Corruption is increasingly seen as a factor behind the persecution of minority Christians around the world, and the world leaders who gathered at an Anti-Corruption Summit in London in May showed they are beginning to pay more attention to the effects of corruption on freedom of religion or belief.

Evidence of a link between the two has long been recognised, with countries appearing in lists of both the world’s most corrupt places and the worst places to live as a Christian. Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia and Sudan each rank in the top 10 of Transparency International’s annual survey of global corruption in 167 countries and in Open Doors’ annual World Watch List of the 50 worst places to be a Christian.

Open Doors’ World Watch Research has long recognised that many aspects of corruption are a serious threat to freedom of religion, arguing that it is a factor in 18 countries. Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Afghanistan are some of the countries where it has also led to the persecution of Christians as an accompanying factor.

For example, in Nigeria, networks of organised corruption have been causing problems for Christians and churches. Abduction for ransom and the lack of diligent investigation of violence against Christians can fairly be attributed to the role played by corruption. This goes to the extent of Nigeria’s former defence chief allegedly using money budgeted to fight Boko Haram for personal use.

In two countries, Mexico and Colombia, it is the main factor behind the persecution of Christians.

In Mexico, violence is pervasive, but affects actively practising Christians to a high degree. Churches and other Christian institutions are often seen as revenue centres by drug cartels. The extortion of priests, pastors and Christian business-owners is commonplace. Attending church services increases the threat of kidnapping, and youths are particularly at risk of being recruited into gangs.

One of the main challenges in fighting organised corruption is that it is so organised that most of the corrupt activities are carried out within legal limits. This is often referred to as “crony-capitalism”.

In a nutshell, in countries where organised corruption and crime actively contribute to persecution, the Christian community’s right to live without fear, right to due process of law and other fundamental rights are undermined in many ways.

What were the aims of the Summit?

US Secretary of State John Kerry, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attended, alongside business executives, leaders of civil society organisations and representatives from G20 nations.

Progress was made when Nigeria and Afghanistan – the two countries the UK Prime Minister described as “fantastically corrupt” – became signatories to an anti-corruption register that exposes the true owners of companies in their territories. (The two countries – along with Kenya, Britain, the Netherlands and France – joined 27 other state leaders who have already agreed to publish the so-called “register of beneficial ownership”).

The Summit wanted countries to agree on practical steps to: “expose corruption so there is nowhere to hide, punish the perpetrators and support those affected by corruption, to drive out the culture of corruption wherever it exists” .

David Cameron said corruption is an enemy of progress, “undermining our security by pushing people towards extremist groups”.

He echoed the official communiqué of the summit, which stated that corruption “may give rise to political and economic grievances that may, in conjunction with other factors, fuel violent extremism. Tackling corruption is vital for sustaining economic stability and growth, maintaining security of societies, protecting human rights, reducing poverty, protecting the environment for future generations and addressing serious and organised crime. No country is immune from corruption and governments need to work together and with partners from business and civil society to tackle it successfully”.

What was the key outcome?

Britain, Afghanistan, Kenya, France, the Netherlands and Nigeria agreed to publish registers of who really owns companies in their territories. A further 11 countries expressed their desire to join an already existing group of 29 countries that maintain a register of beneficial owners (real owners) of corporations in their jurisdiction and share it with other governments. These measures are seen as essential in combatting money-laundering though the purchase of property or investments abroad.

The US did not sign the pledge.

Anti-corruption advocates were dissatisfied, since some of the participants’ overseas territories and Crown dependencies – such as notorious tax havens British Virgin Islands and Jersey – did not sign the pledge.

Which are the world’s most corrupt countries?

Somalia and North Korea are the most corrupt countries in the world, according to the Corrupt Perceptions Index, published annually by Transparency International. (North Korea and Somalia are also currently the 1st and 7th worst places to be a Christian.) However, the report shows that corruption is present in virtually every country.

The scale of corruption varies from country to country and region to region. On a scale of 0-100 (0 being most corrupt) the average global score is 43%. The regional average score for the EU and Western Europe is 67%, for Asia Pacific 43%, for the Americas 40%, for the Middle East and North Africa 39%, for Eastern Europe and Central Asia 33%, and for Sub-Saharan Africa 33%.

The 10 most corrupt countries, in reverse order:

RankingCountryScore out of 100

















 South Sudan









 North Korea





Most of the countries that are the worst performers on the Transparency International Corruption Index also do badly on the UN Human Development Index. The correlation between corruption and a dismal human development record is also reinforced by a correlation between the prevalence of corruption and lack of freedom and civil liberties. Of the 50 countries and territories designated as “not free” for political rights and civil liberties by Freedom House, an American watchdog dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world, Somalia, North Korea, Sudan and Syria also score badly both on the corruption index and on the World Watch List.

With the exceptions of Venezuela and Guinea-Bissau (categorised as “partly free”), all the other countries listed in the above table are categorised as “unfree” in the Freedom House report on political liberties and rights.

These same countries are also among the worst performers in the annual Democracy Index prepared by The Economist Intelligence Unit.


Corruption has led to massive challenges to society, but the pledges made at the London Summit would seem to indicate that world leaders are starting to pay more careful attention to how corruption contributes to poverty, political instability and extremism in the poorest parts of the world. However, it is still doubtful if there is sufficient political will to tackle corruption globally.

Yonas Dembele is an analyst for the World Watch Research Unit of Open Doors International.