Posts Tagged ‘how to stamp out corruption in the Middle East and Africa’

Government “Corruption” Actually Starts in Preschool

April 9, 2011

North Africa and the Middle East

In the Middle East and North Africa today, there is a lot of talk about “stamping out” corruption.  Yet what no one seems to be talking about is where that “corruption” actually begins.  It starts before children are even five years old.

bribes, baksheesh


Recently a fellow middle-aged  teacher told me about a five-year-old preschooler who threatened her.  When she told him he had to follow the school rules on the playground or sit in “time out,” he told her that if she didn’t let him do what he wanted, that he would bring his father and get her fired!  (She told him, “Go ahead and bring him today, I’m waiting right now to speak to him!”  Then he didn’t know how to react.)  One can only presume that the child is copying his own father’s behavior with others.

One of the causes of corruption is that Middle Eastern and North African cultures are “in-group” societies.

Members of  in-groups are treated preferentially  to those in out-groups.  From the age of three, in nursery schools, children make the friends they will keep throughout their school years, and often, throughout their lives.

Making new friends tends to be difficult and a slow              process in societies which have in-groups (similar to “cliques” in the West).  Friendship groups tend to be closed, and others often sabotage budding friendships.   Over-and-over I have seen a new child begin to make a friend, only to have the other friends of that person become jealous and proprietary.

Adults in Middle Eastern Societies generally continue with the same behavior.  What this means for the larger society is that a person feels obligated to do everything to help their family members and close friends (the in-group) while ignoring and/or excluding those in the out-groups.  So, in these societies people are NEVER treated equally–their treatment depends, instead, on their relationship to the individual in question.

Fast-forwarding into upper elementary school and beyond, cheating is rampant.  No matter how much schools and teachers talk about cheating as being wrong, it is rampant because it’s more important to “help'”your in-group members than it is to be honest.

By rampant cheating I mean somewhere in excess of 80%.  People who do not cheat when everyone else is are generally NOT admired by other students; they are often distrusted.

Fast-forward again to adult life.  To get anything done in terms of obtaining necessary documents for business or life, often “wheels need to be greased.”  Those people who are dishonest and irresponsible never hold themselves accountable for their behavior; instead, their idea is to find a more powerful friend who can intercede on their behalf and “undo” whatever problem they have gotten themselves into.

Paying small bribes to get documents

Now that democratic fever is sweeping the Middle Eastern and North African regions, I hear all the adults talking about stamping out corruption.  But the question remains HOW to do it  when it is so entrenched in the culture with the expectations that one is obligated to help other in-group members however one can, and when those cultural obligations supercede any considerations of honesty?

Saudi Arabia

We, as foreign teachers, try to reach the kids, through classroom discussions and penalties for dishonest behavior.  But that work and classroom discussion is often undone by people at home, friends in society, relatives, and anyone else who has a vested interest in the system as it is.  It’s all about “not getting caught” and NOT about “it’s morally wrong.”


–Lynne Diligent