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The Link Between Corruption and Violent Extremism


Corruption leaves less resources to fight extremists such as Boko Haram, who attacked the village of Ngouboua.

Corruption on a large scale often results in and from poor governance, leading to the root conditions that too often breed or give sanctuary to violent extremism.

There is a clear link between endemic corruption and violent extremism. Corruption on a large scale often results in and from poor governance, leading to the root conditions that too often breed or give sanctuary to violent extremism: anger, moral outrage, and disaffection for a system or society that allows some to thrive through dishonesty, at the expense of the rest.

“Where there is weak governance or a lack of quality education, economic opportunity, or respect for human rights, citizens are most at risk of being alienated by or from their governments and each other,” noted Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall.

“This is not just about ideological affinity; it is about alienation and anger that drives communities to align with or tolerate the violent extremists.”

Thus, ISIL in Iraq was able to exploit disillusionment with corrupt officials to garner support among some of the civilian population, not because they shared ISIL’s perverse religious stance, but because both opposed the government.

In the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where endemic corruption continues to undermine citizens’ faith in their government and shake the country’s foundations to the core, various rebel groups use corruption and the absence of good governance as a recruitment tool, committing gross human rights abuses and sowing chaos and misery across large swaths of the country.

In Nigeria, endemic corruption has left little money to feed, pay and equip the security forces, leaving them unable to defend citizens against terrorists such as Boko Haram, and eroding citizens’ trust in key institutions.

“Corruption is just one of the enablers of violent extremism, and efforts to combat it will need to be taken in concert with a number of policy and programmatic interventions if we are to stem the growth of violent extremism,” said Under Secretary Sewall.This includes strengthening civilian institutions so they not only provide security, but provide legal avenues to hold elected officials accountable and respond to the needs of their citizens, ensuring inclusive governance to reduce political or socioeconomic marginalization of particular groups.

It means building secure and resilient communities in which the vulnerable don’t need to align with extremist groups to address their concerns, said Under Secretary Sewall.

And it means weakening the appeal of extremist ideology by amplifying the voices of leaders who promote tolerance, peace and diversity, and who speak out against violence against civilians.

Violent extremists exploit public discontent with corruption to garner support.

Thus, eliminating corruption is a necessary first step to rolling back and marginalizing extremism.

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