Happy International Anti-Corruption Day!

As some readers of this blog already know, today (December 9th) is International Anti-Corruption Day. Other readers may be wondering, “Huh? International Anti-Corruption Day? What’s that?”

I’m glad you asked. When the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) was opened for signature in 2003, the General Assembly’s resolution included a specific plank “decid[ing] that, in order to raise awareness of corruption and of the role of [UNCAC] in combating and preventing it, 9 December should be designated International Anti-Corruption Day.” (And you thought the UN General Assembly never decided anything important. Shame on you.)

So what should you do to celebrate International Anti-Corruption Day? It’s easy to make fun of things like this — and as should be clear, that’s a temptation I can’t entirely resist. But at the same time, I do think that raising awareness of the issue is important. And though I can’t find much about attention-raising activities in conjunction with this year’s International Anti-Corruption Day, apparently last year the UN tried to take the opportunity to launch a campaign — with slogans, Tweets, etc. — to get more attention to the issue. You can check out their website on how to “celebrate” International Anti-Corruption Day here.

One last Anti-Corruption Day thought: As I said, I’m all for raising more awareness. But at the risk of sounding like a Grinch, I think it’s fair to raise the question whether publicity gambits like this are starting to outlive their usefulness. Many in the anticorruption community–particularly those who started working on these topics in the 1990s or earlier, when it was definitely treated as marginal in many quarters–have spent a lot of time and energy trying to raise awareness about the issue. And the thing is, they’ve succeeded. The international community is aware of the problem, and takes it seriously (at least in the sense of acknowledging corruption as a legitimate concern). As I see it, the anticorruption movement is now in a tricky transitional phase: The first generation won an important battle, by getting corruption on the international agenda. The new generation needs to make more progress on figuring out what exactly to do about it. So by all means, use the International Anti-Corruption Day gimmick as a way to raise awareness. But at the same time, let’s recognize that we’re reaching the point where raising awareness isn’t really a central issue anymore.

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