The relationship between corruption and violent conflict is complex and significant. Corruption affects access to basic services, contributes to resource scarcity, and fuels organized crime. It was included on a European Commission checklist for the root causes of conflict, and it was cited as a potential driver of extremism in the 2019 report of the Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States. Focusing on several social movements in Kenya, this report reviews the efforts of collective civic action to combat corruption and advance transparency, accountability, and good governance.

Suspects accused of corruption appear in the Mililani Law Courts in Nairobi on May 29, 2018. (Khalil Senosi/AP)
Suspects accused of corruption appear in the Mililani Law Courts in Nairobi on May 29, 2018. (Khalil Senosi/AP)

Summary

  • A growing body of research is identifying linkages between corruption and violent conflict. As a result, the international community should support efforts to combat corruption as a conflict prevention measure.
  • To combat pervasive levels of corruption, Kenyan activists operate outside and parallel to government institutions to hold public officials accountable when government mechanisms fall short.
  • Most professional anti-corruption organizations have a national focus in their change efforts and relatively little two-way engagement with the grass roots. When this engagement does occur, it is often one-way or top-down in the form of information-sharing and civic education initiatives.
  • Kenyan civil society organizations working on anti-corruption issues often operate with little strategic coordination and partnership between the national and county levels, resulting in little or no cohesive movement building around corruption.
  • Although many Kenyans are critical of corruption, most are apathetic and skeptical of efforts to engage them. To “awaken” the populace, organizers must work to better link corruption to people’s everyday challenges and lives.
  • Foreign donors, particularly bilateral and multilateral organizations, send mixed signals about whether fighting corruption in Kenya is a priority. As a result, some Kenyan organizations and individuals active in the transparency, accountability, and good governance sphere remain wary of taking a stronger stand against corruption.
  • Donors should foster an enabling environment for organizations working on transparency, accountability, and good governance, including those that mobilize citizens in organized nonviolent action. Beyond funding, this could include providing convening opportunities to support coordination and sharing lessons learned among anti-corruption organizations working at the national and grassroots levels, as well as speaking out in support of their work in the face of crackdowns.

About the Report

This report examines the efforts of collective civic action to combat corruption and advance transparency, accountability, and good governance in Kenya. Derived from a co-design workshop; interviews with Kenyan activists and civil society organization leaders, government officials, journalists, and academics; and desk research, the report was supported by the Program on Nonviolent Action at the United States Institute of Peace.

About the Authors

Hussein Khalid is the executive director of HAKI Africa, an organization that works to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights. Tabatha Pilgrim Thompson is a program officer with USIP’s Program on Nonviolent Action, where she works on applied research, training, and education. The authors would like to thank Davin O’Regan, Shaazka Beyerle, Miranda Rivers, and Victor Rateng for their research and editorial support for this report.

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