Country findings

The comparative analysis of the seven cases sheds light on common patterns and local variations in the exercise of informal governance. It also suggests why tensions within networks arise, thereby opening up opportunities for reform.

This research focused on seven countries, of which five – Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Tanzania and Uganda – are considered “challenging” cases, where high levels of corruption prevail in spite of having adopted adequate legal and institutional anti-corruption frameworks. The other two cases – Georgia and Rwanda – are considered examples of “success” in that they have achieved remarkable control of corruption outcomes.  

Find out more about the research findings in our short video, or explore comparative patterns and insights from individual countries below​.

Drivers of informal governance

The mechanisms of informal governance - co-optation, control and camouflage - exist in each of the countries analysed, albeit in different forms. However, across the cases there are macro level processes that seem to generate substantial incentives to the construction of informal governance regimes. These are:

Political reform

Political reform involving changes in the manner in which power is contested. In particular, events such as transitions to multi-party elections, which increase contestation and generate incentives to build informal networks as a means to enhance the incumbent’s ability to stay in power. In fact, the research suggests that across the seven cases multi-party elections, even if moderately contested, exacerbate the resort to informal governance practices that fuel corruption.

Economic reform

Transitions from a development model based on state dominance over the economy to a neoliberal paradigm also reinforce the proclivity to build informal networks. Processes of economic liberalisation, including the privatisation of state owned enterprises, generate rent seeking opportunities which motivate private sector actors to seek informal links to political figures in order to accrue privileged treatment vis-à-vis the state.

Ambivalence and network collapse

Network-based governance operates under the shadow of formal rules and laws. This means that where informality is widespread, hybrid regimes emerge, which are characterised by the disjunction between the formal (a democratic institutional façade, commitment to good governance) and the informal (real practice with authoritarian bents, impunity for allies for their corrupt crimes).

This co-existence of the formal and the informal confers ambivalence to roles and behaviours and generates tensions, which are often resolved through the regular application of double standards.

Thus, informal networks that co-opt strategically to win elections must, thereafter, tend to and balance the particularistic interests of their members while simultaneously performing formal government functions. The seven cases confirm that informal networks can become unstable, and even collapse, because of this constant tension.

Informal networks may collapse when:

  • Their abuses become so rampant that they trigger a popular upheaval. Excessive corruption can give rise to social movements that drive ruling elites out of power as in the cases of the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan.
  • They become too exclusive and repressive. Excessive authoritarianism can generate incentives to reconfiguring the networks to oust the dictator, as was the case in the demise of Daniel Arap Moi in Kenya.
  • They become too large and complex to manage.  Networks that are particularly successful at co-opting can also become internally too difficult to manage, as was the case of the Wanamtandao in Tanzania. In that case, the demands of the different network members were so extensive and difficult to reconcile with available resources that the tensions led to unresolvable elite fractures.
  • Violent conflict leads to complete elite renewal. This was the case in Rwanda after the genocide and Uganda after the fall of  Idi Amin. In those cases, President Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni superseded the previous ruling networks by virtue of their unequivocal military victories.  

The breakup of informal ruling networks generates windows of opportunity to rebuild governance regimes that promote better anti-corruption outcomes but can also simply lead to the reconfiguration of new networks that continue to rule on the basis of similar practices of co-optation, control and camouflage.

In fact, the evidence suggests that unless measures are taken explicitly to ensure and institutionalise the autonomy of the state from vested interests, backsliding into informal governance practices and the ensuing escalation of corruption, will be the most likely outcome. This is evidenced in the cases of Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Uganda, but also of Georgia, where reformist elites ultimately yielded to co-opting (and being co-opted) by special interests.

Importance of leadership

The cases of Georgia, Rwanda and, more recently Tanzania, suggest that success in promoting anti-corruption reforms is associated to the coming to power of a leadership that is independent of the previously dominant networks. This autonomy seems to be essential in order to break with patronage and clientelistic chains, confront vested interests and implement far reaching reforms to the public sector.

Conversely, the research in Kenya, Kyrgyzstan and Uganda describes how leaders who rely heavily on practices of informal governance to establish and nurture their support bases ultimately become hostage to the vested interests of their allies. The evidence thus illustrates that, while building networks is an effective strategy for political survival, networks also lock in because leaders who co-opt are also co-opted back and bound by the responsibilities of ensuring network cohesion.

In this manner, adopting the informality lens is useful to unravel the constraints that underpin the lack of political will of government authorities that is often blamed for the lack of effectiveness of conventional anti-corruption prescriptions.  

Country findings

This video summarises the key findings from the seven countries studied.