The cure for fragile states is development. But development is often misunderstood. Although usually equated with economic growth, it is really a process of transforming the system of how the members of a society work together. Although education and healthcare can better prepare individuals to participate in development, a country’s ability to advance is crucially tied to its citizens’ ability to cooperate—both among themselves and in partnership with the state—in increasingly sophisticated ways. A community’s capacity to foster progress is therefore highly dependent on its social cohesion and its set of shared institutions—especially its set of shared informal institutions in the early stages of development when strong, formal governing institutions are typically absent.
These two ingredients shape how a government interacts with its citizens; how officials, politicians, and businesspeople behave; and how effective foreign efforts to upgrade governance will be. In short, they determine to what degree a society is able to nurture a locally driven, productive system of governance—a prerequisite for any attempt to develop. Together with the set of policies adopted by the government, they make up the three major determinants of a country’s capacity to advance (see figure).
Far too many programs designed to help fragile states simply ignore these immeasurable yet all-important drivers of societal and individual action, as if local histories and sociocultural conditions simply did not matter. As the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), a major British research institute, has noted, “for decades the development community has intervened in poor countries with little understanding of the political and institutional landscape, and with scant regard for the impact of their actions on local political relationships and incentives.” The international community, in fact, has generally assumed that any governance models other than those used by Western countries are undesirable. But current state structures in fragile states—almost always imported from abroad and inappropriate to their environments—often have little relevance to local populations.
For more information, see:
Building Social Cohesion in Fragile States
By Seth Kaplan
Governance, Economic Growth, and Development since the 1960s
By Mushtaq H. Khan
Choosing Countries as Models for Industrial Growth
Why ‘Securing Transformation’ Matters in Development Economics
By Justin Yifu Lin
The Asian ‘Miracle’ After the Global Financial Crisis: Some Lessons for Africa
By John McKay
Good Enough Governance Revisited
By Merilee Grindle