Corruption is often cited as an indicator of fragile states and a spoiler for peacebuilding, but it is rarely examined within ongoing conflict. When authorities seek to enrich themselves rather than provide public goods this is perceived as a failure of governance. General approaches to corruption are restricted to deviation by public officials from their legal obligations to provide key public goods. However, the state is not the only actor who provides public goods. In areas of contested statehood, non-state armed groups will attempt to compete with the state for authority. They may do so in part by exercising their own form of governance, including public goods provision. Therefore, non-state authorities can also be susceptible to perceptions of governance failure when they prioritize personal gain over promised provision of public goods. This paper argues that if we want to understand corruption as a failure of governance, we must include non-state governance by armed groups. Previous research has overlooked this crucial distinction. By broadening the definition of corruption in this way, we can understand how perceptions of corruption perpetuate contested legitimacy of multiple authorities in conflict. In particular, drawing from multiple case study analyses of civil conflicts, this paper seeks to explain how the perception of corruption in failing to deliver promised public goods entrenches illegitimacy among competing governance authorities. We examine rich empirical evidence from original fieldwork in Colombia, Pakistan, and Myanmar, and identify key variables in service provision type, use of selective and indiscriminate violence, and accumulation of wealth by armed actors to understand how perceptions of corruption are constructed within conflict settings. Based on these variables, we propose a field experimental design to empirically test predictions from this theoretical model. The argument demonstrates how competing authorities in conflict areas strategically use service provision to heighten their acceptance in target communities in a way that highlights the failure of other authorities to do the same. The approach we develop broadens the study of corruption from the strictures of legalistic state-centric framework to the building of trust within competing governance authorities.
Mr. Mats Ahrenshop