In This Review

Everyday Corruption and the State: Citizens and Public Officials in Africa
Everyday Corruption and the State: Citizens and Public Officials in Africa
By Giorgio Blundo and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan
Zed Books, 2006, 256 pp

This fascinating anthropological analysis of everyday corruption is based on extensive fieldwork in Benin, Niger, and Senegal and describes in exquisite detail eight distinct forms of corruption in these countries -- bribes, informal tolls and levies, extortion, influence peddling, cronyism, misappropriation of funds, favoritism, and various "little gifts" -- that pervade the most routine public services, undermining state effectiveness, lowering civic spirit, increasing inequality, and worsening public welfare. Yet the authors' careful work also shows that citizens in these countries view many forms of corruption as legitimate and routine, suggesting that simple-minded "zero tolerance" anticorruption campaigns are unlikely to be successful. The book follows a general discussion of forms of corruption in Africa and how they are understood in local cultures with three remarkably rich case studies: of corruption in the legal system, transport, and public procurement. Unfortunately, the authors make no attempt to gauge the dimensions of the phenomena, and so it is impossible to extrapolate their economic or fiscal significance. Nonetheless, they have produced an analysis that is empirically rich, deeply perceptive, and almost entirely free of the cant that often characterizes discussions of corruption in Africa.