Informal Governance and Corruption

Follow-on Project

So what? Policy implications of informal governance

In the First Phase of the project we sought to shift the framework of analysis away from corruption conceived as a discrete, isolable, and targetable dysfunctional dimension of bad governance in the countries of concern to DfID and toward a broader, enfolding concept of informality as an inescapable and functional basis for governance.  In the Follow-on Phase commencing in April 2018 and running for two more years, we seek to focus more closely on the (often misconceived) interface  and interrelationship between the formal and informal governance systems and the consequences for anti-corruption strategies.  The formal and informal (network-based) governance systems are not antagonistic but complementary and mutually constitutive.  Networks govern in and through the formal constitutional system and secure their legitimacy through elections.  They do not circumvent the formal system; they instrumentalise it.  They do not work around it; they work through it.  This symbiosis motivates our follow-on proposal to analyse the modes and methods by which informal networks govern through and by means of the formal constitutional framework insofar as they condition and facilitate (or inhibit) corruption.  All three functions which we have identified and used as the organising patterns of our paradigm of informality, camouflage, co-optation, are predicated in the first place on the critical importance to networks of formal rules of formal authority, and the authoritative actions or  decisions by means of which they enable or condition.  Networks disguise or legitimise actions and decisions through camouflage; they both co-opt actors into networks in the first place and exert on-going control over network actors by negative and positive incentives conditioned by the formal rules even when they are not directly derived from them.

Our research has explored how network-based systems have become entrenched across post-Soviet space and East Africa. In the follow-on project we are focussing on elections and the legal-constitutional system because networks invest considerable resources in both as indispensable means of securing legitimacy respectively a) for the leaders of networks and their subordinate office-holders and officials (occupation of power) and b) for the decisions and actions the networks then proceed to take (operation of power). 

  1. Elections are critical to ensuring network legitimacy and survival. According to our research findings they are also moments when network-based regimes are most vulnerable and mobilise and secure support by engaging in informal governance practices that exacerbate corruption. However, electoral processes can under favourable conditions allow new elites independent of entrenched networks to come to power and implement a meaningful anti-corruption agenda as evidenced by the cases of Georgia and, more recently, Tanzania.


  1. Legal reform according to our research findings does not generally alter the nature of network-based governance; it merely conditions its exercise and continues to serve the needs and purposes of networks and to entrench the network-based system. In both our regions, the constitutional and legal systems have been in flux (both specific anti-corruption legislation and regulation, as well as broader changes to the constitutional framework—administration, judiciary, parliament, elections), but not they have not developed along a linear trajectory toward democratisation and rule of law  Where anti-corruption and general legal reforms are driven by international and domestic pressures rather than orchestrated by networks themselves (e.g. the advent of multi party elections during the 1990s across East Africa, Kenyan constitutional reform following the 2008 post-election violence), incumbent networks have mobilised to minimise and even subvert the intended impact of the reforms. Even Kyrgyzstan, which undertook far-reaching constitutional reforms and significantly diminished the power of the Presidency in favour of Parliament in 2010, has seen networks reconfigure and adapt to a decentralised system rather than recede in significance or diminish in force.

Accordingly, and exploiting the presence on our team of an academic lawyer, Scott Newton, who will serve as Principal Investigator for the Follow-on Phase, we will investigate the relationship between legal reform directly or indirectly targeting corruption and network-based governance. We intend to preserve the cross regional comparison that we feel has been a particular strength of our research in the first phase, continuing to analyse Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Rwanda in East Africa, and Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Georgia in the former Soviet Union and to identify cross-cultural and cross-regional regularities.  In each of those seven cases our local research teams have enabled us to build a comprehensive picture of network dynamics and governance profiles and the context they supply for corrupt practices, which will serve as predicate for the follow-on Phase 2 activities:

  1. Identification and analysis (with a view toward avoiding them in future) of specific formal interventions that are likely either to reinforce existing network hierarchies (notably support for existing domestic anti-corruption legislation and agencies) or to create a misleading or cosmetic impression of independent controls over/constraints on network actors (bolstering camouflage capacities).  We are hypothesising that punitive anti-corruption strategies premised on prohibition/criminalisation and criminal prosecution of corrupt practices are counterproductive and will be used selectively to punish rival or emerging networks or members of the same network contesting (or perceived to be contesting) leadership of the network. 


  1. Identification and analysis of other formal reforms leading to positive change by opening spaces for new actors to emerge that can contest and eventually exercise power by means of alternative governance practices that are more conducive to improved control of corruption outcomes.  Such reforms might not alter network-based governance as such but would at least make contestation of/challenge to dominant networks more feasible as a first step toward pluralisation of power and governance practices both (e.g. the presidentialist-parliamentarist shift in Kyrgyzstan)l.


  1. Identification and analysis of opportunities to engage and instrumentalise informality to help achieve good governance outcomes and discourage bad governance outcomes. Within each of our seven countries, we propose to identify sectors as well as regions (communities, provinces) where existing informal mechanisms may be harnessed and utilised for purposes of reducing bad governance outcomes—using the governing capacities and strengths of networks themselves for controlling corruption.   Networks’ own incentives for self-policing and responsiveness to public demands will be identified as a means of strengthening the network’s own governance capacities.  This means identifying good outcomes rather than good procedures or processes—i.e. adopting a problem-solving rather than a proceduralistic approach and metric. We are hypothesising that such interventions will prove to be 1) small-scale, limited to discrete local communities or sectors (education, health care), and/or organised around discrete projects or works (building a school or road), and 2) within the capacities of relevant network actors who either hold relevant public offices or can facilitate the participation of the relevant public office-holders.