STATE FAILURE… QUID SIT?


I trailed off last week on a bad mood. There were many things I could not understand. First I could not understand why there was so much talk about unity and peace in the  world but what we experience everyday is war and strife. Yes! I could not come to terms with the so many assassinations that took place within the last few years in Latin America. Secondly I could not understand why the US always seemed to come up where ever a carcass had been found. Is it simply because the US is the ‘policeman’ of the world or simply that it has become a vulture that feeds on carcasses? I especially could not understand why it is that the Post World War II era has seen so much being put in place to make the world better but today rather than count our successes, we have a whole session aimed at discussing our failures.

Could Heraclitus have been right to say that strife was justice? Could Machiavelli have been right to  argue that the only purpose for a ruler was to make war, and protect its citizens from attacks by other states and that the ruler is justified in doing whatever is necessary to maintain the country, even if it is unjust? Could Marx have been right to say that history has simply being the arena for struggles? Could it be that the world today has an affinity with the 19th century Social Darwinism with its believe in Natural Selection stating that the competitive struggle amongst species secures the survival of the fittest?

Do all these have anything to do with Clapham’s (2003) opinion that “States are organizations capable of maintaining a monopoly of violence over a defined territory, and of controlling, to a significant extent, the interactions between that territory and the world beyond it“  The operating word here seems to be ‘monopoly’ because states are often considered to be sovereign. But can we talk about monopoly when talking of Africa or Latin American states? If this definition is anything to go by, then it becomes easy to understand why it is still a Herculean task for any country that has had any form of alien occupation or direct intervention in their affairs to have a strong state. The two case studies of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti  that were discussed have one thing in common and it is the fact that their travails began or accelerated not from within but from outside intervention in their internal affairs. If a foreign power is not supporting a dictator stay in power, then it is participating in killing the person who stands for the well-being of the nation.  

As Danielle went through the lecture, I was assuaged by the clarity with which the source of the problems of failed states was communicated. “State failure” I was able to conclude, was certainly not the ‘seminal seeds’ of any country, but rather it would seem that states fail because other states deny them that which makes them states – MONOPOLY OF VIOLENCE.

While I was beginning to accept the whole idea that states fail because of something beyond their making, Danielle threw another bombshell with Rotberg’s (2002) view that  ‘Nation-states fail because they can no longer deliver positive political goods to their people. Their governments lose legitimacy and, in the eyes and hearts of a growing plurality of its citizens, the nation-state itself becomes illegitimate.’  ILLEGITIMATE? Who defines what is legitimate and what is illegitimate in the world today. Should it be Europe or the USA or the United Nations or … may be the World Bank or IMF or the WTO? We all sat and watched when the US supported the Taliban government in 1979 to fight the Soviet Union in a senseless Cold War and is still struggling to destroy it to fight Al Qaeda in a meaningful war against terrorism; We all are witnesses of George Bush and Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq even when the UN had ascertained there were no weapons of Mass destruction in the country. We all listened when Gaddafi made his +90 minute speech  (which has been edited in most versions available online) at the UN in which a Dictator was bold enough to point out the salient truths about the failures of the international community. We are all watching how that same international community is claiming legitimacy in invading Libya and even considering arming rebels in the name of freeing the Libyan people. Not forgetting how these same countries especially the UK have enriched themselves from selling arms to Gaddafi. WE WILL ALL BE WATCHING WHEN ANOTHER FAILED STATE IS CREATED IN NORTH AFRICA. And WE talk of illegitimacy and Legitimacy!!! In what language can any sane person justify the fact that deliberate creation of the conditions necessary for a civil war has ever been the best means of freeing a people from tyranny.

Unfortunately the whole issue itself is a dilemma, first the principles of the U.N. Charter, such as the right of nations to self-determination and the fact that the UN resolution required that the intervention in to Libya ‘use all necessary means’ to protect the people. If it were an international war, where the aggressor is trying to kill large numbers of civilians and destroy the enemy’s right to national self-determination, it is easy for the mind to grapple with. In internal unrest and civil war, however, the challenge of the intervention is to protect human rights without undermining national sovereignty or the right of national self-determination and this is a pill too complex to swallow. In Kosovo and now in Libya, they are said to be aimed at stopping a government from committing mass murder. In the 1990s, the U.S. intervention in Somalia was intended to alleviate a famine while the invasion of Haiti was designed to remove a corrupt and oppressive regime – one thing however stands clear in all this…

Those intervening can claim to be carrying out a neutral humanitarian action, but in reality, they are intervening on one side’s behalf. If the intervention is successful — as it likely will be given that interventions are invariably by powerful countries against weaker ones — the practical result is to turn the victims into victors. By doing that, the humanitarian warriors are doing more than simply protecting the weak. They are also defining a nation’s history.

Strangely enough, I could not fail to also realise the many ambiguities with which the term ‘failed states’ was riddled. Looking at the failed states’ index during the seminar discussions, we could not help but wonder if it could be a veritable tool for any serious policy formulations. While the position of Somalia was not surprising, the position of many nations such as China, Afghanistan and even Belgium (which has no central government,) put the integrity of the index to question. This not withstanding, the reality is that some states have disintegrated and some more are on the way. Shocking that it is happening at a time when there is so much talk about a globalised world there is need for all a sundry to reevaluate our actions and positions on several issues. The effects of failed states will surely not remain with them… they will increasingly become everyone’s problems.

In a nutshell we can all hearken to Bryan Froehle’s point that “The greatest danger is when structure is placed above culture, rules above relationships. Rules are important; structures are vital. Yet . . . they are at the service of humanity and not the other way around.” If the international community were to examine their motives in every action very well and realise how futile its politics has been in the past half a century. 

I am happy some nations are aware of this and this is the reason we can still talk of rising powers. The fact that some states are rising despite all odds means we are not yet about to witness the end of our world. But can we dare to be optimistic? Can these ‘so called’ rising powers make a difference? Next week will say as we consider rising powers and Development politics.

2 thoughts on “STATE FAILURE… QUID SIT?

  1. A great blog you’ve got.

    Bros, you should have a newspaper column- and not just any newspaper, a reputable one. You combine elements of ancient philosophy, history, politics and economics in presenting your interesting and sometimes controversial viewpoints.

    No be small thing oh. U be oga.

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