Two roads that will never meet? An agenda for dialogue on the intersection of peacebuilding and anti-corruption

By Diana Chigas

For me, as a peacebuilding practitioner of 30 years, the idea that corruption can be a key driver of conflict is almost a truism. It comes up time and time again as a key driver in the conflict analyses I conduct around the world. It is so pervasive that three of the seven archetypal conflict structures that emerged through my work on CDA’s Reflecting on Peace Practice were driven by corruption.

As a peacebuilder, I have also been struck by the fact that the peacebuilding and anti-corruption fields typically work in parallel, with little or no exchange. This dynamic was brought home to me when I attended my first IACC conference in 2018 with the theme “Together for Development, Peace, and Security: Now is the Time to Act”; I knew no one at the conference. No peacebuilders, no conflict specialist — not a single contact crossover. That conference, coupled with CJL’s work since 2016 on systems-based corruption analysis and social norms, highlighted for me that peacebuilding and anti-corruption practitioners do not talk the same talk, use the same tools, or inhabit the same spaces. As a result, opportunities for sharing and cross-pollinating approaches and lessons are missed.

We invite those of you working at this intersection of anti-corruption/integrity-building and peace — as scholars, practitioners or policy makers — to share your insights and work, or any additional questions you have.

Why is it important for the fields to intersect?

There is a lot of research demonstrating the impact of corruption on conflict — from research showing a statistical link between peace and corruption, to analyses of the role of corruption in fueling terrorism, to work that identifies corruption as a threat to peace, and finally, the persistence of war economies and the power structures they generate long into the post-conflict era. (CJL will summarize some of the main trends in a future post.) My former work researching cumulative impacts of peacebuilding found that progress on corruption, impunity and rule of law — along with the economic inequity these feed — tended to lag in relation to other domains, and made peacebuilding vulnerable to setbacks.

Yet my experience in recent years working in the anti-corruption field suggests that anti-corruption practitioners are not typically attuned to how their work intersects with conflict dynamics — with consequences for the effectiveness of their work, as well as for conflict itself. For example, as we discovered in our 2017 analysis of corruption in the criminal justice system in Central African Republic, efforts to combat corruption in the criminal justice system would not only be less effective, but also potentially exacerbate conflict and insecurity if they did not take into account the fears of reprisals that drove judges to give favors to members of armed groups. 

And anti-corruption programs might be more effective in these contexts if they integrated peacebuilding approaches and tools, particularly those focusing on inclusion, dialogue, ownership and addressing power dynamics. To be fair, those in the peacebuilding field largely have not volunteered to help — as they often don’t see themselves as needing to work on corruption, the purview of governance practitioners.

Whispers of Change?

This siloed existence is slowly changing, in part driven by experiences of the international community in Iraq and Afghanistan. An International Conference on Anti-corruption in Fragile States in Berlin in 2019 (where for the first time I saw people I knew from the peacebuilding field) explored the importance of addressing corruption in order for peacebuilding to be effective. Sessions at the 2020 Munich Security Conference and at IACC 2020, including one organized by GIZ and U4, which I facilitated, focused on the interplay between corruption, security and peace.

This progress is encouraging. But for both fields to be more effective in conflict-affected contexts, we still have much to discover and share about how to work at the intersection of these two issues.

An Agenda for Dialogue

The CJL team has always been interested in this intersection and find that we regularly return to a set of questions on the nexus. Some need further research, all require collaboration across fields, and we offer them here in the hopes of igniting further conversation.

1. Anti-corruption work in conflict-affected contexts

We believe significantly more thought needs to go into what is essentially a simple question; how does anti-corruption work need to be done differently in conflict-affected settings? Collectively, we need to know more about how conflict dynamics affect anti-corruption effectiveness and what anti-corruption practitioners need to know about conflict in order to, at best, do their work effectively and, at minimum, ensure their work does not exacerbate the conflict.  

More concrete insights are needed about the ways anti-corruption policies and programs can affect conflict dynamics (negatively and positively), so we can figure out how to anticipate and minimize potential unintended negative effects and maximize positive contributions to peacebuilding. In order to do this, more actionable understanding is needed about how corruption acts as a driver of conflict and, in some circumstances, as a driver for peace (at least in the short term). This inquiry is likely best done by not focusing on corruption as a broad basket of behaviors — they are simply too diverse. Instead, context specific understandings of the most pernicious forms of corruption in terms of conflict could be utilized.

Based on our experience in the peacebuilding field, we are confident that although anti-corruption programming may be addressing a driver of conflict, this alone is not enough to ensure that it is contributing to peacebuilding. Like peacebuilding efforts, even anti-corruption programs can still have inadvertent negative impacts on conflict dynamics because of the way they are designed and implemented. We cannot, therefore, assume that a positive impact on peace will occur simply because a driver of conflict (corruption) is targeted by the program. We need to figure out whether it is possible for work targeting corruption to also build peace and if so, how? And all of this must result in approaches or tools that do not require anti-corruption practitioners to become experts in conflict and peace.

2. Peacebuilding as an anti-corruption approach

Given the challenges of reducing corruption in contexts of endemic corruption and either low or high intensity conflict, we wonder: can integrating or adapting peacebuilding methodologies and techniques improve the effectiveness of anti-corruption? Peacebuilding often engages with issues of power and exclusion, collective action, reframing, and dialogue across lines of division (among others) — all of which could be useful tactics to deal with corrupt patterns of behavior. These approaches may be integrated into multi-faceted anti-corruption efforts or be more stand alone, as was proposed by the Burundi Leadership Training Program Team, led by the late US Ambassador Howard Wolpe, in this short piece in LPI’s Pilfering the peace: The nexus between corruption and peacebuilding.

3. Peacebuilding work in contexts of endemic corruption

Peacebuilding actors confront a number of dilemmas in conflict contexts where, as one colleague once noted about Afghanistan, “corruption is governance.” There is a need to develop approaches to dealing with these conundrums in order both to build a sustainable peace and combat corruption.

For example, how can peacebuilding donors, practitioners and policy makers provide assistance without making corruption worse (and ultimately undermining their own goals)? And how should peacebuilders deal with the tension between short-term stability and long-term positive peace and integrity goals? Addressing corruption in the peace process might damage their ability to engage the parties and forge agreements that can stabilize the situation, but in the long term, ignoring corruption until later makes corruption harder to address and prevents further progress towards sustainable peace.

To answer these questions, more understanding is needed on the ways in which corruption drives short-term stability, as well as conflict, on how peacebuilding work inadvertently exacerbates corruption. Is it possible to achieve stability and combat corruption at the same time in peacemaking and post-violence peacebuilding, or is it a necessary trade-off?

Continuing the Conversation Abusing Power: Corruption & Conflict Blog Series

This post marks the beginning of our “Abusing Power: Corruption & Conflict Blog Series” as part of CJL’s Corruption and Peacebuilding project. The purpose of the series is to foster an ongoing space for conversation between actors working in the field of anti-corruption and peacebuilding. We invite those of you working at this intersection of anti-corruption/integrity-building and peace — as scholars, practitioners or policy makers — to share your insights and work, or any additional questions you have. We look forward to connecting with all of you who are currently working on similar questions. 

For more in this series see:


About the Author

Diana Chigas is the Senior International Officer and Associate Provost at Tufts University and a Professor of the Practice of International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She has worked with governmental and non-governmental organizations on systemic conflict analysis, and strategic planning, reflection and evaluation to improve the impact of peace programming. Diana has over 25 years’ experience as a facilitator and consultant in negotiation and conflict resolution, as well as an advisor and evaluator of social change programming in conflict-affected countries, including in the Balkans, East Africa, South Africa, El Salvador, and Cyprus, as well as with organizations such as the OSCE and the United Nations. She currently co-leads The Corruption, Justice and Legitimacy Program with Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church at the Leir Institute of the Fletcher School, which aims to improve the effectiveness of anti-corruption programming as a means of overcoming barriers to development and sustainable peace. The program has developed a corruption analysis methodology grounded in systems thinking to gain a holistic understanding of what drives and enables corruption and hosts a blog, Corruption in Fragile States. Her work is currently focused on understanding the nexus between social norms and corruption in fragile and conflict-affected states, in order to develop more effective anti-corruption strategies. Diana received her JD from Harvard Law School and MALD from the Fletcher School at Tufts University.


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