Tag Archives: fragile states
Many fragile states maintain a very limited presence in large parts of their territory and lack the capacity to effectively govern even when present. Is there any way to improve governance in such places without depending on the government?
In other words, are there mechanisms to promote collective goods in areas where political institutions are too weak to adopt and enforce collectively binding rules?
Although governance is usually considered a product of government (the state), empirical evidence suggests that areas of weak or limited statehood do not necessarily have weak governance. “Governance without a state” is a reality in many parts of the world, including Somaliland, parts of the eastern DRC, and places where warlords, multinationals (MNCs), or NGOs provide some public goods.
Cross-posted from Global Dashboard.
There have been growing demands for greater independent evaluation of foreign aid for at least half a decade now. As William Easterly argued as far back as 2006:
We need independent evaluation of foreign aid. It’s amazing that we’ve gone a half century without this. . . . [Truly independent evaluation of aid would] give feedback to see which interventions are working and give incentives to aid staff to find things that work.
The Center for Global Development summarized the need in its report When Will We Ever Learn? Improving Lives Through Impact Evaluation:
Impact evaluations do not have to be conducted in-house. Indeed, their integrity, credibility, and quality is enhanced if they are external and independent.
This chart (based on an index produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Nuclear Threat Initiative) highlights why people working on security issues worry about fragile states. As the New York Times reports,
Experts warned that terrorists could buy or steal the makings for nuclear arms from the world’s secretive maze of atomic storage and production sites, which are said to number in the thousands. . . .
The report said nearly a quarter of the nations with materials that can fuel atom bombs scored poorly on social factors because of “very high levels of corruption.” And it warned that several of those “also scored poorly on the prospect of political instability over the next two years.”
That bleak combination, the study concluded, “significantly increases the risk that nuclear materials might be stolen, with help from corrupt insiders or in the midst of government distraction or political chaos.”
Understanding the failure of Somalia as a state requires understanding the country’s complex clan dynamics.
Somalia embodies one of postcolonial Africa’s worst mismatches between conventional state structures and indigenous customs and institutions. The fact that Somalis share a common ethnicity, culture, language, and religion might seem to be an excellent basis for a cohesive polity, but in reality the Somali people are divided by clan affiliations, the most important component of their identity. Repeated attempts to impose a centralized bureaucratic governing structure have managed only to sever the state from the society that should have been its foundation, yielding the world’s most famous failed state.
The Somali population—some 13 to 14 million people, including Somalis living in neighboring states—is divided into four major clans and a number of minority groups (see map below). Each of these major clans consists of subclans and extended family networks that join or split in a fluid process of “constant decomposition and recomposition.” Like tribal societies elsewhere in the Greater Middle East, the clans use deeply ingrained customary law to govern their communities completely independently of modern state structures. Although somewhat weakened in the south from decades of urbanization, violence, and attempts to create a centralized state, these traditional groupings still hold immense influence over society.
Since the failure of the state some twenty years ago, the parts of the country that have achieved the most stability are those that are based on these clans. The Haarti grouping (a subset of the Daarood) created a semiautonomous region in the east called Puntland, while in the northeast the Isaaq clan led the effort to build Somaliland. Many other parts of Somalia have been similarly governed by local groupings, which have used the traditional governing system to resolve disputes and encourage some investment even in the absence of a formal state.
Among these regional entities, Somaliland has been the most successful, declaring itself independent and holding a series of free elections. Despite—or, perhaps, because of—a dearth of assistance from the international community, it has been able to construct a set of robust governing bodies rooted in traditional Somali concepts of governance by consultation and consent. By integrating traditional ways of governance—including customary norms, values, and relationships—within a modern state apparatus, Somaliland has achieved greater cohesion and legitimacy while—not coincidentally—creating greater room for competitive elections and public criticism than exists in most similarly endowed territories.
These dynamics suggest that any eventual solution to the problem of state building in Somalia will have to take fully into account the country’s indigenous social fabric and institutions, and will have to build from the bottom up, integrating communal ways of working together into state structures. The international community will have to abandon its attempts to impose a top-down, centralized, and profoundly artificial state model and begin to work with, rather than against, the grain of Somali society. A central government could be retained, but its functions should be strictly limited in scope and its institutions in number.
- Central Asia (including Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Kenya / Somalia
With the exception of #2, which fits into a more conventional state versus state conflict, all the others involve countries that are fragile states. Kenya is vulnerable because of its intervention in the failed state of Somalia.
All these fragile states suffer from sectarianism and weak government, the two primary drivers of fragility. Sectarianism is not limited to ethnicity and religion: clan divisions matter in places such as Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Weak government comes in many shades: Pakistan’s works reasonably well; Somalia has been without a state since 1991.
For some reason, Libya and Iraq are off the list even though both are vulnerable to a renewal of conflict in some form in the next 12 months. And the type of low level violence that infects parts of Russia, India, Africa, and Central America does not seem to be considered even though the number of dead may be greater than in many of these places.