only search openDemocracy.net

About Shaazka Beyerle

Shaazka Beyerle is a writer and educator in citizen empowerment and civil resistance, and a Senior Advisor with the International Center on Nonviolent ConflictShe is conducting research on people power to curb corruption - in order to document cases and distill general lessons learned. She is the co-author of two chapters in "Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization and Governance in the Middle East”; one on anti-corruption campaigns and one on the Iranian women’s movement (Palgrave, 2010). She has published in Dar Al Hayat, Daily Star (Lebanon), Truthout.org, Foreign Policy, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, International Herald Tribune, and The Independent.

Articles by Shaazka Beyerle

This week's editor

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Resisting corruption: recent progress in Indonesia and Kenya

People power may be well-suited to a systemic approach to curbing corruption. Political will can be thwarted, because too many office-holders have a stake in the crooked status quo. Those benefiting from graft are much less likely to stand against it than those suffering from it.

"Sitting in the best hotels drinking coffee..."

The 13th International Anti-Corruption Conference is over, a few participants are bumping into one another at the Akropolis and on Syntagma (Constitution) Square, the warm sun shines overhead, and Athenians can be spotted still swimming in the enveloping blue Mediterranean.

On the last day, while I "manned" the exhibit table for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), a modest woman with a kind face and big smile came up to me. She told me she had wanted to stop by earlier. Her name is Phyllis Muema, she is with the Kenya Community Support Centre in Mombasa, and she gave permission to be identified. As we chatted, I told her about a comment made by a another Kenyan during a session organized by ICNC on the creative, brave ways in which civilians have mobilized and engaged in civil resistance to break the violence-corruption nexus in their societies, for example, in Sicily (mafias) and Guatemala (narco-cartels). (Vanessa Ortiz posted impressions about this session earlier.)

During the panel discussion, an elegantly attired man, whom I was later told (but cannot verify) was a Kenyan member of parliament, asserted that it was the violence in Kenya that created the urgency and impetus for the negotiations and solution to the political conflict following the contested presidential elections last December. I relayed the story to Phyllis, and asked her what she thought. "Well," she said, "the power-sharing agreement is for only 210 people - those in the parliament. It's not power-sharing by the people for the people. Their [parliamentarians'] needs were met, namely to sit in the Parliament."

"Were there other options available?" I queried. She argued that no dialogue or negotiations were attempted before the violence escalated ten months ago. And this was not for lack of good people, as she believes that there were a number of Kenyans and other Africans based on the continent with solid diplomatic skills. After much bloodshed, finally, the two sides ended up in negotiations mediated by Kofi Annan - something that could have been attempted from the outset.

Phyllis is concerned with repercussions the post-election violence is having on Kenyan society, particularly young people. "Violence breeds violence." She said that youth burned three hundred schools over the past few months. "They learned from their parents' actions last January. When they have a problem with the school administration, they burn the school." In her view, many people were also manipulated by the politicians during the violence. "The young men who were used were poor and unemployed. Many were paid...While many who fought now don't know why they fought, now forty government ministers (an expanded number) are fighting for themselves." As for the victims who lost their lives, she'd like to see restitution. She stated that some militia-men are in jail but have not been tried. "And the politicians who incited and funded the militias have gone back to the city. They don't take responsibility for what happened and are sitting in the best hotels drinking coffee."

At the IACC: setting the scene

The setting - the Megaron Athens International Conference Centre - is majestic, the weather is balmy, the cafes are full day and night, and the halls are smoky - this being Greece, where lighting up is considered a fundamental human right. Even before the 13th International Anti-Corruption Conference officially started, hundreds of people had already gathered and special sessions and workshops were under way. There was energy and, dare I say it, anticipation in the air. 

The IACC, as it's known in the anti-corruption community, is held in a different city every two years. Over a thousand people from around the world - who managed to get Greek visas, for some Herculean feat - have gathered here. One could say this is a Who's-Who of the anti-corruption realm - from modest, every day heroes in the trenches to researchers, lawyers tracing stolen assets, trade unionists, NGO'ers, brave journalists, representatives of multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and United Nations, to senior development and foreign aid agency officers, and dedicated, often courageous, officials and judges. Interestingly, some of the best-dressed delegates happen to be government representatives from some of the poorest African countries. 

This year's IACC may well mark two significant developments in the anti-corruption struggle. First, the conference is focusing on the inter-related nature of corruption and other global challenges, including climate change, sustainable development, human security and peacebuilding. As activists in the grass-roots know, corruption does not occur in a vacuum. One can meet many from civil society here who have to wear multiple hats. Fighting corruption invariably also involves working around issues of human rights, economic justice, land reform, democratic governance, environmental protection, free and open media, independent judiciaries, organized violence and extortion, and so forth. One activist half-joked that she was disappointed she hadn't yet been arrested. Another said that, in her country, they feared going to prison more than being killed, though the latter outcome was not hypothetical. 

The IACC's programme reflects the shifting landscape of the anti-corruption realm. There is a growing recognition that fighting corruption is a human enterprise as much as it is an institutional and legislative effort. A relatively new World Bank report lauds "efforts to increase the citizens' capability to monitor and challenge abuses of the system and to inform the citizens about their rights and entitlements." In the first plenary today, Amnesty International's Secretary General, Irene Khan, set the stage by pointing to the importance of citizen participation. 

How that is translated into practical measures - may be less clear. One reason is because civil society is not a monolithic entity. Civil society is organic. It encompasses the collective, bottom-up initiatives in which activists, their allies and ordinary citizens are involved. Hand-in-hand with citizen participation goes something even more fundamental - civic empowerment and action, such as noncooperation, civil disobedience, protests, digital technology communications, and low risk mass actions.  

As always, real life precedes analysis. For example, today an overflowing room learned how a Filipino public services trade union together with teachers and civic organizations organized over one million boy and girl scouts to count textbooks and monitor deliveries of supplies. Another campaign in Egypt also gave attendees a vivid glimpse at civic empowerment on the ground. Founded by outraged women, Shayfeen.com (meaning "we see you") mobilized volunteers and ordinary citizens to document election fraud in real time using mobile phone SMS and video, and YouTube. Stay tuned for more details about these and other civic campaigns to fight corruption.  

 

Turkey to Pakistan: civic action for change

Two campaigns led by lawyers against political corruption of the rule of law contain important principles for those seeking peaceful, democratic advance, says Shaazka Beyerle.
Syndicate content