Trust is the glue that binds people together. When people trust in democratic institutions they are free to interact and trade with strangers, restrain violent impulses and obey the law without fear of being cheated. But in South Africa, trust is sorely lacking.
Research suggests that one of the most reliable ways to build trust is through education. Reducing inequality also improves trust. Solving South Africa’s education and inequality crises is crucial, but will take many years.
In discussions of Mali’s chronic problems, one factor tends to be overlooked: organized crime. Illicit activities have a long tradition in remote areas across the Sahel. Mali’s vast north, an area larger than France, is sparsely populated, and historically marginalized by the Malian state. Many people survive by smuggling items like subsidized food or cigarettes. Criminal rents are how people make a living in the marginalized north, but have also funded a myriad of armed groups and corruption networks. Efforts by international actors like the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission (MINUSMA), or by regional alliances like the G5 Sahel, increasingly recognize the threat organized crime poses to regional security, governance, and economic development. But why have their efforts fallen short?
It is widely understood that corruption is a pervasive problem in many societies and undermines public confidence in the political system and government institutions. The scourge of corruption is generally viewed as a symptom of a larger problem of the failure of judicial, media, and other institutions of accountability in new or developing democracies. In kleptocracies, which is the term used to designate “government by thieves,” corruption is the lifeblood of the system and therefore the heart of the problem.
Karen Dawisha, the author of Putin’s Kleptocracy and one of the foremost experts on this issue, makes the observation that “in kleptocracies risk is nationalized and rewards are privatized.” Participation in the spoils of kleptocracy is organized and controlled by top political elites, who raid state resources with immunity and impunity. Whistleblowers, investigative journalists, and others who seek to expose corrupt practices become targets of law enforcement and are treated as enemies of the state.
North Korea is probably the most corrupt country in Asia. Measuring corruption levels is difficult, and existing ratings (like the well-known index published annually by Transparency International) should be taken with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence appears persuasive enough: Official corruption in North Korea has been exceptional over the last 20 years.
In my frequent discussions with North Koreans, I have discovered the fact that most of them take a high level of corruption for granted. They assume that any official who is in a position to ask for bribes will. In fact, they are surprised if officials refuse bribes. Simply put, corruption is part of the fabric of daily life in North Korea today.