Category Archives: Identity
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and its International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF) do an admirable job bringing together policymakers, collecting and synthesizing information, and helping set the agenda for donors.
But, as exemplified by Emmanuel Letouzé’s (lead author) and Juana de Catheu (co-author)’s recent report Fragile States 2013: Resource Flows and Trends in a Shifting World, its analysis of fragile states is flawed in a couple of important ways.
My major complaints are: (more…)
Political theorists have for the most part focused on the state when thinking about how to make countries work better for their populations. This has naturally led to a concern with state-society relations, how governments are chosen and run, and institutions. There is wide consensus that social contracts play the central role in state building.
This thinking has heavily influenced how the international community approaches fragile states, post-conflict situations, and transitions as well as development in general. As the OECD/DAC explained in Concepts and Dilemmas of State Building in Fragile Situations:
Fragility arises primarily from weaknesses in the dynamic political process through which citizens’ expectations of the state and state expectations of citizens are reconciled and brought into equilibrium with the state’s capacity to deliver services. Reaching equilibrium in this negotiation over the social contract is the critical if not sole determinant of resilience, and disequilibrium the determinant of fragility. [page 7]
This focus on the state shapes responses to crises in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan, compelling the international community to prioritize the establishment of a transitional regime and fast track elections under the belief that this is the sole way to create legitimacy no matter the circumstances or the context.
But many of these countries have deeply-entrenched problems that a focus on the state cannot solve. Different religious, ethnic, and clan groups do not work together well, and see any competition for power as a zero sum game for exclusive control of the state. Government is weakly institutionalized, and unable to act as an independent, equitable arbitrator between different interests. Judges and officials are beholden to personal relationships, power politics, or money (and sometimes all three). In such places, winners of elections rarely see it as their duty to serve all their people, and often define their rights as whatever they can get away with—negating whatever social contract the process was supposed to establish. (more…)
Justin Gengler, who recently completed his PhD dissertation on Bahrain, presented a keen analysis of the social and political dynamics driving the conflict in the country during a presentation at the Brookings Institute in Doha at the end of November. These dynamics shape and help explain what each actor or group is doing and what they are likely to do next. According to Justin, Bahrain is more than divided between a government and an opposition (as often interpreted). Rather, it is facing three mutually reinforcing conflicts, each of which is working to preclude resolution of the others and making the overall political crisis intractable.
Although Justin emphasizes the sectarian element, the picture he presents is much more complicated. The Sunni government is divided, the Shiite opposition is divided, and the Sunni population is divided. Each contain moderates and extremists. Action by extremists in one group empowers extremists in another, creating a vicious cycle with no obvious way out. (more…)
Pakistan is arguably the world’s most important fragile state, but many of its problems are not well understood. Security problems dominate headlines, but the country’s real troubles more often than not float beneath the surface unknown even to those trying to help the country.
A good example of this is the issue of social exclusion. Although it receives almost no attention internationally, social exclusion—in its various forms—plays a major role in the country’s problems. By systematically disadvantaging large portions of its population, Pakistan’s elites reduce the legitimacy of the state, encourage extremism against it, weaken the impetus to enhance public services, and contribute to long-term demographic and environmental threats.
Horizontal social exclusion is one of the two most important drivers (with weak government) of state fragility worldwide, yet rarely receives the attention it deserves in international discussions of fragile states. Whereas vertical inequity between individuals plays a major role in debates on development, horizontal inequity between groups is often not even measured.
A recent Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Center (NOREF) Policy Brief on social exclusion in Pakistan is therefore a very welcome addition to the literature on the country. By outlining the country’s main axes of social exclusion and how they affect stability and governance, it does a great service to anyone working on the country. I strongly recommend the analysis part of the paper both as a backgrounder for those working on Pakistan and as a case study for how social exclusion affects fragile states in general. (more…)
Measuring how countries perform is all the rage. Everyone from the World Bank to Bertelsmann to Africa’s most famous entrepreneur does it, producing indices on things like how competitive economies are, how hungry populations are, how free the press is, how risky investments are, and how corrupt public sectors are.
Many of these indices are directly relevant for people working in development. They help countries determine how they compare with other states and where they ought to improve their performance. And they help aid agencies decide where and how to invest their resources.
Indicators tracking everything from GDP per capita to poverty to governance are ubiquitous across the field, especially among international professionals. Such numbers are used to determine need, priorities, and strategies (such as whether a government ought to be funded directly).
But do the indicators that have the greatest influence measure the right things? Are they focused on the issues that are most important to development? Can they predict how governments work or how countries will evolve in the future? (more…)
The below are excerpts from an article originally appearing in World Politics Review.
Later this month, Somalia’s eight-year political transition is scheduled to end with the declaration of a “post-transition” government. Casual observers will be forgiven for assuming such a step signals that, after 21 years of complete state collapse, a functional central government in Somalia is now in place.
The reality is that the post-transition government will be unable to project its authority beyond much of the capital, Mogadishu. Most of the country and parts of the capital itself remain under the de facto control of autonomous strongmen, self-proclaimed regional states, clan militias and the jihadi group al-Shabab. Of these, only al-Shabab has demonstrated any will and capacity to impose basic law and order in its areas of control, but the group is losing ground to multiple armed offensives and is focusing its waning energies on war-fighting, not administration. (more…)
Improving the accountability of leaders tops the agenda of just about everyone involved with development. But the preferred solution—elections—often comes up short in countries with divided populations and democratic structures that are not well institutionalized. There is a great need for alternatives.
Such alternatives can take many forms—including improving governance, enhancing the rule of law, promoting transparency, decentralizing government (where leaders might be held more accountable in some cases), ensuring equity in governance and the distribution of resources (which may matter more than better governance), and increasing the leverage of societal groups to monitor the performance of state officials.
One neglected area that deserves much more attention is promoting social cohesion. Indeed, it can be argued that the greatest difference between the successful developmental states and their far less successful developing country peers is the degree of social cohesion.
But how do you promote social cohesion when it is lacking? (more…)
One of the biggest differences between strong and weak states is the nature of the moral imperatives that operate in the public realm. Whereas in well-governed countries, people feel obligated to act according to certain minimum ethical standards, in badly governed countries they do not. There are many reasons for this divergence, most notably differences in the effectiveness of enforcement mechanisms, the area that receives by far the most attention from donors and reformers alike.
But there is a deeper, more important cause of the dysfunction that plagues governments in fragile states that is rarely considered or addressed. (more…)
Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) may no longer be physically divided, but the scars of its long conflict will linger for years to come. Even if public administration has returned to the north, cocoa producers need no longer export via neighboring countries, and the financial system has been restored, fear still stalks the countryside. Violence persists. Drivers need to avoid troubled areas. And a focus on prosecution of the losers instead of reconciliation ensures that resentment will continue to fester.
Although it was once West Africa’s best run country, Côte d’Ivoire has long suffered from deep ethnic and geographical inequities that made conflict much more likely. As the following maps show, these inequities can be traced back to colonial times, and to the policies followed by successive governments since independence. Unbalanced development is a recipe for trouble in countries divided into a number of large ethnic groups. (more…)
The term “fragile states” is much abused.
Policymakers, development researchers, politicians, and the media seem to think that every country experiencing a period of instability or bothered by certain governance problems is “fragile.” As a result, they group a wide range of countries experiencing vastly different types of problems together—creating a mass of confusion in the process.
Such thinking means that the term as currently used has very little value as an analytical tool. Instead it has become a catchall phrase to explain any situation that seems “fragile” even if the fragility is likely to be ephemeral. It also means that states that are structurally fragile but that have none of the most obvious symptoms of fragility (such as Syria before 2011) do not get considered as one.
The Arab Spring shows the vacuousness of this approach. Before 2011, few of the countries currently in turmoil were considered fragile. Now almost all of them are. How can both these things be true? (more…)