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.

Aid, Politics and Development

When I first read Paul Collier‘s ‘The Bottom Billion: Why Poor countries are failing and what can be done about it“, I could not stop myself from clenching and unclenching my fists several times because of the vividness with which he captured certain situations I had witnessed and experienced. I could not wait to reach the portion of the book in which he discussed the second half of his subtitle “…What Can Be Done About it”  Collier does a good in presenting some very simple and arguably inexpensive solutions:

  • Aid agencies should increasingly be concentrated in the most difficult environments and accept more risk.
  • Appropriate Military Interventions  should be encouraged, especially to guarantee democratic governments against coups.
  • International Charters are needed to encourage good governance and provide prototypes.
  • Trade Policy needs to encourage free trade and give preferential access to Bottom Billion exports

I applauded to this and really found it difficult to think that there was a solution that could stray far from what he was proposing. My conviction was strengthened when I read  “Is Aid Oil? An analysis of whether Africa can absorb more aid.” (Do not mind the fact that I was anachronistic in my reading, I just happened to have seen the Bottom Billion first)The conclusion he arrives at is that

“Even though aid is not like oil, the scope for substantial expansion may nevertheless be limited by diminishing returns. The available evidence suggests that if aid is simply scaled-up proportionately, the incremental aid might indeed be much less effective, dollar-for-dollar, than existing aid.”

Fair enough, the argument in the Bottom Billion had support from an earlier document though it presented  Aid as  ‘Part of the Solution’  I thought I had found my ‘Holy Grail’. Could my quest for a solution to the African/Third world problems be over so soon? So I may have thought, until I had time to go through Heather‘s lectures and later participated in the seminar discussions. One of my Masters (the most sceptical of them all) had made it clear to me that

“When we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”

Don’t get me wrong! Collier’s work is not a volume on divinity or school metaphysics (it is a very practical Economics textbook ‘that can be read even on the beach’ and one that I will love to read over and over) unfortunately it contains a lot sophistry and illusion. I am however not advocating like Hume that it be burnt because in that case, most of the volumes in the Social Sciences in recent years will be cast in to flames. (even Hume’s work will not have lived to tell its story) What I am simply trying to point out is that I accepted rationale of the book without subjecting it to critical judgement.

This week’s session did a lot to wake me up from my ‘dogmatic slumber’. I wonder why I kept looking at things in isolation. Aid in isolation is wonderful; Politics – especially international politics – in isolation is a den of wolves where only the fittest survive – Development in isolation… can development be isolated? I don’t know! It seems to be a thing of the future. But when we put the three together and what do we get? Aid that has to pass through some political machinations to bring about development. I was therefore both thrilled and amazed when I looked at the propositions that Heather wanted to be discussed during the seminar session:

1. Aid has a negative impact on politics in developing countries.

2. Aid has a positive impact on politics in developing countries.

3. Aid has no impact on politics in developing countries.

I was thrilled because I noticed that the propositions stood a chance of getting wide support and this meant a good avenue for exciting debate. I was however amazed because Hearther added that “You *must* come to a consensus on this, and so this will involve some friendly debating. You will also be expected to back up your position with examples.” Wow!!! A consensus on such extreme propositions… that was where the difficulty was surely to come… and it did come.

First of all, there was need to distinguish between Official and Non Official Sources of Aid, there was further need to distinguish between Grants and loans, Humanitarian and food Aid, Tied and Untied Aid, Project and Programme Aid, Basket Funds, Budget support, just to name a few. In attempting to do so it became clear that one could not dispute the fact that different types of Aid had different effects and varies from place to place.

The only area we could arrive at a consensus – or let me say where I could agree with the group – was the fact that Humanitarian Aid and other Relief Aid Agencies like the Red Cross, Islamic Relief and Christian Aid were doing a wonderful job and had a positive impact on the politics of developing countries albeit usually unintentionally, and should get all the support they need to continue. Unfortunately we could not have a synoptic view of other forms of official aid. The main reason I differed with others or anyone who thinks aid has any positive impact on the politics of developing nations is the fact that there is nothing positive to show for it. Let us leave all rhetorics aside and look directly at all the countries that have been receiving aid since their creation… there is none that I know that has really achieved better political structures because of aid… if anything I know of so many who have become more corrupt because of the availability of disposable income made possible by aid.

But Why Aid?
Why should rich countries be so concerned about giving aid to poor countries. Why not “teach the people how to fish rather than giving them fish”, why is it that China is one of the highest recipients of aid is also offering aid to Cameroon, or why should one bother to give aid to a country like Cameroon whose president can afford a holiday in which he spends over £25,000 a day for three weeks (or whose national football team can afford to stay in the 2nd most expensive hotel during the South African World cup tournament – beaten in class and only by Japan). What is the rationale behind giving aid to countries even when it is common knowledge that the money will find its way to a Swiss bank with the first available transaction? What in God’s name is the reason that aid is given with conditionalities that will have rippling effects for future generations who will not even be able to account for the aid? If Brundtland’s definition that “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” is anything to go by, then I will be bold to say here that aid is not sustainable, especially aid that has anything to do with the politics of third world nations.

But… is there any room for optimism… yes I think so but from two different unrelated perspectives: first is the fact that most of the taxpayers in the rich nations are beginning to question the usefulness of aid. For example some British people have recently been questioning the rationale behind aid when is was not bringing any positive reports. The report I read from a daily said that Britain will stop giving aid to China and Russia and will freeze its level of aid to India at 280 million a year for four years. The article called for a stop to all foreign aid since “… aid has been propping up dictators for years, with the cash ending up in Swish bank accounts, not in the stomach of those who need it most… it is time we stop sending bribes to these rich despots…”

The second reason for my optimism is fueled by Collier in a talk in which he states that Aid can only be a solution to the poverty of poor nations if it follows a recipe which is a combination of two forces that changed the world for good, – the alliance of compassion and enlightened self-interest. Compassion is necessary because a billion people are living in societies that have not offered credible hope and Enlightened self-interest, because the continuation of such economic divergence for another 40 years combined with social integration globally,  will be a nightmare for the children of the rich nations. Hence he feels that “We need compassion to get ourselves started, and enlightened self-interest to get ourselves serious. That’s the alliance that changes the world.”

Before I begin to get upbeat, it will be good for me to pause a little and wait for next week’s lecture in which a case study of Zimbabwe will put most of these arguments into perspective.

Pro-Poor Politics

Unfortunately, my confusion grows… so there is actually such a thing as pro-poor politics! The fact that I am confused should not in the least be surprising when one considers that I derive my foundation from the Athenian intellectual tradition where the primary focus of thought was the State, rather than the individual, and the all thinking on politics or economics stressed the political solidar­ity of society.  In the Republic for example Plato writes that  “A State, . . . arises… out of the needs of mankind; no one is self-sufficing, but all of us have many wants. . . . Then, as we have many wants, and many persons are needed to supply them, one takes a helper for one purpose and another for another; and when these partners and helpers are gathered together in one habita­tion the body of inhabitants is termed a State. . . . And they exchange with one another, and one gives, and another receives, under the idea that the exchange will be for their good.” The origin of the state therefore, is as a result of the absence of individual self-sufficiency in the satisfaction of wants.

Coming after Plato, Aristotle took another perspective to make the same point, indicating the importance of interdependence of everyone in the city state. Aristotle in Politics Book 1 pt. 2 points out that “… the state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity prior to the part; for example, if the whole body be destroyed, there will be no foot or hand, except in an equivocal sense, as we might speak of a stone hand. . . . The proof that the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole.”
If one were to go by these arguments, it becomes difficult not to conclude that society should be structured in such a way that every action benefits everyone. This could be done by applying laws that are progressive and that once implemented at the State level inevitably trickles down to every person. Unfortunately, the reality is not the case today in most developing countries where the elites consider themselves to be ‘above’ the State and actions that should have been carried out for the benefit of the state as a whole and where not carried out ( or carried out in such a way that leads to the fulfillment of the selfish interests of the Elites, at the detriment of the poor) are today being carried out with the tag  – Pro-Poor. Is it actually for the poor or is it done to prevent the poor being a problem to the welfare of the elites?

Before the lectures and discussions this week, I had this question going through my mind. Is pro-poor politics an end itself – the welfare of the poor – or is it a means to an end – getting the poor in a better situation that will reduce the possibility of them being a problem to the rich? I was more convinced there was need to look beyond the idea to the reality because Locke’s words kept re-echoing in my mind

The gap between our ideas and words about the world, and the world itself, is large and difficult, but still, if one man calls something good, while another man calls it evil, the deed or man referred to still has real qualities of good or evil, the categories exist in the world regardless of our names for them, and if one man’s word does not correspond to another mans word, this a problem of communication, not fundamental arbitrariness in reality.

Hence the bottom-line should be “good politics” – to call it ‘pro-poor’ or any other name does not change the effects of the action carried out. There is no gainsaying the fact that a hospital or good sanitation facilities provided in a poor neighbourhood benefits the poor but what is not noticed or spoken is that it also frees the rich from drudgery of having to think of a cholera outbreak that will not discriminate between poor and rich.

When I was reading through Moore and Putzel’s (2001) paper, I was fascinated by the ease with which they presented the arguments relating to pro-poor policy making. I could not help questioning some of their conclusions/assumptions:

First they feel that democracy has differential outcomes for the poor. The first problem I found with this assumption was the lack of delineation of what they meant by ‘poverty’. Are they discussing absolute poverty or relative poverty? These distinctions will go a long way to change some of the broad conclusions they arrived at. Secondly, the term democracy is used there loosely to simply mean ‘providing people with a framework to vote for their leaders’ – but is that really what democracy is all about? While I will like to agree with them (especially going by the illustration given of Kamataka and Andhra Pradesh) that the nature of politics has different effects on the poor, I however could not fail to notice that they only succeeded in pointing to what was obvious and illustrating these with examples. The question should  not be what name a particular system of politics or governance is called but how much it impacts on the life of the people as a whole. Hence I totally agree with them that making accomplishments in poverty reduction a criterion for legitimacy of governments will be a wonderful idea. Unfortunately the problem arises about how to measure these accomplishments. Who will be the arbiter and who are those involved in the presentation of evidence? Will it be the poor themselves?

According to Chipi (2010)

“…the adoption of democratic institutions does not alone suggest a change in elite behaviour or in the actions they take. The persistence of poverty reflects its institutionalization within social and political norms as well as institutions and its acceptance within political discourse. Hence, noble agendas – such as empowerment of the poor, or increased political space for the poor to participate in – offer very little promise if the elites who are required to adopt and implement these institutions are anyhow ignored.”

While I agree entirely with the first part of her argument, I question very much the logic of the concluding part because experience has shown that there may well be some situations where the elites are not required to ‘adopt’ and ‘implement’ institutions. In most cases, they tend to be inimical to the whole process of empowerment of the poor. The reason I think is that, having being established as a ruling class, most of the elites in poor countries generally enrich themselves at the public’s expense through public graft and corruption as well as deals with foreign capitalists. For example Fanon presents this situation prosaically that;

By dint of yearly loans, concessions are snatched up by foreigners: scandals are numerous, ministers grow rich, their wives doll themselves up, the members of parliament feather their nest and there is not a soul down to the simple policeman or the custom officer who does not join in the great procession of corruption.”(1963:165-66)

In Nigeria, for example, Njoko points out that “The present political economy has largely succeeded in erecting greedy an affluent politicians and a listless, scarred public. In fact, the myth that is a way of African life has to be abandoned. Our experience so far is that the government, the politician, is the greatest armed robber, victimiser or oppressor in Nigeria.”  (2004:91) The issue  remains unclear whether there is such a thing as pro-poor or whether policies aimed at the poor are simply part of a political agenda.

Later following Chipi’s presentation, the picture became a bit clear. When she narrated the story of a ‘poor’ woman who called a parliamentarian and asked her to pay her child’s school fees, I said to myself that this should be a really good situation where the poor can talk directly to the Elites and ask them for favours. One thing however that I am yet to clearly understand is if whether everyone has access to the private numbers of parliamentarians in Malawi. Since this will obviously not be the case, I will certainly not be wrong to conclude that one has to belong to a certain class to have access to such privy information. Another thing that I succeeded in getting both from her (2010) paper and her presentation is that the general consensus seems that pro-poor policies are for the poor a privilege, rather a right to  mutually beneficial governance.

I don’t know if you notice what I have just noticed myself… my confusion seems to be waning a bit! What I cannot fail to realise also however, is the fact that I keep having this agitation in my heart as I discuss this issue of poverty. The reason is simple… it’s a road I have walked and I am not discussing it as a merely academic exercise but it is almost like an evaluation of the paths I have trod. No wonder I look forward so much to the discussion next week of Elites, Politics and Development…

Chipiliro K.N  2010. Mutual Interdependence between Elites and the Poor Working Paper No. 2010/117 World Institute for Development Economic Research

Fanon, F. 1963. The wretched of the Earth, New York: Grove Press,

Njoku, O.C 2004. Development and African Philosophy: A Theoretical Reconstruction of African Socio-Political Economy, New York: iUniverse, Inc.