Unpacking USAID’s New Dekleptification Guide

By Verónica Garza

October 12, 2022   |   0 comments

USAID Administrator Samantha Power called out corrupt officials in kleptocratic governments as one of the major obstacles to social, political and economic growth.  

“We must shine a light on the dark corners where corruption thrives and oligarchs hide their stolen wealth,” she said June 7. “This new reality requires USAID to transform its anti-corruption work to be savvier and be less siloed by country. We are building coalitions of reformers across borders, sectors and ideologies.” 

Speaking during the June 7 announcement of USAID’s “Dekleptification” Guide: Seizing Windows of Opportunity to Dismantle Kleptocracy, the Administrator said it is part of efforts to “reinvent the playbook” to strengthen global democracy. The guide builds on the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal and USAID’s Anti-corruption Task Force efforts. 


The guide defines dekleptification as “the process of dismantling entrenched kleptocratic structures, networks, and norms—and replacing them with governing institutions that deliver transparency, accountability, and inclusion—during historic windows of overwhelming popular demand for reform or transition.”  

Drawing on lessons from previous reform efforts, USAID provides a forceful framework to maximize the potential of windows of opportunity to help countries uproot kleptocracy, implement reforms, and build resilience to corruption. With the ultimate objective of converting open windows into virtuous circles of transparency, accountability and inclusion, the framework requires demand from broad segments of society that insist on fundamental reforms to the country’s social contract, with less tolerance for kleptocracy. 

Here are five key takeaways from this new resource: 

Maximize windows of opportunity 

Windows of opportunity present a unique political moment during which increased attention to anti-corruption can make reform more likely, such as mass protests or record voter turnout. When windows open, reformist governments must act quickly to start delivering results and institutionalizing transparency and accountability. Unfortunately, windows can often be short-lived and underdeveloped. Perceived lack of progress, failure to seize opportunities, and corrupt elements can undermine the anti-corruption reform movement and cause windows to suddenly close.  

USAID provides 11 key tactical lessons learned during previous windows to help missions rapidly mobilize the right kind of assistance so reformers can deliver results immediately and in a sustainable way. These key lessons include working with the new government to start showing the public results quickly, supporting a proactive communications strategy, and combining the delivery of systemic reforms, impartial justice, and inclusive growth. This aligns with Creative’s experience working in conflict and transition spaces where building visibility and trust with new reform-oriented governments is critical to consolidating democratic gains.  

Support radically transparent and aggressively accountable systems 

Learning from Ukraine’s 2014 Revolution of Dignity and other Eastern Europe reformers, USAID proposes a three-part dekleptification strategy: First publicly disclose as much digital information on ownership and state expenditure as possible; second position civil society and independent enforcement agencies to use the data to investigate and hold corrupt actors accountable; and third deliver broad-based economic growth.  

The Ukraine case study underscores the need for innovative and radically transparent mechanisms and independent institutions that expand the degree to which the government collects and makes public electronic data. Through ownership registries, asset declarations, politically exposed persons (PEP) databases, digitization of state services, and other mechanisms, Ukraine’s sweeping approach enabled the space for corruption to shrink, despite efforts from corrupt elements to undermine the dekleptification process. Ukraine drew from Romania’s experience and prioritized the establishment of politically independent agencies to investigate, prosecute, and rule on cases of high-level corruption.  

More importantly, Ukraine established a network of capable partners, including NGOs and U.S. implementers, to safeguard the independence of these new anti-corruption institutions. Though the war has halted anti-corruption progress in Ukraine and exacerbated the transparency and accountability vulnerabilities, the case study highlights how recovery and reconstruction efforts will benefit from the strong foundation of anti-corruption institutions that the country has built during the past eight years.  

Meanwhile, Creative’s work in Guatemala and elsewhere to strengthen both institutions of accountability and civil society reinforces this key dynamic.  

Think and work politically 

Deviating from a technocratic approach, the guide reminds missions and implementing partners the importance of recognizing the political nature of corruption and employing an evidence-based approach to anti-corruption programming. Defined as a constant need through all phases of dekleptification, political economy analysis should focus on the most corrupt actors and behaviors in the country, as opposed to concentrating on the technical details of and gaps in a country’s formal institutions.  

Analysis that identifies corrupt activity, actors, and syndromes; maps kleptocratic networks and reform coalitions; and identifies and prioritizes policy reforms can enable a deeper understanding of prospects for major reforms and inform well-targeted assistance when a window opens. Creative’s efforts to integrate thinking and working politically, including in Somalia, Nigeria, Latin America and the Caribbean, recognize that actors, networks and norms comprise the behavior of individuals and institutions, and must be well understood to navigate openings and roadblocks for development impact.  

Engage non-traditional reformers 

Reform coalitions should leverage reformers outside traditional anti-corruption actors and include broad constituencies like youth, labor, creative industries, and social movements that can offer the greatest potential to mobilize citizens against anti-corruption and drive sustained change. Compared to NGOs in the capital city, non-traditional groups tend to enjoy deeper support and may have more civic space in which to operate. Before a window opens, efforts should focus on building connections and trust with these key anticorruption constituencies to understand how communities face corruption in their daily lives.  

Investing in these connections will support responsive dekleptification programming that addresses local needs and secures deep-seated domestic buy-in. Our programs in West Africa illustrate this point well, drawing on local traditional leaders and youth to support reforms.  

Protect civil society and anti-corruption advocates 

An essential component addressed throughout the guidance is the protection, support of, and investment in civil society. Acting as watchdogs, investigative journalists, anti-corruption advocates, and social coalitions, civil society is vital in exposing corruption, mobilizing “people power”, and pushing for lasting changes. Shrinking civic space and repression of dissent make it crucial to provide actors who expose corruption with swift and immediate support.  

USAID emphasizes protective services, including digital, physical, legal, and psychosocial support programs such as the State Department’s Journalism Protection Platform and USAID’s Reporter’s Mutual. Implementers must link with such efforts to protect defenders and ensure duty of care for partners, particularly when tackling entrenched and politically sensitive areas like corruption.  

The guide represents a bold endeavor to modernize how missions, partners and implementers engage in anti-corruption work and meet the current strategic context in which kleptocracies operate. It’s an important step forward to evolve the methods we use to combat corruption and support the needs of reformers and citizens alike.  

Verónica Garza is a Senior Program Specialist in Creative Associates International’s Communities in Transition Division. 

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