Informal Governance and Corruption

Kyrgyzstan

The research in Kyrgyzstan has focused on informality and corruption at the national (macro) level, as well as at the local (micro level).

The macro level report examines the dialectical relationship of formal and informal governance and its effects on corruption in Kyrgyzstan. One of the key insights is that despite a significant change in the formal political system - from a Presidential to a Parliamentary system - the logic of informal governance, with its rules and practices, remains in place and is widely applied behind the facade of the formal frameworks.

In order to understand why political reforms and anti-corruption movements have failed, the research report focuses on practices of informal governance that succeeded in blocking such reforms. Due to their flexible and entrenched nature, practices of informal governance are capable of adapting to different formal political systems and therefore continuously compromise institutional development and control of corruption outcomes.

Nonetheless, informal governance has not been entirely effective in generating long term political stability in Kyrgyzstan, in fact, the corruption excesses of the Kyrgyz political elites have twice led to social uprisings - the 'Tulip' Revolution in 2005 and the 'Rose' Revolution in 2010 - that have overthrown the government in relatively bloodless revolts. However, in both cases, the incoming political elites reverted to practices similar to those of the regimes they helped to topple.

In that regard, building and cultivating informal networks among elites is a common practice in Kyrgyz politics. The first two presidents of Kyrgyzstan after independence Askar Akaev (1991-2005) and Kurmanbek Bakiev (2005-2010) governed in a very similar manner, building exclusive networks of regime insiders on the basis of kinship, lineage, village, rayon, and oblast. Under both presidents, powerful informal networks were spread across the state apparatus and business sectors. Many insiders were businessmen-turned-state officials while others were favoured relatives of political figures- turned- entrepreneurs. So, there was a symbiosis of kinship, business, and politics.

As the research suggests, these networks are not built simply out of pragmatic considerations but co-opted individuals need to fulfil certain criteria concerning kinship, loyalty, obligation and hospitality. The research highlights how the entrenched persistence of corruption in the country can be linked to practices that are embedded in local values and expectations such as reciprocity and exchange. Thus, the research points to the importance of “soft” control mechanisms relating to social reputation, status and trustworthiness, which should not be underestimated because kinship-affective values work to entrench informal practices by virtue of combining emotions with rationality.

Download: Kyrgyzstan country report part 1 and its Annex

At the micro level, the research looked at how Kyrgyzstan is a kinship-rich society. There are forty lineages that unite all Kyrgyz people and during Soviet times these lineages were prohibited. In the post-Soviet context, kinship systems have continued to flourish and function. The introduction of new electoral processes under the umbrella of democracy also contributed to the strengthening of kinship networks. As political institutions were weak, a kinship argument was needed for the parties to mobilise people and gain their support.

The evidence shows that lineages have established associations each with their own 'branding' that are actively but informally engaged with politics. Sponsors are influential politicians, party leaders, opposition leaders and businessmen. Associations are vehicles that people whom have a vested interest in the governing of the country can use to garner support.

The Kyrgyz view their lineage identity or ancestral belonging as a given or natural part of identity. In a patrilineal society, exclusion of any kind from such lineages equates with an existential threat to being a man, of not being identified as Kyrgyz any more, and being marginalised from the extended networks of kinsmen.

Social sanctions associated with being disloyal based on lineages disincentives many from opposing with President. This was a form of horizontal control exemplified in Akaev and Bakiev presidencies.

There is contention between and cynicism towards the existence of associations bases on lineages. Although they promote accountability of state and represent the preservation of Kyrgyz values and ancestry, their implicit influence upon the establishment of people into positions of power and the embeddedness of 'shame' and 'honour' dictating behaviour is also suggested to mean that it remains a backward institution trying to achieve its own aims.

Download: Kyrgyzstan country report part 2