Working Paper 26: The Ambivalence of Social Networks and their Role in Spurring and Potential for Curbing Petty Corruption Comparative Insights from East Africa

Cosimo Stahl, Saba Kassa
Publication year: 
Basel Institute on Governance

Applying a novel behavioural approach to anti-corruption presents a promising but largely unexplored avenue to understand the seemingly entrenched nature of corruption. Behavioural approaches account for local contexts embedded into a given social fabric and cultural structure and acknowledge the leverage of socio-cultural drivers that influence the propensity of individuals to engage in corruption. The prevalence of behavioural drivers has indeed been empirically evidenced through fieldwork conducted in East Africa, where strong social norms and cultural values sustain a plethora of social networks whose dynamics often spur petty corruption. With a focus on the health sector in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, the empirical findings from this research indeed corroborate the role of social networks in perpetuating collective practices of petty corruption – including bribery, favouritism and gift-giving. A comparative analysis of social network dynamics across the three countries showcases the inherently ambivalent nature of social networks. The paper compares social networks dynamics and related petty corrupt practices and brings to the fore how structural and functional network properties could be utilised as entry points for anti-corruption interventions. The case is made for designing a novel type of behavioural anti-corruption intervention whereby the power of social networks is harnessed to elicit behavioural and attitudinal change for anti-corruption outcomes. We thereby propose an altogether different theory of change.