Tag Archives: democracy

Corruption and fundamentalist movements-Discussions from Africa

Published at Pakistan Policy Group

Lets start off by looking at the logic of corruption in society. This ‘logic’ come outs of experiences of systemic corruption, and is not just visible in Africa.

1.    Corruption is wide ranging, affecting many types of transaction;
2.    Corruption has become the norm;
3.    Everybody hates corruption; Nobody will denounce the corrupt;
4.    Corruption corrupts, and once the rot sets in little can be done to stop it;
5.    All political systems are prone to corruption (democracy offers no easy cure);
6.    Corruption is considered “fair” by its perpetrators, but not by its victims.

We have taken this description of corruption from a paper titled, “A moral economy of corruption in Africa” (De Sardan, 1999). The general conclusion drawn by the author  is that the most likely outcome of conscious and generalized corruption is a fundamentalist revolution. The description of corrupt practices, and our discussion to follow, is very relevant to the case of Pakistan.

Pakistans Corruption Rankings, Transparency International

Corruption is diverse in practice and is not marginal or sectoral  and ranges from petty corruption to major (state elite corruption). It is generalized and banalised, and a central part of civil discourse. However, everybody knows who is corrupt, but it would be unthinkable to denounce a relative or acquaintance to the police. Similarly, “Important individuals” are all compromised and dare not denounce each other, giving rise to a loose network of solidarity. Corruption is expanding, and seems to be irreversible due to its pervasiveness and “normalisation”. In the case of Africa this inability to regress comes from state failure, massive unemployment, unproductive civil servants, an irresponsible ruling elite and underpaid civil servants. Additionally development aid and income from illegal drugs trade and demands has caused clientelism favorable to corruption.

Single institution/sector perceived to be most affected by corruption, overall results. Source: Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer 2009. Percentages are weighted.

Such a situation offers dismal prospects for political solutions. De Sardan writes that, “There is no obvious correlation between the extent of corruption, on the one hand, and the types of political regime, their degree of despotism and their economic effectiveness, on the other.” Thus the type of government may affect the type of corruption in vogue, but not its scale. Secondly, corrupt practices are consider legitimate by perpetuators, it may sometimes only be exclusion from the gains of corruption that causes criticism and awareness- “A minister may think it fair to use government resources to build a villa, because he is far from being properly recompensed for his services.” Predatory authorities may even consider these gains a right of office- a mindset modeled on colonial relationships. Corruption is also necessary for social acceptance and the logic of solidarity requires linkages from school or family or middlemen, and bargaining patters or gift giving between them, to get things done.

What facilitates the acceptance and fuels the banality or ‘everyday-ness’ of corruption? Within traditional cultures there exists a practice of over-monetarisation. By over-monetarisation De Sadan means the social pressure to give gifts, especially in cash (e.g. marriage gifts, birth announcements, religious holiday gifts etc.) These social relations can form an “excuse”, or a vehicle, for corruption practices like bribery, concessions etc. Shame or guilt of not helping and acquaintance with the manipulation of the system is also a reason for acceptance of corruption and a legitimization of ones own actions. A study of civil servant corruption from Malawi says that three sets of rules intertwined- official rules, kinship rules and the unofficial code of conduct, are what encourage corrupt behavior (Anders, 2002).

Coming to the issue of a “fundamentalist revolution”, a major proposition in anthropological studies of corruption say that it is not realistic to combat corrupt practices as long as the people who take part in them view them as acceptable, thus systemic reform will be difficult. For success an almost utopian change at the administrative level will be needed. As long as political elites are unwilling to give up some of their privileges and to reform, changing the general public’s attitudes may ultimately take the form of ‘puritanical’ or ‘fundamentalist’ movements based in the ‘grassroots’ (Fjeldstad, Kolstad and Lange, 2003).

Anders, G, “Like Chameleons: Civil servants and corruption in Malawi”, 2002, La gouvernance au quitidien en Afrique, 23-24.
De Sardan, J P Olivier,  “A moral economy of corruption in Africa?, Journal of Modern African Studies”, 37, 1, 1999, pp 25 – 52
Fjeldstad, O, Ivar Kolstad and Siri Lange, “Autonomy incentives and patronage: A study of corruption in the Tanzania and Uganda revenue authority”, 2003, CMI: Norway.


Interview with Asma Jahangir

Asma Jahangir marching against the first invasion of Iraq, 1991
Asma at a Women Action Forum protest, 1983









So I met up with the famous human rights activist and asked her a few questions at her campaign office. She took me campaigning with her to various offices on Fane Road including climbing up four stories of broken stairs and avoiding the pot holes on Fane Road. Here are a few questions I asked her about her election campaign for the office of the President, Supreme Court Bar Association. This is an election where political leanings and group politics cannot be ignored. Asma Jahangir’s campaign has been called partisan and she has also been described by certain sections of lawyers and media as ‘pro-Zardari’. On the other hand, her opponent has been called pro-judiciary and anti-democracy (In The Friday Times, 15th October, 2010).

Why is contesting this election important? What is your motivation?
This is important because the bar has to be independent. The pressure that the lawyers are subservient to judges is a veiled threat to the lawyers and has affected the integrity and honesty of the legal system. My aim is to work towards ensuring the dignity of the bar and its independence.

Where does the support of the leaders of the 2007 Lawyers Movement lie?
I have their support, except for Hamid Khan.

What about Aitzaz Ahsan?
He has remained neutral, but he will probably vote for me.

Will the support from lawyers belonging to the PPP be a large part of your success?
Though I have the support of many of these lawyers, it cannot alone help me win the election. The votes from PPP supporting lawyers will probably be near 100 to 200 out of 2200 votes. The issue of the PPP supporting me has been given too much attention, in fact not all pro-PPP lawyers will be voting for me. I am supported also by lawyers who belong to the Awami National Party, Jamaat-e-Islami, PML-N and other parties who have said they will vote for me. I do not have a specific group that is behind me but individuals who support my stance. Continue reading Interview with Asma Jahangir

Raising the bar

My article on the politics behind the upcoming Supreme Court bar elections. Published in The Friday Times, 15th October, 2010

Otherwise a regular election of a professional body, this contest is being perceived as a political battle between the country’s power-centres

On October 27, the legendary advocate and human rights’ activist, Asma Jehangir will face Ahmad Awais in the electoral contest for the President, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA). Awais is a senior lawyer at the Supreme Court who is being backed by powerful groups within the lawyers’ community. Otherwise a regular election of a professional body, this election is being perceived as a political contest between the country’s power-centres: the hyper-active judiciary and the pro-democracy forces which support the ascendancy of the elected institutions in national affairs.

Asma Jehangir’s campaign has been supported by lawyers like Munir A. Malik, Salman Raja, Abid Minto, Khawaja Sultan, Justice Tariq Mehmood (r) and Ali Ahmed Kurd (who is spearheading her campaign in Baluchistan). The PPP lawyers’ support of Ms. Jehangir has created unintended problems for her campaign, which have been especially highlighted in the media. It is true that the PPP offers a sizeable vote bank but this affiliation has caused the human-rights activist’s campaign to be labeled as being “pro-Zardari”.

Jehangir is adamant to keep the Supreme Court Bar Association free from politics once she’s elected as president. Asad Jamal, a human rights lawyer, has remarked that the lawyers affiliated with the PPP are supporting her willingly. They cannot be told to conceal their support and just come out to vote in her favor at the time of the election. Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood is of the same view and has clarified that the election does not and should not have anything to do with party alliances. He went on to say that personally everyone has political views, and this does not reflect on Asma being a partisan candidate.

If fingers are being pointed at Asma due to PPP support, Ahmed Awais’s campaign may be even more embroiled in party allegiances since he is former Vice President of Pakistan Tekreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Justice Mehmood was of the view that this was worse than any support that Asma has from lawyers sympathizing with the PPP. In fact, when pro-PTI lawyers were approached to vote for her campaign, they clearly stated that they were under orders to vote for their party and their opinion would not be swayed. Another issue is that of biradari voting where lawyers have been arguing on the lineages of the candidates.

Ahmed Awais has claimed that the current triangular faceoff between the executive, the judiciary and lawyers has been created by Law Minister Babar Awan and that “the present situation is the result of massive funds which he gave to selected people.” The key figures of the 2007 Lawyers’ Movement are split over their support of the three candidates. The stance of Aitzaz Ashan has been especially ambivalent, with the Daily Dawn (14 September, 2010) asserting that he is supporting Ms Jehangir. However, Ejaz Haider in his piece published by the Express Tribune (October 4, 2010) has claimed that Ahsan is in reality supporting Awais, with lawyers close to Asma’s own campaign stating that he has not shown any open support for Ms. Jehangir, even though she has supported him openly and vocally in the past. Continue reading Raising the bar