The Failure of Anti-Corruption Policies: A Theoretical Mischaracterization of the Problem
With an increased awareness of the detrimental effects of corruption on development, strategies to fight it are now a top priority in policy circles around the world. Since Africa is home to most of the thoroughly corrupt countries in the world, it is no coincidence that the African continent has been the major target of this movement. To date, however, few successes have resulted from the investment. In fact, in some countries corruption even seems to have become more entrenched in step with the efforts to curb it. The aim of this paper is to advance an explanation to why this is the case. Drawing upon the cases of Kenya and Uganda – two arguably typical African countries when it comes to the problem of corruption and anti-corruption reforms – we argue that contemporary anti-corruption reforms in Africa have largely failed because they are based on a mischaracterization of the problem of corruption in contexts with systematic corruption. More specifically, our analysis reveals that while contemporary anti-corruption reforms are based on a conceptualization of corruption as a principal-agent problem, in the African context corruption rather seems to resemble a collective action problem, making the short-term costs of fighting corruption outweigh the benefits. Consequently, even if most individuals morally disapprove of corruption and are fully aware of the negative consequences for the society at large, very few actors show a sustained willingness to fight it. This, in turn, leads to a breakdown of any anti-corruption reform that builds on the principal-agent framework.
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collective action problem