Is nepotism ever acceptable? Or is it always corruption? Believe it or not, opinions differ as to whether placing family and friends in key positions is corruption. It’s important to treat this question seriously to develop successful anticorruption and development policies.
First, it is critical to understand that people make the best decisions they can to enhance their survival. The rationality of their actions is the result of their education and experience – and their ability to think clearly.
Second, survival is not a single condition of existence. A person may be just barely surviving, as is seen in some individuals that walk the streets and appear to be near death. Or a person can be surviving very well, as we can see with individuals that have wealth, affluence and education.
Unless a person has given up and is awaiting their death, their activities are directed toward continuing or strengthening their survival.
Where a community is faced with immediate threats to the survival of its members, people will take the actions they believe will result in strengthening their personal survival, the survival of their families, and the survival of their groups. But their actions will be aligned to support first those people and groups that they believe contribute to their own survival. Patrick, a Kenyan colleague commented upon this with his comment on my recent blog, Bad HR Practices Feed Corruption: “How do you suggest good HR policy in a continent like Africa. It is the norm to hire your family members or tribe members.”
Nepotism and more overt forms of corruption can be understood as ways that a person or group declares a lack of confidence in the government or institution to contribute to their personal survival. In some instances it is far worse than a lack of confidence. There is doubt or distrust.
Where lack of confidence or distrust in government exists, people see no harm to their personal or family survival if they weaken those institutions through corruption. If they can also provide jobs and resources to friends and family to support their survival, it appears to be a successful action for the part of their survival they most easily understand. What people don’t understand is that these acts actually prevent government from ever being able to support the survival of individuals and family.
The Remedy to Nepotism
How do you change a group of people from one pattern of behavior to something else? Change management theory tells us that people need two basic things before they are willing to change.
They must believe that their current situation should be changed.
They must believe that the change will benefit them and their families and groups.
Of course, where people don’t believe that government and its representatives are truly helping, people and groups will have no reason to believe that their current situation needs to change or that any change to support or strengthen government is to their benefit. Government is no longer operating with the consent of the governed. (See – Two Things Everyone Should Know About Democracy.)
The remedy? Governments must prove that they can and will provide services that improve people’s lives. Government must continually prove that it can be trusted and that it will not betray that trust. Naturally, this must be proved on a continuing basis.
1. Government takes the first step. Its employees must be continuously trained to establish and maintain a high level commitment to purpose and an increasing level of competency. These initial steps will begin to rebuild trust with the society that the government serves.
2. Additionally, communities need to be educated on how the health of governments and institutions directly relates to the survival of their families and communities. This is why a coordinated public campaign must be part of any successful anticorruption program.
The only way to truly eliminate nepotism-style corruption is to strengthen the purpose and competency of government while proving to people that government helps their families, friends, tribes and communities.