Corruption Kills … and Other Signs

Effective states are marked by a strong respect for the rule of law. Corruption undermines a culture of respect for the rule of law. Instead, government decisions – both big and small – are shaped by corrupt practices. Or, in the case of “grand corruption,” senior officials simply help themselves to public resources in unlawful ways. In the end, though, all states – even the most effective ones – face a perpetual struggle against graft and official thievery. The images below provide some snapshots of anti-corruption campaigns in places as diverse as Detroit, India, and Uganda.

Corruption Complaint Box in India

An ironic shot (2007) from the Indian-controlled portion of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Photo credit: watchsmart (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

"Corruption Kills" sign in Uganda

This sign from Uganda says it all. When corruption results in ineffective governance, it is indeed deadly. Photo credit: futureatlas.com (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Anti-corruption Poster from Nigeria

What does it mean to inhabit a “corruption-free zone”? Photo credit: jbracken (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

A Protest Sticker in Detroit

Corruption is universal, as this sticker from Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. suggests. Photo credit: CAVE CANEM (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Anti-corruption Stop Sign

A simple, but powerful statement of civil disobedience. Photo credit: Naberacka (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

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Rwanda and the DRC (The Fall of Goma)

Eastern Congo’s largest city, Goma, has fallen to the M23 rebels. Since April 2012, the rebels have gone from a nuisance to a serious threat to the Kabila government in Kinshasa. As with the turmoil of the 1990s, the smaller neighboring states of Rwanda and Uganda are playing key roles in the present crisis. Rwanda, in particular, has long intervened in its fragile neighbor to the west.

Eastern DRC humanitarian crisis

Photo credit: European Union Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (Creative Commons license).

Before we return to Rwanda’s role, it is worth underscoring the gravity of the current situation. Goma is a city of about one million people, a good portion of them internally displaced persons (IDPs). The city also sits on the border with Rwanda, and is not far from the Ugandan border. Goma is a key trade and transit center in the Great Lakes region.

The startling fact about the M23 takeover of Goma on November 20th is that the city fell with very little resistance from government forces. The BBC is reporting that DRC police officers in Goma are now handing in their weapons to the rebels. Additional government soldiers are defecting to the M23.

And – this is key – the rebels are threatening to march on the capital city of Kinshasa. The DRC’s leader, Joseph Kabila, should know this narrative well. His father, Laurent Kabila, led a march on Kinshasa in 1997 that began in eastern Congo. The elder Kabila, of course, received crucial backing from Rwanda and Uganda.

So, as history repeats itself, what are Rwanda and Uganda seeking to achieve in backing this new group of rebels? It is hard to say. In the not-too-recent past Rwanda has announced intentions to annex part of eastern Congo. And, though such a pronouncement is offensive to many, it is hardly unusual when viewed through a global historical lens. Stronger, more capable states have long sought to control or conquer weakly governed neighboring territories. The work of Gerard Prunier and others suggest that battle-hardened Paul Kagame (Rwanda’s President) tends to see geopolitics through a realist lens.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame

Photo credit: U.S. Army (Creative Commons license).

It is not at all clear that 2012 will be a repeat of 1997. The M23 may not be capable of expanding their domain in the East and marching on Kinshasa. It is clear, though, that the Democratic Republic of the Congo remains a failed state. Even if the central government retakes Goma and other rebel-held areas, the events of 2012 indicate a difficult road ahead for 2013 and beyond.

What are your suggestions for strengthening the Congolese state and bringing greater stability to the Great Lakes area of Africa?

Greece as a Failing State

Are some of Europe’s Mediterranean countries failing states? Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy’s recent comment that “Spain is not Uganda,” suggests that many southern Europeans don’t grasp the depth of their challenges. Nowhere is this truer than Greece. That ancient home of democracy is, in fact, a failing state.

One need not be an expert on Greek politics to support this claim. Once again, we only need to follow the money. Or, in this case, we need to ask what happened to the money (i.e. taxes).

Tax evasion is a universal game, but it has long been a massive problem in Greece. Non-payment of taxes – mostly orchestrated by under-reporting income – is a deeply ingrained culture that cuts across Greek social classes and regions. And this problem with tax collection is a key reason why Greece continues to teeter on the brink of fiscal collapse. Brad Plumer sums up the recent damage:

But why did Greece have such a massive budget deficit in the first place? One factor … was rampant tax evasion, which had starved the Greek government of funds. As it turns out, this was a very big deal indeed. The Wall Street Journal’s Justin Lahart points to a new paper (pdf) by three economists who estimate that the size of Greek tax evasion accounted for roughly half the country’s budget shortfall in 2008 and one-third in 2009.

The problem of Greek tax evasion, though, is about more than public finance and accounting. When journalists and researchers probe deeper into the country’s fiscal mess, they find systemic corruption, an incompetent tax collecting bureaucracy, and a breakdown in civic virtue.

When citizens routinely disregard the tax code, they undermine public finances, the rule of law, and a shared sense of civic purpose. And, though it is premature to call Greece a failed state, the country is now reeling from institutional and cultural decay (and its disadvantageous position in the Eurozone). It can recover, but the road to recovery will require more than adherence to an externally-imposed structural adjustment plan. Greeks must reconsider what citizenship means. In particular, they must re-instill a respect for the responsibilities of the governed.

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.