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Building a Social Movement Against Corruption

Political Corruption
Michael Johnston

Despite the risks and sacrifices undertaken by courageous citizens in many societies, as well as the efforts of countless activists and analysts, the track record of the contemporary anti-corruption movement is unimpressive. Progress has been made within specific programs, agencies, and jurisdictions; and the success stories of Hong Kong and Singapore have been retold many times. But there are many more cases in which corruption has continued, or intensified, over generations, and others in which reforms have had only short-lived success or have even done harm. Examples of clear-cut, sustained reductions in corruption across full-scale national societies are few and far between. The problem has not been a lack of effort, insight, or commitment, nor is there any shortage of good ideas. Instead, the key issue has all too often been a lack of broad-based, lasting social and political support for reform. Reform efforts are launched, often with great fanfare, but active social commitment and credible evidence of positive effects have been difficult to sustain. Citizens know all too well that corruption does them harm, and during flash-point episodes such as those in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere during the Arab Spring of 2011, corruption and other abuses of official power have been galvanizing issues. But follow-through is a different matter; strong and lasting anti-corruption social movements are rare. This article offers an argument that corruption control is above all else a political process