powerful incentives for factions to secure personal or sectional interests. This combination makes corruption almost inevitable and dramatically complicates the task of those in post-conflict situations. I use this analysis to raise fundamental issues about the rationality of corrupt practices and to draw some more subtle distinctions between types of corruption relevant to anti-corruption efforts. I conclude with a discussion of whether it makes sense always to give priority to the eradication of corruption.