Tag Archives: social divisions
As the war in Syria drags on, it is becoming ever more vicious. Militias kill hundreds of civilians, ethnic cleansing large swaths of the country in the process. Rebel groups fight among themselves for territory and even assassinate each other’s leaders. Prisoners are regularly tortured. Millions have fled their homes in fear. 100,000 are dead. Extremists now hold the upper hand on both sides. In the latest outrage, the Assad regime has apparently used chemical weapons, gassing hundreds to death.
Where will all this misery lead? What does the future of Syria hold?
As I warned in 2011, Syria is a complex mosaic of different ethnic, religious, and ideological groups, a tinderbox that was destined to explode if the fragile peace that the Assad regime enforced was disturbed. Now that the country has imploded, there is no easy way out.
The conflict could easily last another decade, and only end when the international community or a neighboring power (such as Turkey) decides its awfulness exceeds the risks of intervention. Lebanon’s civil war lasted 15 years (1975-1990), and ended only when Syria intervened. Iraq’s civil war (2006-08) would have been far worse if there were no American troops in the country. (more…)
One important lesson we learned from post-Saddam Iraq is that violence is still an important political tool and it is not only used by the state, but also by groups competing to control or demolish the state. The excessive violence in Iraq was an outcome of nation- building process that was based on exclusion. One reason why I think this is a significant dimension in understanding political violence in Iraq is that historically the worst types of this violence have actually targeted groups or communities that can be labeled as the ‘ internal others
The ‘internal other’ is usually a group of people defined by ethnicity, religion, sect, or ideology that is perceived as disloyal to what the state or another group think of as the true nationalism. It is targeted by physical and symbolic violence in a way that aims to destroy it or to mobilize the rest of society against the enemy within the state, or actually to do both.
In Iraq, the term national was always a subject for controversy and disagreement. For example, what we often see as a sectarian conflict is also in a dimension of it a conflict between competing national narratives and, therefore, between ‘exclusionary nationalisms’. Nation building is about power and legitimacy. The narrative on which it is based is important because it aims to define the nation. Exclusionary nationalism is a discourse that draws boundaries between the true Iraqis and the false Iraqis. Symbolic violence always preceded and justified physical violence. A power based on exclusion need an internal other to legitimize its policies. (more…)
In its 10-year history, the World Bank’s Doing Business Report has achieved enormous influence. The annual study, one of the flagship knowledge products of the World Bank, is the leading tool to judge the business environments of developing countries, generating huge coverage in the media every year. Several countries—such as Rwanda—have used it as a guide to design reform programs. For its part, the Bank has advised over 80 countries on reforms to regulations measured in the DB. Its influence stretches even to academia, with over 1,000 articles being published in peer-reviewed journals using data in the index.
But does it focus on the most important issues for companies in less developed countries?
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…)
Social and economic change—urbanization, increase in literacy and education, industrialization, mass media expansion—extend political consciousness, multiply political demands, broaden political participation. These changes undermine traditional sources of political authority and traditional political institutions; they enormously complicate the problems of creating new bases of political association and new political institutions combining legitimacy and effectiveness. The rates of social mobilization and the expansion of political organization are high; the rates of political organization and institutionalization are low. The result is political instability and disorder. The primary problem of politics is the lag in the development of political institutions behind social and economic change.
Richard Joseph, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Professor at Northwestern University, discusses a similar point in a recent article on Africa. In it, he introduces the very useful phrase “discordant development,” defining it as:
More than just “unequal development,” but rather how deepening inequalities and rapid progress juxtaposed with group distress can generate uncertainty and violent conflict. (more…)
Problems that have been intractable for decades are very likely the product of many different issues that intertwine with each other in a way that makes attempts to fix things highly problematic. Simple solutions — changing a person, introducing a reform, holding an election, penalizing one party — rarely work.
Conflict, weak governance, state failure, economic backwardness — all have many causes and many issues that must be dealt with. There are no magic bullets, no easy remedies, no quick strategies.
The eastern Congo is representative. Depending on who you listen to, the ongoing violence is caused by either a weak state, grievances over land and identity, greedy local elites, or international business. Some say the root cause is local, another group says it is national, and a third group defines the problem as regional. In fact, all these interpretations are correct — to some degree. Interests, actors, and causes are intertwined in a complex web. It is hard to say where one factor stops playing a role and another starts. (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…)
There has been a lot of deep thinking about development problems over the past decade or so. But for the most part, a better understanding about how countries progress has not translated into dramatic changes in the activities aimed at promoting it.
International development agencies now say they emphasize politics and seek to find “best fit” solutions tailored to individual country circumstances. However, as David Booth writes in a recent Africa Politics and Power Policy Brief,
Much of the newer governance programming looks much like the old kind. Even the most reflective country activists and the best governance advisers have trouble imagining what to do differently.
Improving governance in developing countries in Africa and beyond requires that international actors undertake much greater reforms in how they operate than has been contemplated up to now. Many of the assumptions about development need to be challenged and overturned. (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…)