Today 50% of African countries are identified in studies as ‘fragile’ or ‘failed’ states. Since 9/11 concern has grown that not only were these failed states incapable of following the development path laid out by the neoliberal political agenda but – according to the most pessimistic voices – they might even come to destabilize the international system. This thinking led to the promotion of the concept of good governance to remedy that trend. This meant international policies designed specifically for failed states attempt to fit African states into parameters of the modern state, thus rebuilding them in their image. However, globalization constrains and conditions the state system, thus encourages the formation of states as well as their collapse. The institutionalization of structures at the global level impinges on the power that previously belonged to the nation state. This creates or aggravates conflicts within the nation state.
How does the concept of good governance impact many African states? The concept acts in defense of certain political formulae – one that perpetuates the image of these societies as passive vectors rather than political actors. Good governance processes and institutions should produce results that the people understand, and are in the best interests of the people. On the other hand, under neoliberal policies the state is to provide the appropriate environment for the market to operate optimally. But markets are competition-based institutions in which the domain of the state is reduced, while workers are subjected to stifling regime assessment and monitoring. Under the neoliberal theory that people can exercise choice through spending, the result is disempowerment of the poor and middle class. In the typical crisis of a failed state, the threat comes to the system because of the social conditions, which characterize it, and the types of conflicts that it generates.
Neoliberalism not only made the continent’s economic marginalization more acute, but also perpetuated policies of clientelism. Neoliberalism focused on the job of transferring policies to support programs designed to fit the standard notions of the state. However, there are other variables of international nature – the consolidation of certain elites in government due to their ties to the international community, or the opaque participation of multinationals in the running of the economy that affect policies. Consequences of such polices is the international community’s state-building record in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan and Somalia, all of which not only remain a far cry from achieving the Millennium Development Goals, but continue to feature amongst the list of top ten ‘failed states’. In 2016, the largest number of refugees from any single country coming to the US came from the DRC. Until there is a shift of focus to state and society, or on inclusive institutions – public access to information, public access to decision-making processes and access to justice – the present neoliberal response will continue to support the status quo in fragile states.
This consequence of the appearance of fragile state raises concern over: neoliberalism under US hegemony, the social significance of the new rules that it imposes, and its social costs and associated risks. The issues become the lack of understanding of how failed states work, and unintended consequences of international policies that may even have the opposite effect of that desired. The West’s military operation in Libya in 2011 – the spill-over effects of which are well-known to have contributed to the crisis in Mali – did little to spark greater self-scrutiny towards past policies. Precipitous in nature and officially restricted to a few short-term military objectives, the intervention in West Africa is likely to contribute to Mali’s political fragmentation, enhance its institutional ‘fragilization’, and spark a regional conflagration, than it is to bring about peace, prosperity and stability.
State fragility, with its repercussions on national development and international security, remains one of today’s most pressing global public policy challenges, partly because this phenomenon is considered the source of many of the world’s most serious problems. While foreign military contingents have incrementally left these war zones, ‘state fragility’ is certain to stay, both, in these polities (processes of civil government) and the world at large, partly because, ‘from a historical perspective, much of the developing world today is characterised by states in the process of formation’ – a process that is inherently prone to crises, conflict and fragility.
Having conceived of ‘fragile states’ as pathologic deviations from the contemporary molding of Western countries, it has invariably been neoliberal interpretations of the state that have guided the international community’s handbooks on how to ‘fix’ fragile states, even though ‘the inadequacies of neoliberalism have spawned a widespread questioning of this dominant worldview.’ We need to seek to rebuild the state while encouraging society to participate in the process – centered on social rights and civil rights. This means seeking domestic security in order to establish the internal and international stability necessary for market prosperity. The problem with this policy is the concentration of power in a few hands and class inequality, which leaves an abstract formula of the role in which civil society is expected to play as a counterweight to the state.
Furthermore, current approaches towards state building continue to commit the mistake of reducing state-building endeavours to questions of institutional capacity. Consequently, the international community’s agenda puts technical issues concerned with capacity building at centre stage. Yet, as governance is about the relationship between the state and society and as it is in the realm of ideas and sentiments that the fate of states is primarily determined, there is a need for ‘bringing the nation back in’. States are not hollow social constructs, but are intimately intertwined with the formation of national identities. Thus, the assertion that the goal of rebuilding societies should not be to impose common identities on deeply divided peoples but to organize states that can administer their territories and allow people to live together despite differences needs to be rejected, as this wrongly suggests that it is possible to ‘organize states’ while leaving the ‘identity’ of their populations untouched.1
The West seems to unquestionably continue to trust its ‘tried and tested’ policy: a cocktail made up of military intervention and neoliberal prescriptions for reconstruction, which entail a diktat of democracy, gender equality and free market mechanisms, amongst others. While all these neoliberal elements of a pluralist society might be desirable in and of themselves, the dominant actors of the international community need to appreciate that what is required to sustain states should not be confused with what is required to initiate them. States and societies need to find the space to reformulate their own kind of political organization, and they consequently require international policies that try to go beyond standard notions of the state.
Neoliberalism broadly describes a regulatory system, encompassing economic policies emphasizing market deregulation, privatization, and an altered role for the state. Neoliberals emphasize that the role of government is to create a good business climate rather than look after the needs and the well-being of the population at large. The fact that there is little international regulation has dire consequences for the safety of the people and the environment. Multinational corporations are responsible for the removal of traditional government accountability to a fixed population for much of politics. This creates a lack of ability of those affected by decisions to protect their legitimate rights and interests. The new corporate values of globalization normalize through a doublespeak, selling commercialization and free market choices as democracy while redefining the shape and functions of the state.
The UN said recently that the world is facing its worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II, with 20 million people in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria facing starvation and famine. On the other hand, President Donald Trump is seeking to reduce his country’s contribution to United Nations programmes, as part of cuts to funding of US diplomacy and foreign aid in his administration’s budget proposal. Already, the US has cut funds used to finance access to birth control, abortion and sex education for women in developing nations. After Trump cut U.S. funding for such services, Melinda Gates notes, “Enabling women to time and space their pregnancies and providing access to treatment and prevention of infectious diseases is lifesaving work. It saves moms’ lives and it saves babies’ lives…”
Poverty is at the heart of Africa’s problems. One of the key consequences of Africa’s economic stagnation is how much income inequality has increased. Most of Sub-Saharan Africa is in the World Bank’s lowest income category of less than $765 Gross National Income (GNI) per person per year. In Sub-Saharan Africa, per capita GDP is now less than it was in 1974, having declined over 11 percent. Young people recognize the economic impediments they face stem from the way political power is exercised and monopolized by a narrow elite. In Africa poor people are trapped within extractive economic institutions. Western governments don’t like cutting their ties to dictators who open doors for international business, or help their geopolitical agendas. This can only be reversed by using financial and diplomatic clout to help create room for inclusive institutions to grow.
Rethinking current approaches towards fragile states is not only necessary to facilitate political stability and economic development, but also to curb the challenge of international terrorism, which is believed to thrive in states that experience fragility. Thus, rather than subjecting policies towards fragile states to a doomed ‘war on terror’ – a war that has been ineffective at best – state fragility should be taken seriously in its own right, if we want to prevent a country like Mali from becoming another Somalia. Aid can help. But it needs to be used in such a way as to help civil society mobilize collectively, find a voice and get involved with decision-making. It needs to help manufacture inclusive institutions. David Cameron explained, “long-term development through aid only happens if there is a ‘golden thread’ of stable government, lack of corruption, human rights, the rule of law and transparent information.”2
1 Balthasar, Dominik. (29 Jan 2013) ‘Fragile States’ and ‘Failed Policies’: Two Global Public Policy Challenges at Eye Level .http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/29/01/2013/gg2022-–-‘fragile-states’-and-‘failed-policies’-two-global-public-policy-challenges-
2 Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson (22 April 2017) Why foreign aid fails – and how to really help Africa https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2017/04/9824422/