Instruments of Informal Governance: Co-optation, Control and Camouflage

The evidence collected in the research supports the relevance of three types of informal governance practices. Nicknamed “the 3C’s”, they are associated with high levels of corruption.


This informal pattern refers to situations where groups or individuals are recruited into a larger group or network, often involving some kind of reward accruing to the recruitee, with the goal of advancing the interests of the recruiting faction.

Among political actors, co-optation is often associated with strategic appointments to public office of allies and potential adversaries, who are granted impunity in exploiting the power and resources associated with public office in exchange for mobilising support and maintaining loyalty to the regime. In turn, political actors may also be recruited by influential business interests, who may offer generous campaign donations in exchange for ensuring access to large government contracts.

Co-optation also happens from the bottom-up, when political leaders are expected to tend to particular social groups they are bound to, for example through kinship or ethnic ties, delivering benefits and resources to which they are not necessarily legally entitled.  At the grassroots level, users of public services may co-opt useful service providers by means of bribery or the exchange of favours.


Informal control practices are instrumental to manage clashes of hidden interests and to the enforcement of discipline within a network, and is key to ensuring the network subsists and its members are loyal. Common examples involve the selective enforcement of anti-corruption laws against opponents but also against former associates that overstep boundaries, for instance by choosing to contest the incumbent during elections.

On their part, business interests can enforce control by threatening to financially support opposition figures. Informal control can also be associated with reputational costs and shaming, which may seriously discredit political leaders if they are perceived to disown their informal constituencies. Similarly, untrustworthy service providers who fail to deliver to their clients may become socially ostracised.


Informal practices of co-optation and control are often hidden from plain sight, masked underneath institutional façades and policies consistent with the formal rule of law or with acceptable social practices. Thus, punishment of a detractor may make use of the instruments of criminal law and be accompanied by proclamations on the commitment to anti-corruption.

Rewarding financial sponsors may come in the form of an official policy to bail out financially distressed businesses for the sake of protecting the national banking system. A bribe that becomes exposed may immediately morph into a gift in contexts where gift-giving is cherished as a social norm.