Corruption as an Empty Signifier

Politics and Political Order in Africa


Corruption as an Empty Signifier critically explores the ways in which corruption in Africa has been equated with African politics and political order, and offers a novel approach to understanding corruption as a potentially emancipatory discourse of political transformation. Conventionally, both academic literature as well as development policies depict corruption as the lynchpin of politics in Africa, locking African societies into political orders which subvert democratic change. Drawing on the findings of a case study of the construction industry in Tanzania, Lucy Koechlin conceptualises corruption as a signifier enabling, rather than preventing, social actors to articulate democratic claims. She provides compelling arguments for a more sophisticated understanding of and empirical attentiveness to emancipatory change in African political orders.
Open Access


Open Access

Biographical Note

Lucy Koechlin, Ph.D. (2010), University of Basel, is senior lecturer of Social Anthropology. Previously, she worked as international expert on governance. She has published and co-edited numerous contributions on corruption and accountability, including Non-state Actors as Standard Setters (CUP, 2009).

Table of contents

Contents List of Figures, Tables and Boxes Acknowledgements List of Abbreviations Introduction Corruption, Politics and Africa 1. ‘Corruption ruins lives: take action!’ 2. Development Discourse: Good Governance and the ‘Anti-Corruption Machine’ 3. ‘Rational’, ‘Rotten’ or ‘Routine’: What is Corruption? 4. Discourses of Corruption, Discourses of Africa 5. Methodology and Organisation of the Enquiry 1 The Academic Discourse: Political Order and Corruption in Africa 1. Introduction 2. Corruption and Political Development: Assimilation and Integration 3. The Political Economy of Corruption: Rules and Regimes 4. The Moral Economy of Corruption: Values and Practices 5. The Order of Disorder: Power, Authority and Accumulation 6. Conceptualising Corruption: The Question of Agency 7. Conclusions: Corruption, (Dis)Order and Agency 2 Sketching Out an Emancipatory Discourse: Corruption, Political Spaces and Social Imaginaries 1. Introduction 2. Reinserting Politics: A Political Theory of Corruption 3. Civil Society: The Omni-Present Absence in Africa 4. The State of the Economy 5. Organized Business Interests 6. Professional Associations in Africa 7. The Politics of Corruption Interlude A Topography of Corruption in Tanzania 1. Why a Topography? 2. A Bird’s Eye View: Development, Governance and Corruption in Tanzania 3. Qualified Views of Corruption in Tanzania 4. An Overview over Corruption in Tanzania 3 Democratic Spaces in the Making? Professional Associations and Corruption in 2003 1. Background: From the Politics of Integrity (Julius Nyerere 1962–1985) to the Politics of Shamelessness (Ali Hassan Mwinyi 1985–1995) 2. Benjamin Mkapa (1995–2005)—‘Zero-Tolerance of Corruption’ 3. Regulatory Framework and Anti-Corruption Institutions 4. Governance Policies in the Construction Industry 5. Corruption and Professional Associations in the Tanzanian Construction Industry 6. Hegemonies and Fixations of Corruption: Some Preliminary Conclusions 4 Closures of Democratic Spaces? Professional Associations and Corruption in 2010 1. Introduction 2. Jakaya Kikwete—‘A dedicated spirit of government’? 3. Governance and Anti-Corruption Reforms in the Regulatory Framework 4. Governance Reforms in the Construction Industry 5. Professional Associations and Corruption in the Construction Industry 6. ‘Our voice is not heard’: Perspectives on Public Officials 7. Hegemonies and Fixations of Corruption: Conclusions in Space and Time Conclusions Corruption, Politics and Political Order 1. Corruption, Development and Political Order 2. Reassessing the Academic Discourse on Corruption in Africa 3. The Politics of Corruption as an Empty Signifier 4. Corruption, Identity and Democratic Politics Bibliography Index


Academics of African Studies, Social and Political Sciences as well as development practitioners concerned with a better understanding of corruption in Africa and the conditions of democratic change.