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What Worked: Fighting Corruption Through Collective Action

By Kiely Barnard-Webster

The central contribution of the Network [for its members] is that members no longer feel alone in the fight against corruption during their individual actions of resistance. Kuleta Haki Transition Review, December 2017

Is collective action effective for fighting corruption in fragile states? For one collective action effort, members now prefer to resist with a group behind them.

Kuleta Haki, an experimental anti-corruption project, celebrated its second anniversary in December 2017 with a final Transition Review. Kuleta Haki was designed based on a classic ‘strength in numbers’ idea. The central theory was: If people from within the CJS who act with integrity can establish strong relationships with each other, then they will feel more protected and empowered to act against corruption more openly and often because they will have support (e.g. emotional, hierarchical, tactical) from those inside the system. The Network currently has between 80-100 members, including lawyers, magistrates, police, clerks, judges, and civil society members.

The Review was conducted by a team of three actors independent of the program, with the objective of assessing the achievements of the project, what may have contributed, and how participants (the Network) might plan for a sustainable future. The system of corruption is resilient, and hard to change, nowhere more so than in fragile states. However, Kuleta Haki has been able to unite disparate criminal justice sector (CJS) actors who believe that resistance together is not only better for changing the system, but entirely possible in the long-term. To date, relationships across offices and jurisdictions, attitudes about the value of group resistance, and changes in knowledge about corruption have led the Network to persist.

This post only outlines a few of the many achievements and challenges identified in the Transition Review. Far more, rich, content can be found in the full report such as the bosses’ roles in enabling resistance, and the diverse challenges Network members regularly face.

Approaching a corruption system through collective action: an abridged look at achievements

Establishing relationships across judicial institutions opens up opportunities for resisting at multiple points in the system

Since the beginning of the project, the group has convened ‘judicial sub-groups’ – groups of clerks, magistrates, police – that regularly work together within their individual jurisdictions and/or courts. During all-Network activities (e.g., teambuildings) these sub-groups participate and report on challenges, progress, or success stories, adding to the group’s knowledge about corruption and resistance strategies while also deepening the Network’s bond as a group.

The Review showed that the Network has demonstrated an ability to integrate judicial actors with diverse profiles from different jurisdictions allowing them to work across police, courts and corrections. This gives the group an advantage, to pick and choose strategies tailored for different situations. For example, the Reviewers found that the Network has tested diverse ways to resist corruption, and found that no singular strategy surfaces as the “best.” The Network has “found numerous forms and strategies that vary according to hierarchical position, personality and institution, including: ‘circumvention’ (asking to be removed from a file), ‘passive resistance’ (refusing to engage when others of their rank might be expected to act differently), ‘active resistance’ (saying no to corruption).”

Cultivating attitudes about ‘strength in numbers’ is important for this strategy to work Being a member of Kuleta Haki appears to have fostered three important attitudes for corruption resistance (based on the Transition Review findings). First, Reviewers noted that, as an accepted member, you feel you are no longer alone and that others have experienced the same daily challenges you do.

Second, membership nurtures the sentiment that in a given moment at work, when faced with corruption, you have options to resist in relative safety because the Network will support you when possible. As one Network member explained, “To be protected, you must be part of the Network. The Network may seek to verify the facts [if you believe corruption is occurring] and may cover you. If you do not have coverage, you stay in your position.” Finally, as a member, you can look ahead with confidence in the knowledge that you have opportunities to share your successes with other members, and discuss strategy. As one member noted: “we talk, we share our experiences, sharing stories related to corruption. Often these are positive stories. We also hear the discouragement of the members.”

Activities that catalyzed these attitudinal changes: From the Transition Review and formative, internal evaluation, these trusting relationships require frequent meetings, in which members literally remove their professional robes which serve as symbols of hierarchy. Recreational meetings (e.g., game nights, dinners, an anti-corruption march on the weekend), greatly help to strengthen links and break down social and hierarchical divisions. Since October 2017 when external support to Kuleta Haki was reduced, reviewers pointed out that meetings have been less frequent and (as expected) this has started to “create a distance,” as one Network member put it, spurring rumors about which members remain committed.

Learning about corruption and how it functions is still important for resisting the system Knowledge is a powerful motivator. Systems analysis conducted prior to implementing Kuleta Haki showed that, overall, CJS actors do not feel they know enough about corruption including what legally constitutes corruption. Compounding this, many original interviewees reported that most Congolese citizens felt corruption is a ‘banal’ practice, implying a hopelessness abounds for understanding and eradicating it. This led the project design team to infuse Kuleta Haki with knowledge activities (e.g., trainings, accompaniment events etc). Mid-way through the project, a mid-term evaluation showed that many felt a better understanding of corruption forced them to confront the real harm that systemic corruption causes (at the individual and national level) feeding their motivation to resist. The final Transition Review confirmed this point and illustrated it with the following quote from one Network member, “knowledge of the situations that constitute corruption makes it possible to become aware of one’s own corrupt practices”, leading then to questions about how to resist. Trainings to teach what corruption is, and how it happens, were useful to this end as were accompaniment activities (to help develop the project’s strategy/Theory of Change, for example).

Theory of Change thinking still contributed, but skills were challenging to master. Though skills from Theory of Change workshops were not fully absorbed by the end of the project the concepts were still felt to be useful. From the Review, developing a theory of change based on the systems analysis helped the diverse group (in various CJS positions and rank) better understand their roles in resisting.

Knowledge products stoked feelings of strength. From the Transition Review, the hard copy of the Resistance Handbook continues to strengthen members, who, alone in their office, can draw on: explanations of corruption, resistance strategies and motivation for why it’s important to resist. The Review mentions that this manual is even more important in the event that meetings decrease and exchanges become scarce.

Looking forward

Although the international support aspect of this project concluded in Fall 2017, the Network still continues to resist corruption on its own today. The Transition Review took a useful snapshot of the group’s work at this point in the progress of their efforts. The Network’s governing body has since read the full version of the report, publicly available on CDA’s website, and approved its publication and distribution. Next week, read about the project team’s lessons learned from their analysis of the report, and from their perspective as the managers of an adaptive, experimental foray into collective anti-corruption resistance.


About the Author

Kiely Barnard-Webster is a Program Manager at CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, working on innovative approaches to tackling corruption in the DRC. She is also currently contributing to several different peacebuilding effectiveness and conflict sensitivity projects at CDA, as well as helping to support CDA’s office in Myanmar. Kiely focused her studies on gender analysis and DM&E at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.


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