Witches and Corruption Investigations

A Witch Doctor's Office in Juba, South Sudan
A Witch Doctor’s Office in Juba, South Sudan

“What if their witch won’t let them cooperate?”

You think I am kidding?

This was a real question by a real attorney working for government and private sector organizations during a weeklong workshop I was delivering.   I had been working with these people in Sub-Saharan Africa for almost 18 months on anticorruption issues and investigation and was near the end of the 5-day workshop.

I thought I knew them. Most of them had attended prestigious law schools in the U.K. and U.S. and I thought they were kidding. They weren’t.

I had been working with some of them directly on anticorruption related investigations. Naturally, we had discussed witnesses, and evidence and investigation planning, but this had never come up. I had mapped out the community leaders when I first arrived, but I had overlooked a few subtle categories of community leaders. Learning point – it can take some time to really learn how to carry out an investigation in an area.

One approach is to take a page from social scientists and the U.S. Military – survey to find out who the significant opinion leaders are – who do people trust? What services do they provide to the community? Is there an intersection between those opinion leaders and the targets of your inquiry?

Of course, this takes time, and corporate offices in North America and Europe don’t often immediately see the return on investment for this level of inquiry. Similarly, the attorneys hired by those firms also don’t see the return.

Worse, some think they know how to make the appropriate inquiries despite never leaving their home country for more than a week or two, and then, typically on vacation.

Just yesterday a colleague told me of a North American company that has lost millions of dollars in its start-up operations in (unnamed country) because they thought they could just fly in and deal with the business operations leaders to close the deal and move forward.

Whether you are carrying out a law enforcement investigation, or a corporate FCPA or due diligence investigation, finding the powerful outside parties that have influenced the deal can be tricky and may not be easily revealed with ordinary asset tracing or document tracing approaches in the real world.

Brian Pinkowski


5 Replies to “Witches and Corruption Investigations”

  1. I LOVE your writing and insights. Very pointed, straight forward. This one is particularly good as it touches on the society specific barriers which exist so far outside standard formal and informal influence groups as to be invisible until you are “in the thick of it.” A very good reminder to always approach situations with an open mind.

    Miriam Kader

    1. Thanks, Miriam. Its amazing how many of these “informal influences” are really the truth of how things operate. They are the “formal” systems, but haven’t been written down into Standard Operating Procedures. Good luck to you out there.

  2. A very good writing. As a European anthropologist I have lived and worked for 20 years in Zambia and short periods in other African countries. I often came across this issue, also among highly educated people, and especially in the economic sector. It would be good to use much more of the anthropological knowledge in areas like the economic sector, development aid and so in Sub-sharan Africa. We cannot do away with such issues as if they are irrelevant or non existent, but indeed they are the ‘formal system’ in many aspects of African societies. Therefore we need to take them into account when working with African countries. Hope economists and anthropologists will work together in the near future.
    Thera Rasing

  3. When we’re talking about “the real world” every one person minds his\her own impression how this university works. When ideas or postulates reign in heads they become the real force. It’s the mankind strength as nobody knows what kind of university model would be required tomorrow.

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