PublicationsThe U4 Blog

U4 Issue

Rethinking anti-corruption in de-democratising regimes

Regime type matters for the choice of anti-corruption approaches. In recent years, most anti-corruption investments have been allocated to democratising regimes. Today several of these countries are backsliding, including Bangladesh, Brazil, Hungary, Tanzania, Turkey, and Zambia, among others. Often, de-democratisation is disguised as an effort to strengthen government efficiency or enact anti-corruption measures. Would-be autocrats use corruption to finance and sustain their power grab and may weaponise anti-corruption institutions towards the same end. Practitioners need to rethink anti-corruption efforts in de-democratising regimes.

27 April 2021
Download PDFRead short version
Rethinking anti-corruption in de-democratising regimes

Main points

  • Democracy is under threat around the world. In some countries, democracy has broken down and is giving way to autocracy.
  • De-democratising regimes were once democratic or clearly democratising states, but are now sliding backwards. They are not yet fully authoritarian but have taken substantial steps towards authoritarianism.
  • Most de-democratising countries have democratically elected populist leaders. These illiberal leaders are now threatening democratic institutions and norms.
  • In such countries, the opposition is stifled, institutional systems of checks and balances are undermined, and rules of the game are changed to lock in the leader’s advantage.
  • The consequences for anti-corruption are severe. Traditional governance-focussed reforms are rolled back. Illiberal leaders may even weaponise anti-corruption, abusing state institutions like anti-corruption commissions to cripple the opposition.
  • Anti-corruption efforts need to be aligned with a broad democratisation agenda in which corruption is understood as a political phenomenon.
  • First, anti-democratic politicians and their strategies should be identified. Second, anti-corruption should strengthen the institutions not yet wing-clipped, reinforce the remaining opposition, civil society, and media not yet stifled, and protect free and fair elections before it’s too late.

Cite this publication

Amundsen, I.; Jackson, D.; (2021) Rethinking anti-corruption in de-democratising regimes. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2021:5)

Download PDFRead short version

About the authors

Dr. Inge Amundsen is a political scientist at the Chr. Michelsen Institute focusing on democratic institutionalisation, parliaments, political parties, political corruption, and natural resources (petroleum resources management and revenue management). His geographic expertise includes Malawi, Bangladesh, Angola, Ghana, Nigeria, and francophone West Africa. He completed his PhD in comparative African studies at the University of Tromsø, Norway, in 1997.

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)