Political Corruption: In and beyond the Nation State

By Robert Harris | Go to book overview

5

Transnational political corruption (I): international finance

It is by no means evident that the chancelleries of the donor governments fully understand that the Africa with which they maintain relations is often no more than a decor of trompe-l’æil…. Discourses concerning ‘good governance’…intended by donors as therapeutic remedies, are more surreal than real when considered in relation to what is happening in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Chad and the Central African Republic, where the only effective law is frequently that of the various armed bands whose political and moral codes, informal though they may be, are certainly not those of the World Bank.

(Bayart et al. 1999:19-20)

Contemporary political corruption and its criminal accretions are global in scope, and to understand them it is necessary to understand also something of the changing politics of international, transnational and supranational activity (see Beare 2000b). The delicate multiculturalism which has characterized much western intellectual thought since the 1960s is relevant to the ‘real world’ transactions of politicians, bureaucrats, economists, entrepreneurs, banking and commercial corporations and aid donors and recipients mainly to the extent that an awareness of it is good for business. The world of action’s counterpoint to the intellectual push towards cultural, social and political pluralism is a pull towards international standardization and harmonization, and a sometimes selective preference for international free trade over cultural constraint or nation state mercantilism.

From the point of view of corruption control this is, in spite of the unavoidable short-term turbulence attendant upon economic liberalization discussed in Chapter 2, on the whole probably beneficial. Few things are better designed to perpetuate political and bureaucratic corruption than the unquestioning acceptance of traditional relations and customary authority. Whether the elites are village elders, tribal chiefs, hereditary aristocrats or military dictators, customary authority elevates them almost to the role of Hobbesian Leviathans, insulated from the disciplines of the market, devoid of obligation and above external scrutiny. Such models of governance are, irrespective of cultural provenance, palpably unsuited to the contemporary

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