Few global issues are as nonpartisan, universal, and severe as corruption. Shaazka Beyerle articulates the importance of halting malfeasance in Curtailing Corruption: People Power for Accountability and Justice. Using twelve detailed case studies from nations as politically, economically, and geographically diverse as Brazil, Egypt, and Indonesia, Beyerle drives home the point that strategic nonviolent collective action on the part of ordinary citizens can stop corruption and lead towards “information, accountability, participatory democracy, freedom, and human dignity” even despite potential threats from government or other hostile organized groups within the state.
Beyerle makes a compelling case that by garnering popular support for anti-corruption movements, civilian activists can prevent malfeasance through candidate “blacklists”, right to information procedures, social networking resistance, anticorruption pledges, protests, and boycotts, among other means. These “bottom-up” approaches put democracy at play to pressure power-holders to ensure the people’s best interests. And while systems that are at least to some degree democratic are essential for positive outcomes, Curtailing Corruption demonstrates that contrary to popular assumptions, people-sponsored movements most typically occur in nations that poorly harbor civil liberties. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than Afghanistan, where citizens felt powerless and removed from the government. Integrity Watch Afghanistan spurred a far-reaching system in which development projects were monitored to ensure the best interests of the Afghani citizens, an initiative that spread throughout the country and in some areas achieved success by ensuring quality development of public infrastructure.
In cases where graft is committed by elected officials, Beyerle presents blacklisting as a highly effective means of attacking the abuse. In South Korea, the Citizens Alliance for the General Elections (CAGE) produced, published, and publicized a blacklist of candidates who were deemed unfit to run for public office according to a set of criteria. CAGE then discouraged citizens from voting for these candidates. The outcome of these efforts was impressive – 52 percent of blacklisted candidates’ names were not on the ballot, and 69 percent of blacklisted candidates in the final elections were defeated. However, Beyerle neglected to mention some important potential drawbacks of the blacklisting method. First, a clean record is no guarantee of a clean future. After this initiative, 80 percent of the newly-elected South Korean assembly were serving only their first- or second-terms. These new officials could be just as likely to engage in corruption even if they did not have the record to suggest it. Also, it is important that the criteria for blacklisting is severe, for decisions made by inexperienced officials, though perhaps ethical, could be more harmful to their constituency than petty graft. Nevertheless, Beyerle did acknowledge that just unity within anticorruption organizations is essential by explaining that conflicting viewpoints within CAGE on specific candidates weakened the organization’s authority.
As made evident by other case studies, corruption is by no means limited to the realm of government although political figures are often responsible to some degree, at least by failing to make efforts to combat the malfeasance. In Italy, the Mafia constrained business owners by threatening them in order receive extortion money before Addiopizzo reduced this corruption by starting a powerful coalition of business owners who refused to pay protection money and citizens who boycotted businesses that did. In Uganda, the Inspectorate of Government identified the police as the nation’s most corrupt institution, a problem that was greatly reduced by the National Foundation for Democracy and Human Rights in Uganda, which established a partnership with the police that prevented corruption by training police to act ethically, educating the public about anticorruption laws, and instituting community monitoring of the police. In both Italy and Uganda, the campaigns for accountability and justice began and started with ordinary civilians, yet once these movements gained momentum, government power-holders provided significant support that led to the campaigns’ success.
In Curtailing Corruption’s final chapter, Beyerle describes how not only is corruption a problem plaguing various nations across the globe but also that anticorruption efforts within any nation often have international implications. One of the most far-reaching examples of these implications is found in the realm of foreign policy. Beyerle claims that the international response to squander the Taliban in Afghanistan would have been stronger if civilian-led anticorruption efforts from Afghanis were more widely recognized by foreign players. Although Beyerle insists that opposition to graft and abuse can only be successful when initiated and led by local actors, she recognizes the added pressure and resources that international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs), civil society organizations, and foreign governments can afford.
While the tactics most conducive for grassroots activists to garner people power and catalyze meaningful change are implicit throughout the book, Beyerle concludes by explicitly articulating her suggestions to larger players for effective anticorruption campaigns, which have implications for any nonviolent, civil movements. These larger players include INGOs, development institutions, and foreign governments. While Beyerle identifies distinct roles for each of these institutions, the overarching theme of the recommendations for all majorly influential players is to recognize and support the smaller grassroots actors. Beyerle argues that if the external actors fail to coordinate their efforts with civic actors and grassroots organizations, their actions can unintentionally detriment the grassroots initiatives.
The justification for Beyerle’s ideas can be somewhat dull, but Curtailing Corruption’s various case studies maintain readers’ interests by offering information on contemporary issues around the globe. While reading Beyerle’s book, I found her descriptions of the importance of citizen engagement and nonviolent action to be rather monotonous. Yet although continually reinforcing the same ideas of the importance of citizen engagement, nonviolence, and local leadership does not contribute significantly to the author’s argument, the various case studies used as examples engage the reader by adding interesting information about the culture, political structure, and history of the twelve nations mentioned. Today, when civilian-led campaigns ranging from protests against police brutality in the United States to rallies for freedom of expression in France are dominating headlines and capturing the world’s attention, Beyerle’s argument for the significance of nonviolent popular action could not be more relevant. Yet to be seen is whether or not these movements will strategize their plans of action and develop specific objectives as Beyerle would advise.