WP167: Does personal experience of bribery explain protest participation in Africa?

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Bribery in Africa
Working papers
Moletsane Monyake

Protests, boycotts, and online petitions targeting alleged corruption are fast becoming commonplace in many of the world’s most corrupt nations. In addition to the mass uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 and the Color Revolutions in Ukraine, a series of anti-corruption protests have emerged in Nigeria, Moldova, and India and forced Guatemala's president, Otto Pérez Molina, to resign following allegations of fraud, conspiracy, and bribery (Luhnow, 2015). In 2009, thousands of Indonesians took to the streets to oppose attempts by corrupt elements in government and business to frustrate the work of Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency (Beyerle, 2014). In 2015, more than a million Brazilians demonstrated against systemic corruption. While earlier protests centered on a wide range of socioeconomic grievances, media reports indicate that the recent protests in Brazil were specifically inspired by allegations of corruption, especially in the presidency (see, for example, Magalhaes & Jelmayer, 2015). Indeed, it would seem, as Transparency International co-founder Frank Vogl, observed, “… that ordinary citizens, even in some of the most corrupt nations … and some of the most dangerous for anti-corruption activists, can organize and secure justice” (Vogl, 2012, p. 193).

Nevertheless, recent academic analyses of different forms of anti-corruption collective action seem to take for granted the motives of the individuals who participate in these endeavours, focusing more on the strategies and tactics of the civil-society organizations that mobilize against corruption (see Beyerle, 2014; Landell-Mills, 2013). Furthermore, the fact that Landell-Mills, Beyerle, and others restrict their analysis to instances of “successful” anti-corruption civic engagement constrains variation on the dependent variable. For that reason, their research offers a limited account of why anti-corruption collective action does not occur in societies that often share similar attributes with those in which such initiatives seem to thrive.

Attempts at more systematic comparisons also focus almost exclusively on institutional factors underlying the successes or failures of anti-corruption civic engagement, offering no explanation about variations in individual-level participation. While Verdenicci and Hough (2015) underscore the role of state institutions in the “success” of civilian-led anti-corruption initiatives in India, and their apparent failure in China, they do not explain why participation rates differ in the former. In essence, the overemphasis on the institutional context seems to play down the role of individual-level factors in explaining anti-corruption civic engagement, particularly the effect of perceptions and experiences of corruption.