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Tackling petty corruption through social norms theory: lessons from Rwanda

Despite Rwanda’s implementation of a ‘zero tolerance for corruption’ strategy, taxi motorcyclists working in Kigali continue to deal with corrupt security officers and police officers. Yet, the use of social norms theory can be a very effective tool in analysing collective action problems, and defining strategies to modify behaviours or interactions. It reveals how power games, structural aspects, or interdependencies may perpetuate corrupt practices.

5 February 2021
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Main points

  • Outsourcing or decentralising the implementation of national policies may increase the potential for corrupt practices, as the co-production of norms by non-state actors may also increase the potential for a co-production of corruption.
  • A multi-levelled administrative structure may present new opportunities for petty corruption, especially when few or no checks and balances are put in place to control corruption.
  • The implementation gap for anti-corruption policies tackling petty corruption is wider when formal and informal governance is interlinked, unless the elements of informal governance are also considered during policy design.
  • Power imbalances prevailing before project or policy implementation may hamper outcomes. Standard ‘political economy analysis’ at the stages of project design and inception do not sufficiently consider the impact of actors’ capacities and practices.
  • Social mapping, which considers margins of freedom among actors at each stage of the implementation process, may help to reduce the implementation gap.
  • During development aid project design, social norms theory could help development practitioners to consider the multiplicity of influences already identified, and to map out and align the various actors, entry points, pathways, and possible risks to consider in anti-corruption initiatives.

Cite this publication

Nicaise, G.; (2021) Tackling petty corruption through social norms theory: lessons from Rwanda. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2021:2)

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About the author

Guillaume Nicaise is a Senior Adviser for the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre at the Chr. Michelsen Institute. He leads U4’s work on corruption risk management and the private sector. He previously worked for the German and Belgian development agencies – GIZ and BTC. He also has work experience from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and NATO itself, as well as the International Crisis Group. Nicaise completed a PhD on the transfer of good governance norms in Rwanda and Burundi from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, France.


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)


social norms, petty corruption, informal sector, police, Rwanda, Sub-Saharan Africa