Bridget O’Loughlin named PartnersGlobal’s Director of Business Development

  April 26, 2021

PartnersGlobal has promoted Bridget O’Loughlin to Director of Business Development. She moves into the lead business development role after serving over six years in various roles at the organization, most recently as the Senior Manager for Business Development where she expanded funding in innovative and important programming areas, including civil society resiliency, inclusive security, and accountable governance.

Her appointment comes at an exciting time as PartnersGlobal continues to align its current programming in response to global post-pandemic realities. This new leadership role will harness valuable lessons from PartnersGlobal’s experience and work around the globe about how to grow resilient organizations in unpredictable times of disruptive social, ecological, and health challenges. O’Loughlin will join the executive management team to offer strategic leadership that drives growth which is responsive to changing needs and predictive of how to reimagine organizational partnerships and funding relationships.

“Bridget’s leadership and vision has been so pivotal to the growth and success of PartnersGlobal these past few years,” says Roselie Vasquez-Yetter, Co-Executive Director for the organization. “In her new position, she’ll no doubt bring the same dedication as we continue to grow and innovate to support civil society and promote peace and democracy around the globe.”

In her new role setting the organization’s business development strategy, O’Loughlin says she will work to expand donor outreach for innovative and inclusive programming to meet the global peace and democracy challenges of the moment. Chief among these will be ramping up support for the comprehensive and on-the-ground peacebuilding efforts of PartnersYemen, which is providing critical conflict transformation and stabilization services in the midst of the country’s civil war and humanitarian crisis. She will also focus on continuing to bolster civil society resiliency in the face of authoritarianism, conflict, and crisis. She says she looks forward to increasing PartnersGlobal’s engagement with existing donors and partners and forming new relationships.

“This last year has been critical for global development as we reckoned with the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic and the foundational inequalities of the sector,” says O’Loughiln. “I look forward to working with our colleagues around the world to design transformational programing that embodies PartnersGlobal’s values of local leadership and true partnership.”

In her previous role of Senior Manager for Business Development, Bridget provided strategic leadership for PartnersGlobal’s business development efforts, including managing proposal design and preparation, developing and leading knowledge management processes, and building and sustaining external partnerships. She played a leading role in expanding funding for new programming, such as civil society resiliency building and served as an international peer coach and mentor in the space.

In addition to her business development expertise, O’Loughlin is an experienced trainer and facilitator in English and Spanish and has supported PartnersGlobal’s civil society resiliency, accountable governance, and conflict transformation work in Latin America, Yemen, and Nigeria.

She is a native of the Boston area and started working as an intern at PartnersGlobal in 2013 while pursuing her Master of Arts in Latin American Studies at Georgetown University. She has a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown, and previously lived and worked in Maracaibo, Venezuela as a Fulbright Fellow. 

“Bridget exemplifies the sought-after combination of programmatic, financial, and strategic design skills that have embodied her internal advancement from the most entry-level role to a senior leadership position within the organization,” says Vasquez-Yetter. “We can’t wait to see what this new challenge will bring!”

  April 16, 2021

Partners West Africa Senegal, Partners West Africa Nigeria, and PartnersGlobal are pleased to announce the recipients of the 2021 General Lamine Cissé Women, Peace and Security Research Fellowship.

Esah Holy ANAGHO is a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations and Conflict Resolution at the University of Buea – Cameroon. Her research is entitled, “Conflict Resolution, Peacebuilding and Counter-terrorism: The Roles of women in the North West, South West and Far North Regions of Cameroon.”

For almost a decade, Cameroon has experienced multiple conflicts that have gravely affected women and girls. The Boko Haram insurgency in the country’s Far North region and the separatist armed conflict in the North-West and South-West regions (the two English speaking or Anglophone regions of the country) have endangered the affected populations generally, but have been especially grievous for women and girls. Anagho’s innovative research will assess:

  • What are the roles of women in the Cameroon Anglophone Conflict?
  • In what ways has the Cameroon Anglophone conflict affected women and girls?
  • To what extent have women been able to contribute to the peace processes of the Cameroon Anglophone conflict?

Captain Mame Rokhaya LÔ is the Head of the Gender Desk within the Senegalese National Gendarmerie.

Captain Lo’s research is called, “Gender, Recruitment Strategies, and Management of Human Resources in the Senegalese National Gendarmerie.” With this research, she aims is to highlight gaps in current policy and practice, make policy recommendations, and engage decision-makers with the security sector for transformative change.

  November 10, 2020

We are pleased to share with you an opportunity for local civil society organizations interested in participating in a capacity building process to strengthen their resiliency in the face of potential impacts of growing restrictions on civic space. The Resiliency+ Process, developed out of the need for a new organizational model to combat the rise of changing civic spaces around the world, will take selected organizations through a structured process to increase their organizational resilience over a period of 12 months. This opportunity is part of a larger initiative under the USAID-funded Enabling and Protecting Civic Spaces (EPCS) – Illuminating New Solutions and Programmatic Innovations for Resilient Spaces or INSPIRES activity.

Organizations based in Ecuador, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Serbia will be eligible to apply. At a minimum, organizations must be a locally registered civil society organization, have at least four years of experience, and be committed to the 12-month process. Please see the attached documents for more details.

If you’re interested in participating in this opportunity, please fill out this Google Form Application by 11:59 pm EST on the following dates:

  • Kenya: November 6th
  • Nigeria, Serbia, and Senegal: November 16th
  • Ecuador: November 27th
  • Georgia: December 1st

Please feel free to contact us at [email protected] with any questions or concerns.

Check the documents below for more details:

  November 4, 2020

The Reverend Dr. Jonathan C. Augustine—pastor, lawyer, author, and renowned national civil rights leader—has joined PartnersGlobal’s Board of Directors, bringing timely insights as the organization looks to unite its international work with US-based networks working for racial justice, police reform and national peacebuilding.

“Jay brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our Board,” says PartnersGlobal President & CEO Julia Roig. “Increasingly, we are reminded that the challenges around justice, equity, and inclusion that we encounter in our work abroad are still all too present here at home. We look forward to Jay’s contributions as we make new connections and find common purpose with those tackling these challenges in the US.”

Based in Durham, NC, Augustine serves as the senior pastor of St. Joseph AME Church and as national chaplain of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. His ministry is filled with a history of leadership and service in addressing some of the 21st century’s most pressing social issues, bringing the church into the community and the community into the church. Immediately prior to his assignment at St. Joe’s, Augustine was senior pastor of Historic St. James AME Church in New Orleans, the birthplace of African Methodism in the Deep South and oldest predominately Black, Protestant church in the city. He was also an adjunct law professor at Southern University.

Among his many achievements in advancing civil rights in the US, Augustine successfully represented a class of plaintiffs in Carter v. St. Helena Parish School Board, one of the oldest desegregation cases in the country, which was originally filed by Thurgood Marshall, then-counsel for the NAACP. In 2016, he received President Barack Obama’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in civil rights and community leadership.

As the newest member of the PartnersGlobal Board of Directors, Augustine says he looks forward to working collaboratively toward the continued implementation of peacebuilding models to sustain democracies around the world.

“It’s a delight to join such an amazing team of experienced professionals in working to support PartnersGlobal, both internationally and domestically, in building capacity for democratic operations and conflict management. I believe my experience and perspectives will be an asset to the team’s mission.” he says.

Augustine earned an economics degree from Howard University, along with an active duty commission as a U.S. Army infantry officer. Following four years of decorated military service, he earned his Juris Doctorate from Tulane University and served as a law clerk to Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice (then-Associate) Bernette Joshua Johnson. He later earned his Master of Divinity from United Theological Seminary, as a Beane Fellow and National Rainbow-PUSH Foundation Coalition Scholar, before completing a fellowship at Princeton Theological Seminary. Augustine also earned his Doctor of Ministry degree from Duke University.

About PartnersGlobal

PartnersGlobal is working to transform the way we collectively approach building a more peaceful and democratic world. Our efforts across the globe bring diverse actors together—government officials, civil society leaders, activists, bilateral donors, security forces, international organizations, and businesses, among others—to build trusting relationships and collaborate on common goals.

Read more about Jay here:

by Julia Roig   October 30, 2019

It’s been 30 years since PartnersGlobal launched when we initially arrived in Poland to spur participatory decision-making and peaceful change, then under the name Partners for Democratic Change.

In 1989, we had a different name, and it was a very different time. There were no cell phones, internet or social media. Today, those technologies make modern life feel like the world is changing faster and faster.

But from our early days in Eastern Europe, we know that, in reality, the world was changing just as quickly then. When the Berlin Wall fell, it brought about a remarkably fast transformation: the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War. In the months and years after, engaged citizens began building a civil society from scratch, and Partners for Democratic Change was an important part of that process.

Our founder Raymond Shonholtz created Partners in that moment of rapid transition to help drive change that was both peaceful and democratic. He had a vision for creating local organizations in these new democracies that had real staying power and that would help give people a voice. As Partners, we understood that our critical role was to help individuals and institutions in these emerging democracies to be able to manage the conflicts that emerge in any open society.

The definition of “democratic change” in our original name and in our current tagline acknowledges that anywhere there is freedom to have a difference of opinion, conflict naturally arises. We believe that conflict can be healthy, enabling the best decisions and policies to emerge.

But people need a guide to manage intense moments of change and to find ways to collaborate, so we at PartnersGlobal work to productively transform those conflicts, helping diverse communities learn to respect differences and institutionalize inclusion and democratic decision-making. Our mission of helping individuals and institutions to create a culture of peaceful change met a critical need in 1989.

An ever-critical mission today

Three decades later in 2019, our mission is as relevant as ever.

In our line of work, we have to be a step ahead and understand how societies are evolving in both good and bad ways. Today, levels of violence and political instability reach all corners of the world. We are collectively alarmed by the vitriol and deepening polarization in our societies.

When PartnersGlobal started, we did not have to think about social media strategies or how Facebook and Twitter could unite communities, but also incite such extreme divisions. Our original commitment to create safe spaces where true discussion and differences of opinions emerge remains critical now more than ever.

PartnersGlobal has been carving out these spaces where we work across generations and across partisan differences with young people around the world, not on their behalf, but with them. The skills we began teaching in 1989: How to resolve conflicts peacefully; how to facilitate coalitions; how to create partnerships with unlikely bedfellows; and collaborative leadership are just as needed now both online and off.

We are supporting many activists and social movements — of young people, of brave women coming forward to demand change, of climate activists, and of LGBTQ-rights activists; and social justice “warriors” addressing inequality. We are working with these diverse actors to discover new advocacy tools that restore societal relationships and to promote new narratives of peace, so activist communities are not contributing to polarization.

In the dynamic environments where we work, readiness to adapt is the key to an organization’s resiliency, and Partners has had to adapt in ways we never would have imagined. As our network has grown, we now find ourselves working in conflict-affected environments like Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Colombia, El Salvador, Nigeria. Working in these countries is not only about democratic change. It is about stabilization, safety of communities, addressing violence, guiding reconciliation and transitional justice efforts; and working on hard security and the rule of law, always with an unwavering commitment to human rights.

The Partners Network now spans 20 countries. We began in Poland to support the unfolding transition to democracy and to build civil society in a post-communist era. The newest Network members are Partners Lebanon and Partners Iraq, which are both facing difficult post-war challenges, including the impacts of mass migration due to ongoing violent conflicts in the region. Now, we are supporting those transitions to peace. We are collaborating with a thriving civil society sector in Lebanon through new arts for peace programs; and, in Iraq we are fighting for women to have the legal protections to play their rightful role in rebuilding their country.

Our core DNA then and now

For more than 30 years, we have been known for establishing a network of strong local organizations dedicated to working for democratic change and helping communities around the world to have a voice. We are truly committed to building bridges across differences and to showing how it is possible to come together in an inclusive, democratic society.

Not only are we experts in the technocratic aspects of peacebuilding and democracy-building, we are true drivers of change. We act as integrators to break down siloes and bring people and organizations together. This is in our organizational DNA.

We don’t just guide others to collaborate more effectively. We ensure that we operate in a holistic way with as many other actors as possible. We are committed to establishing lasting relationships that help to achieve the most meaningful long-term impact. It is those collaborations and relationships with so many colleagues from around the world that have allowed PartnersGlobal to flourish and adapt for three decades.

Focus on resiliency in the decades to come

After 30 years of working with our network members and civil society in more than 50 countries, we know firsthand how hard it is to sustain this type of work. The operating space for civil society organizations to function is closing in many parts of the world, and our very values are in question by political leaders. The important role of civil society as a vehicle for citizen participation and oversight of government decision-making is subtly and aggressively repressed in many parts of the world.

This is why we recently launched the Resiliency+ Framework to help civil society to continue to thrive in some of the most difficult environments. Our Resiliency Framework takes a different approach than traditional organizational development by: enhancing adaptive strategies within civil society; creating more effective public narratives in support of our values; ensuring we operate with transparency and accountability to our constituencies; working with wider networks across the public and private sectors; fostering an entrepreneurial mindset that is open and able to garner new sources of funding; and, overall, having the ability to adapt with an awareness of quickly changing dynamics facing civil society as a sector.

PartnersGlobal and our network members are here today after 30 long years because we have learned hard-earned lessons and lived these resiliency factors. In our next decades, we are committed to working with civil society around the world to accompany them on their own resiliency journeys, and we remain dedicated to serving as an integrator for the local, global, technocratic and activist work we are all doing to have a bigger impact on the social change we want to achieve.

by Mishellt Melgarejo   November 25, 2019

Protests in Santiago, Oct. 22, 2019. Photo by Carlos Figueroa for Wikimedia Chile,

The escalation of protests and the military deployment to stop social demonstrations in Chile has made international headlines in recent weeks — not only because protest has not broken out in the country since democratic transition in 1990, but because these protests coincide with a wave of protests, political crises and social manifestations taking place across Latin America.

What prompted these protests and what does it mean for a country previously considered one of the most peaceful in South America? How will this relatively young democracy fare? If we look at the drivers behind this protest, we can begin to understand what this historic uprising might mean and how organizations like PartnersGlobal and Partners Colombia can help to manage this conflict peacefully.

When citizens needs go unmet

The outbreak of the protests came as a result of the President Sebasti√°n Pi√±era’s announcement that Metro fares would rise by 30 pesos, or about 5 US cents. The fare hike, though relatively small, must be understood in a context of mounting inequality and social dissatisfaction. It was a drop in a bucket of social grievances that then spilled over into the streets. As the protesters stated: “It is not for 30 pesos, it is for 30 years.”

The grievances that motivated many Chileans to raise their voices in protest have their roots, according to experts on the subject, in economic and structural models of institutions that were created in the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Among them is the inefficiency of the pension system, which protesters claim does not provide pensions that are commensurate with the long working years they spend contributing to social security.

Likewise, many Chileans feel dissatisfied with the health system. They denounce the price increase in health plans, poor coverage, low quality of hospitals and specialists, lack of protection and long wait times for care. As Pi√±era himself summed up in 2018, “more than three quarters of citizens are not satisfied with government health management and there are well-founded reasons for this.”

Adding to the drivers of unrest, the country’s capital has witnessed the inefficiency of the Transantiago subway system, which has encountered problems since its inception in 2007.

For residents of Santiago, this translates into long waits to take transportation and travel delays, which falls far short of the service expected given the steep subway ticket fees. In a study of the subway systems in 56 countries, Diego Portales University in Santiago found that Chile had the ninth most expensive transportation based on the average income of its inhabitants.

In addition, the public demands for quality education and social mobility are not being met, although these issues have been on the public agenda since the 2006 protests known as the “penguin revolution” and the 2011 movement protests. Some Chileans say that disparities in basic and secondary education generates segregation and barriers to social mobility.

All these problems have been fueled and permeated by cases of institutional corruption, tax evasion and abuse by companies that arbitrarily set production prices.

Bridging a protest-government disconnect

With so many tensions running high and protesters on the streets numbering in the millions, what does this all mean for democracy in the country?

According to Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, this crisis is a sign of a stagnant democracy, which is evidenced by an increasingly dissatisfied citizenship convinced that official channels are ineffective in satisfying their demands.

We have seen this in Chile through the collapse of electoral participation—in 1989, participation in the presidential election was close to 90 percent; in 2017 it dropped to just 50 percent. Confidence in the government has dropped dramatically from 32 percent in 2005 to 13 percent in 2015. More and more citizens are untying their allegiances and futures to the big political parties. In 2005, 48 percent of people chose not to identify with any political party, compared to 81 percent in 2015.

When institutional channels are not serving citizen needs and responding to problems, citizens go out to the streets to raise their voices in protest. As Seva Gunitsky, a political scientist at the University of Toronto puts it, this pattern is more likely to occur in countries where citizens have enough freedom and power to demand a change but not enough to obtain. These countries are usually the most susceptible to riots and protests.

In addition, social networks have become a catalyst for social disagreements, which makes it easier for individuals and groups to find supporters for social causes, thus making protests more likely to start and increase in size. Although despite the growing numbers, social movement that gain their momentum online are often more difficult to unite and keep together and often lack a plan for what comes next when the protests end.

So, although social manifestations are currently on the rise, not just in Chile but around the world, the protests are becoming less successful. According to a study by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, just 20 years ago, 70 percent of the protests that demanded a systemic political change obtained it, however, after the mid-2000s, protestors’ success rate had plummeted to only 30 percent.

Similar to in Chile, several social grievances have emerged in Colombia. On Thursday, Nov. 21, a national mobilization called “National Unemployment Against Paquetazo de Duque” brought hundreds of thousands of protesters to the streets to voice their demands for reform on labor, pensions, financial holding, privatizations, corruption, national tariffs, taxes, minimum wage, compliance with agreements and defense of social protest. A government issued curfew followed the day of protests, and unrest continues as citizens and the government look to determine what’s next.

If citizens do not see a place in political institutions to meet their needs, and protests, despite their growing numbers, are less effective at delivering change, then where do we go? Are we deadlocked into cycles of protest and repression? What process or institution can best respond to the needs of citizens?

We believe that although these protests constitute a challenge for democracy, it is in this context that organizations such as Partners Colombia, and in general the offices of the Partners Network in the world, become more important as facilitators and promoters of dialogue between different sectors. And where this conflict arises, as it inevitably will around the globe, we commit to continue working for dialogue, democracy and peace.

Mishellt Melgarejo is a Project Officer for Partners Colombia

  December 18, 2019

The power of music to build social cohesion in a divided Lebanon

The city of Beirut and its outlying impoverished suburbs are all too familiar with conflict. The remnants of Lebanon’s 15-year-civil war that killed 150,000 and injured 300,000 linger in an undercurrent of tension and unaddressed trauma. Some four decades after the heavily sectarian conflict ended, communities remain divided by religion and ideology.

Adding to the strain, wars in neighboring Syria, Iraq and Palestine have brought an estimated 1.5 million refugees to the country, many of them settling in and around the capital city. As neighborhoods have grown denser and resources thinner, tensions between host communities and new residents have peaked, inciting violence, distrust and more self-imposed segregation.

But amid the discord, 100 children ages 8 to 15 from Lebanese and refugee backgrounds alike raised their voices for something more powerful than the divides, joining the city’s first multiethnic children’s choir. Starting with a mutually known song and little else, these singers and their families would soon discover they shared much more than music, finding common ground in a deeply divided society.

We sat down with PartnersLebanon Director May Nasr, a well-known Lebanese folk singer, peacebuilding expert and lead of the Children’s Choir initiative to find out what made the program successful and whether its gains could be sustained.

PartnersLebanon decided to launch a choir as opposed to a sports league, dialogue or other activity. What does music offer that other activities don’t?

Nasr: I’ve seen from years of performing with my guitar that these old folk songs sung by famous musicians have become pillars of our musical culture, especially among the people of the Middle East and North Africa region, those in the diaspora and even among people who don’t speak the language. It’s about humanity, not just love songs. These songs bring people together.

There is something much more powerful about music than a training or a dialogue. Music is a fundamental starting point because it has that powerful, unanimous passion and empowerment that gives people motivation and hope. Singing is expressing with the whole body. And for children especially, music and psychosocial art (mindful well-being) processes can provide them with a way to express thoughts and emotions in a way that their current vocabulary cannot do.

In our region, everything is boiling: there are refugees and there is resentment among huge swaths of people against each other. We must still do the typical work that peacebuilding does, but we never actually tried using music.

A young soloist practices her lines at rehearsal.

What are the major drivers of conflict in Beirut especially among children and youth?

Nasr: In 2017, there was a case study in an impoverished area of Beirut (Borj Hamoud, Naba’a) with many displaced people, refugees and native Lebanese residents living nearby. Because of the surge of refugees, there was a surplus of students in school, and there was a noticeable difference in levels of education among refugee children and Lebanese children, largely due to the years refugee kids spent out of the classroom.

The schools split them into two shifts: Lebanese kids in the morning and refugee kids in the afternoon. When the shifts changed and students crossed paths, they clashed and started name-calling based on what they had heard from their families and adults in their communities. The Lebanese kids were being told that refugees are taking away their livelihood opportunities and that refugees shouldn’t be there, among other things. Children listen to this. They hear and it leads to conflict.

If we don’t address this dynamic starting with the children, we are in big trouble for the future. Children are like sponges and can be easily influenced by negative or positive influence. You just have to have something positive to give.

How did being part of a multinational choir change these kids?

Nasr: When we held choir auditions, even the kids with the flattest voices were so eager to join. We couldn’t turn them away! Based on my experience, there are no flat voices when they sing together. It somehow changes the pattern of the singing. Also, this was an opportunity to engage in a free-of-charge extracurricular activity in a safe location, as opposed to playing on the streets.

But more than the actual sound, we saw children’s perspectives on life and toward each other gradually began to change. When the project first started, a Syrian child asked me: “How are we supposed to sing with these kids who beat us up on the street?”

Keep in mind we had a very diverse group: 50 percent Syrian, 30 percent, Lebanese, 20 percent Iraqi, and 10 percent Palestinian.

In our first session, we had chosen songs they would all know. The Lebanese kids were on one side of the room and the Syrian refugee kids were on the other. But when we started singing, they all looked at each other like: “How do you know this song?” Automatically you could see the barriers between them start to fall.

In the next sessions, bonds were building between them. After each session, they would all run out and play together in the school playground. We created a WhatsApp group chat with the choir members, teachers, and parents, and they started exchanging messages about songs and ideas. It was such a wow moment.

Did the impact of the choir extend beyond the members themselves?

Nasr: A key component of the project was not just to focus on the children but to think about what happens when the child leaves the training and goes home.

To help create a healthy environment at home free of the divisive attitudes toward “the other,” we set up a psychosocial/mindfulness wellbeing component for adult caregivers. While the kids attended choir practice, their mothers, elder sisters, and aunts took part in sessions on mediation, storytelling, and healthy eating, among other areas. They did this together—Lebanese, Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian women side by side.

This made a world of difference. The mothers would go home and share what they learned with the kids who in turn would share their songs and experiences.

Outside of the families, we held a series of concerts around the country where audiences could see this diverse group of kids singing together, laughing together and bridging divides.

Mothers, aunts and elder sisters of choir members take part in mindfulness and well-being sessions while choir practice is underway.

What is the one thing you want every choir member to walk away with?

Nasr: We need to continue to cultivate this shared sense of humanity and identity and bridge our divides.

We want these kids to walk out of this project knowing that they can resort to music and singing techniques when they are down and beaten or stressed. They can always rely on their cultural memories and shared heritage for inner strength and self-confidence. This fact was forgotten among the many problems and wars in our country. We almost forgot what made us feel peaceful, but they can apply this after the project ends in their daily lives as they grow.

What’s next for the choir?

Nasr: In phase two, for which we are currently seeking funding, we plan to extend the choir up to age 20 so we incorporate older youth.

What is really exciting about our proposed next phase is that we plan to include a training of trainers element so youth learn how to create and lead choirs in their own communities. We aim to have several self-sustaining community choirs creating spaces for collaboration, dialogue and music all over the country.

We also plan to bring the lessons of mindfulness and wellbeing to choir members as well as the adults in their households. Wellbeing and psychosocial support will be an essential component of our next phase.

Could this model work in other places?

Nasr: It absolutely could work in other places and not just in places with turmoil and protest. Music brings back a spark in societies. It really does connect us on another level!

“The Children’s Choir: Life Skills Development through Music & Arts” was funded by the Drosos Foundation. PartnersLebanon is currently seeking funding to expand the choir to other areas in Lebanon and broaden its psychosocial outreach. For more information, please contact May Nasr at [email protected].

by Athir Hatem   December 18, 2019

Years after toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein in April 2003, corruption remains one of the top concerns of Iraqi citizens. It has, thus, become a tradition for Iraqi governments to champion a resolve for ridding the country of this endemic. The previous and current governments are no exception. They recently announced their intention to launch a crosscutting anti-corruption campaign, promising an ultimate “triumph over corruption as Iraq did with Daesh (ISIS).”

According to a report by the Middle East Research Institute: “While laudable, such efforts will prove substantially difficult and would require a national program that upsets how major aspects of Iraqi politics have been practiced since 2003.”

Corruption and sectarian violence

In 2006, a bomb attack on an important Shia shrine in Samarra unleashed a wave of sectarian violence, which killed thousands of people and lasted until 2010.

During this period of high sectarian violence, corruption in Iraq largely worsened, as measured in a deteriorating score on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index and remained relatively poor throughout this period.

The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country or territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

The index measures perceived public sector corruption on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

Perceived corruption was also high (measured in a low number on the scale) when ISIS emerged. What we can draw from this and the above correlation is that corruption often proceeds or coincides with other negative consequences, in this case violence and extremism.

Corruption and the rise of ISIS in Iraq

As seen in the chart above, ISIS emerged in a time when perceived corruption in Iraq was high, measured again by a low score on the Corruption Perceptions Index.

Corruption in Iraqi army recruitment and promotions, the existence of ghost soldiers, and theft of weapons and supplies rendered the army — superior on paper — ill-armed, under-manned, and ultimately unable to halt the rise of ISIS. To stop the jihadi fighters, international troops had to return to Iraq a couple of years after a previous training mission had been concluded.

Now that ISIS is defeated, at least in military terms, acting forcefully against corruption is instrumental to achieving effective and efficient government. When there is corruption, the authority and credibility of the state and democratic institutions are at serious risk.

Acting to root out corruption is also important to maintaining security and stability in a post-ISIS Iraq. Corruption and bad governance were root causes not only underpinning the sudden collapse of security forces in Mosul and other Iraqi cities, but also underlying why citizens were so vulnerable to recruitment once ISIS declared its caliphates in the first place.

Corruption and the economy

Beyond the rise of sectarian violence and ISIS, statistics also show a correlation between Iraq’s gross domestic product and corruption. On average, when corruption lessens, as seen in a higher Corruptions Perception Index score, the gross domestic product climbs and the economy improves. In years that corruption worsens, evidenced in a lower Corruption Perception Index score, the gross domestic product falls.

Corruption has direct consequences on economic factors in the country and the health of the economy.

Protesters demand an end to rampant corruption

Given the widespread implications of corruption—a sluggish economy and hence high unemployment, an environment that fosters violence and susceptibility to ISIS—it’s no wonder that Iraqi citizens are speaking out against corruption,

On Oct. 1, 2019, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to call for an end to rampant corruption and chronic unemployment, which have since escalated into calls for a complete overhaul of the political system. Protesters have also taken aim at Iran’s influence, with Iraq’s top cleric warning foreign powers from interfering in protests.

Protests in Baghdad. Photo by Ali Dab Dab.

These demands have been met with a government crackdown resulting in hundreds of people dead and thousands injured.

But violence is certainly not the way to address these challenges or answer protesters demands. If Iraq wants to get at the root of many of its challenges without devolving into more violence or repression, it must tackle corruption head on. The costs in terms of jobs, lives and stability is too great not to.

Athir Hatem is a General Manager for Partners Iraq. Learn more here: Follow Partners Iraq on Facebook here:

  April 1, 2020