Pity the Man Who Stands Alone

October 11, 2017 | Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church

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In this post Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church shares findings on how: (1) Acts of jealousy and revenge fuel the manipulation of the criminal justice system in the Central African Republic, and (2) how favoritism is a critical organizing factor within the system.


Pity the man who stands alone; “Mawa na zo so a douti gui lo oko.”  This Sango proverb encapsulates a powerful dimension to the system of corruption in the police, courts and corrections in Central African Republic (CAR).  To be without connections – familial, professional, ethnic – kills potential advancement, extinguishes opportunities and puts one in a highly vulnerable position.  The latter, is not only pertinent to the regular calamities of living in a fragile state, but more specifically to revenge or retaliation for past wrongs (real or perceived) that are a very real social phenomenon in Bangui.  In this context, having no connections that can be called on in a time of need is seen as one of the worst fates possible.

The majority of the corruption dynamics in the criminal justice system (CJS) in Bangui, CAR, as identified in our latest research, were explained in our last post.  The corruption is not a collection of individual transactions, but rather a pattern of behavior driven and enabled by a myriad of factors ranging from poverty to poor equipment to fear of incarceration.  The consequences of which are impunity, distrust in the police and courts as institutions, more corruption and mob justice.  All of which feed back into the vicious cycle of corruption in the CJS.

Two important and related themes that came out of the research that we wanted to highlight to a greater degree are the extent to which social and professional connections impact the CJS and the role of jealousy and revenge as drivers of corruption.


Acts of jealousy and revenge fuel the manipulation of the criminal justice system

Post 49 D7Jealousy and revenge act as drivers in the system of corruption in the CJS in Bangui; particularly amongst citizens.  From the perspective of corruption, the data suggests that acting on jealousy is common and often involves the need to manipulate the CJS.  Jealousy appears to be generated by pure envy of someone’s success or a sense of inappropriate advancement of someone who is perceived to be on the same or lessor rung in the ladder of a social hierarchy.  In other words, someone who is perceived as similar or lessor in social status but has more material assets can generate significant jealousy.  Regardless of the cause of jealousy it can result in false accusations being made such as theft, assault or rape; thus inserting the accused into the CJS.  This situation plays out across men and women, however in the case of women false accusations far more commonly take the form of allegations of witchcraft; an offense captured in the criminal code in CAR.  These accusations are facilitated by bribing, typically, a police officer to initiate an arrest.

There is significant fear experienced by the average citizen – and even more so by members of the Muslim community – of being ensnared in the CJS because it is perceived that there is no fair and legal way out.  This pervasive dread creates a sense that one must do whatever it takes to get out; be it bribe, offer sexual favors or make a call to a connection on the inside that may be able to act as an intermediary to help them get out.

The same chain of events is also triggered in Bangui by revenge.  People have long memories for past slights, perceived wrongs and actual crimes that have gone unpunished because of the rampant impunity created by a corrupt CJS.  When the opportunity to take revenge arises, false criminal accusations are a common means utilized.  The Séléka/anti-Balaka crisis, with its neighbor-on-neighbor violence and destruction of property, has exacerbated this dynamic.  Citizens spoke of harboring grievances against individuals in their community, where they awaited an opportunity to take revenge.


Favoritism: a critical organizing factor within the criminal justice system

Post 49 FavoritismFavoritism in all its forms (nepotism, cronyism etc.) is rife in most fragile states; with CAR being no different.  It is through favoritism that recruitment and advancement in the CJS is managed.  Hiring, promotion, task allocation (this ranges from discrete tasks, to case allocation to where one is physically stationed) and professional opportunities (e.g. international courses or local trainings) are all dictated by a loyalty-based system of obligations.  This system is often reinforced by financial flows, whereby those lower in the hierarchy are expected to provide a “written-report” to their superior.   Contrary to the name, this “report” does not involve paper, except for the kind that money is printed on, and it could also include material items like goats.   Perversely, a ‘good’ boss is seen as one who upon receipt of the written report divides it out amongst their team.

Non-compliance with these established, connections-based practices has minor to severe consequences. A criminal justice actor who fails to provide a “written account” to his/her superior or refuses to do a favor for a colleague will typically be transferred to “arid lands”.  A description used for positions or places that offer no opportunity to supplement income or professional accomplishment — the opposite of “juicy” locations.  Given the familial expectation to use one’s position for security and advancement of the family, this also has personal consequences.   Further, there appears to be no ‘statue of limitations’ for exacting a punishment when one’s expectations are not met.  Reprisal for a breach can happen immediately, or far down the road.  Colleagues are known to wait until the person-in-question is in need (e.g. they have a family member who has been arrested) and then refuse to help or stall the case.  Disappointed colleagues can also use false accusations in retaliation.

The consequences of not fulfilling a request for help are widely understood.  Within the CJS, this exerts a constant pressure on actors to conform to established practices which abuse power for personal gain.


Help those in my circles: a social norm

Favoritism does not just exist within the CJS.  Having to “help those in my circle” is a social norm that transcends all groups in Bangui. Mutual obligations within families and between personal connections act as a social safety net in this society and is not a new phenomenon.  The notions of family and familial connections have always been central to how society functions in CAR.   French colonial administrators attempted to control the population by leveraging ethnic identity, as did various leaders post-independence.  Despite this, family and clan identity remained the primary identity markers.

Acts associated with helping those in one’s circle are (1) typically done, (2) viewed as appropriate behavior, and (3) result in social sanction when not followed; and thus, qualify as a social norm. In this context, responding to this social expectation often results in abuse of power for personal gain (aka corruption); making this an indirect driver of corruption.

When it comes to criminal justice, the social norm of “helping those in my circle” becomes apparent when ‘favors’ are requested of criminal justice actors for assistance.  Requests can originate with colleagues, family or acquaintances and are typically made to aid someone to get out of the system.  In these situations, the connection often acts as an intermediary, seeking to influence or exert pressure on the criminal justice actor who has power over the case.  Actors in CAR explained that a two-pronged strategy – money plus an intermediary – is the best way to secure an outcome in the CJS.  Without the latter it is likely that the money “will be eaten” while not changing the outcome.

Not fulfilling the expectations that accompany connection generally results in social sanction; anything from isolation to retaliation.  Though similar to what happens within the CJS, interviewees report that the consequences are more severe and more harmful when one does not fulfill the obligations of family.


What’s next?

The final post in this three-part series on CAR will look at the absence of anti-corruption within the international community’s support to the criminal justice sector.


The Research

Findings are based on 115 interviews conducted in Bangui over the summer of 2017.  In addition to standard qualitative coding, casual loop mapping was used as a means of analysis.  The final report was authored by Ladislas de Coster, Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church, Kiely Barnard-Webster with the support of Kessy Martine Ekomo-Soignet, Peter Woodrow and Arsène Sende.  It is available in English and French.

About this article

This post is part of the corruption in fragile states series. The series provides a space for conversation about corruption in fragile states. Since its inception in 2016 as part of the CDA Perspectives Blog, the series has sought to challenge status quo thinking with a particular emphasis on exploring systems-based approaches to understanding and acting on corruption dynamics. Topics in the series range from new research findings in Uganda, Iraq or the DRC to provocative thought pieces intended to contest dominant paradigms or practices.

Now hosted by the Institute for Human Security at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, series contributions are inspired by, but not limited to, the Corruption, Justice and Legitimacy project as well as the, now concluded, Central Africa Accountable Service Delivery Initiative. All blog posts published after March 1, 2018, information about submitting guest posts, and subscribing to future series updates is available here.

To receive blog posts on other topics from CDA subscribe here. You may contact [email protected] if you are interested in submitting a guest post on the latest work in the fields of accountability and feedback loops, conflict sensitivity, peacebuilding effectiveness, and responsible business.

About the author(s)

Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church is Principal at Besa: Catalyzing Strategic Change, a social enterprise committed to catalysing significant change on strategic issues in places experiencing conflict and structural or overt physical violence. She has significant experience working on anti-corruption and state legitimacy in the DRC and Uganda.  As a Professor of Practice she teaches and consults on program design, monitoring, evaluation and learning. Cheyanne is also a regular author and co-curator of the blog series on corruption in fragile states.


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