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Engaging customary authority in community-driven development to reduce corruption risks

Customary authority can provide a source of resistance to corruption and capture of resources in community-driven development – but it can also be part of those problems. How to know whether a customary organisation is likely to help or hinder? Practitioners can analyse the conditions under which customary authority can be an effective partner in community-driven development projects.

3 June 2018
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Engaging customary authority in community-driven development to reduce corruption risks

Main points

  • Most development agencies, especially in the areas of democracy promotion and governance, have been uncomfortable working with customary authority to address corruption in community-driven development. Yet customary authority can provide voice and representation, monitor project implementation, and promote integrity norms – roles that can provide a source of resistance to corruption and capture.
  • By nature, customary authority is neither homogenous nor formal. The degree of legitimacy and the capacity of customary organisations vary from community to community. Some customary forms of organisation are highly reactionary and should be avoided. Others, however, can play an anti-corruption role, and practitioners should be aware of their potential.
  • By exploring the institutional dimensions of customary authority, policymakers can assess whether or not a given customary organisation is likely to be a source of resistance to corruption and capture. It is important for practitioners to consider whether customary authorities have:
  • a) A relatively autonomous space in which to operate, free from heavy-handed interference or co-optation by governments or other external actors;
  • b) Constraints on the authority and power of key decision makers and leaders;
  • c) Broadly inclusive decision-making structures that have ways to consider the roles of women and minority voices;
  • d) The ability to enforce rules and sanction those who violate rules that community members have agreed upon.
  • Generally, practitioners should gather information about customary authority as they embark on community-driven development efforts; be wary of prioritising the creation of new forms of organisation that ignore customary authority; and be open to alternative frameworks of project management that facilitate engagement with customary authority.

Cite this publication

Murtazashvili , J.; Jackson, D.; (2018) Engaging customary authority in community-driven development to reduce corruption risks. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2018:3)

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About the authors

Jennifer Murtazashvili

Dr. Jennifer Murtazashvili is associate professor and director of the International Development Program at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. Her research explores questions of governance in fragile states with a geographical focus on Central and South Asia and the former Soviet Union. Her first book, Informal Order and the State in Afghanistan, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2016.

Dr. David Jackson leads U4’s thematic work on informal contexts of corruption. His research explores how an understanding of social norms, patron-client politics, and nonstate actors can lead to anti-corruption interventions that are better suited to context. He is the author of various book chapters and journal articles on governance issues and holds degrees from Oxford University, the Hertie School of Governance, and the Freie Universität Berlin.


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)