International Corruption Eruption


The phrase ‘corruption eruption’ was coined in 1995 by Moises Naim, a Senior Associated in the International Economics program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The phrase is in reference to the eruption of outcry against corruption in the post-Cold War period and subsequently asks the question: “why have societies, which have traditionally tolerated corruption at the highest levels in government and the private sector, suddenly lost their patience and their citizens willing to take to the street to topple high officials accused of wrong doings?” (Naim, 1995).

The fall of the Soviet Union and the communist bloc gave way to the rampant spread of democracy. This spread of democracy in turn exposed the corruption inherent in many government systems, both in established democracies such as the United States, Italy, and France, and in newly developed democracies. Exposing corruption resulted in public outcry and consequently the beginning of the ‘war on corruption’.

The war on corruption was characterized by an effort to combat corrupt at all levels. Countries enacted anti-corruption legislation to fight governmental corruption, corporations adopted strict codes of conduct to combat corruption in the private sector, and non-governmental organizations such as Transparency International were created to expose corruption and to hold both governments and private corporations accountable. The hallmark of this struggle against corruption is the creation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption of 2003 (hereafter “the Convention”). As of December 24, 2012, the Convention has 140 signatories and 165 state parties.

The Convention demonstrates the concern of the international community in reference to the seriousness of the problems corruption poses to the stability and security of the state, the creation of democratic institutions, establishment of ethnic norms and justice, fostering sustainable development, and the creation of rule of law (Preamble). It’s purpose, as defined by article 1, is to promote/strengthen measure to prevent/combat corruption more efficiently/effective; promote/facilitate/support international cooperation and technical assistance in the prevention of and fight against corruption; and promote integrity. accountability, and proper management of both public affairs and public property. Moreover, it calls on the state to develop/implement/maintain effective coordinated anti-corruption policies that reflect the principles of rule of law, proper management of public affairs, public property integrity, transparency, and accountability (article 5).


How is Corruption Harmful to Civilians?

According to Naim, the word ‘corruption’ has become the “universal diagnosis for a nation’s ills” (Naim, 2005). This has the lead to perspective that if one can curtail the culture of greed in a given society, all other problems will be easy to solve. The problem, however, corruption is not necessarily correlated with economic prosperity. In countries such as Hungary, Italy, and Poland, a certain degree of prosperity has been able to coexist with systems of corruption. Furthermore, China, India, and Thailand provide examples of countries deemed to been highly corrupt while simultaneously experiencing high levels of economic growth.

Additionally, the fixation on corruption as the ‘ends-all’ problem drives the public debate away from other critical problems affecting a given state. Media outlets are more likely to publish on topic regarding corruption or scandalous activity, perceiving this to be more newsworthy. In doing so, they neglect to draw attention to other critical problems such as education, healthcare, infrastructure, or the economy. Although these problems may be aggravated by corruption, they were not created by corruption alone. They are the result of underdeveloped institutions that have been exploited by corruptive practices. Thus, the tendency to assume that the abolition of corruption will bring about prosperity is a very limited perspective.

Finally, the focus on corruption as the source of a state’s problems creates unrealistic expectations as to what is required to improve the standard of living within that state. There is a belief that by simply removing a corrupt leader, prosperity will follow. However, there is no direct correlation between theses two factors; the situation is more complex, involving a multitude of factors. If the expectations is that lustration will result in improved standards of living, this sets the stage for societal discontent and possible social unrest.

What is the Relationship between Corruption and Rebellion?

In keeping with the theme of ‘corruption eruption’ (ie. societal response to state corruption), there seems to be a correlation between rebellion/situations of social unrest and levels of corruption. Analysis of this correlations is draw from Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (hereafter ‘the Index’).  

Libya provide the best example of this. Between 2008 and 2011, Libya’s ranking on the Index continually dropped. The same can be said for Mali between 2008 and 2011. The table below demonstrates this trend. Rankings are on a 10 point scale, 10 representing no corruption and 1 representing complete corruption.

































As these two countries moved towards revolution/opened violent conflict, it appears as though they also became more corrupt. The problem remains, however, that there is no real way of qualifying corruption, given its covert nature. Thus, although there appears to be a relationship between increase corruption and the eruption of violence conflict, it is difficult to easily quantify this this relationship. Nevertheless, the relationship between corruption and rebellion warrants additional research. If more direct and specifies correlation can be established (ie. that kind corruption and by who tend to lead to rebellion), than it may be possible for this to act as an indicator for the likelihood rebellion.  


For more on corruption, watch these videos on PeaceMedia:…


Jolene Hansell is a Master’s Candidate of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University. Her specific area of focus is transitional justice and rule of law. You can email her at, follow her on twitter @joleneh340, or check out her blog at

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