State building in the wake of conflict is difficult – whether the conflict stems from street protests or civil war. Prime examples come from countries that experienced the “Arab Spring,” especially Egypt and Yemen, where newly elected governments were also overthrown. Establishing the legitimacy of the new postconflict government is of utmost importance both to avoid renewed unrest and to attract investment and foreign aid. However, the task of state building can fail if an environment of distrust prevails among the various political, religious, or ethnic subgroups. One source of ongoing distrust can be embedded corruption that impedes efforts to build a participative, representative government; to ensure security; and to deliver services efficiently.
States emerging from conflict are particularly susceptible to corruption, which makes reconstruction especially challenging. Many of the factors that create corrupt incentives in any society are likely to be present simultaneously in postconflict environments. Key among these are poverty, weak institutions, lack of trust in law enforcement, a poorly functioning judiciary, and the marginalization of minority groups. Furthermore, if a civil war left widespread destruction, funds from donors for rebuilding arrive into an environment with weak controls, thus encouraging the diversion of funds into private pockets. The cumulative effect of these factors may be greater than the independent effect of each one taken separately. In many cases, several types of corruption were already endemic before the outbreak of conflict; the corruption may even have triggered the unrest, as in the case of Tunisia and Egypt during the “Arab Spring.” In most cases, the disintegration of the rule of law during the conflict contributes to a deterioration in state-private relations and promotes increased corruption. The nature of the conflict and the conditions under which it ended help determine the relative importance of the different types of corruption that emerge.
To demonstrate these points, we provide a litany of postconflict case studies that indicate how the sources of postconflict corruption differ depending upon the roles of former combatants, the existence of natural resource rents, the presence of organized crime, and the involvement of international actors. We conclude with some reform proposals that seem consistent with the case study evidence and are tailored to the particular problems of weak, postconflict states.