This week’s focus was on fragile states, with particular emphasis on “Democratic” Republic of Congo and Haiti. Again, as ever, there was the conversation about definitions and, as ever, there was the answer of “it depends”. So it depends on what is a failed state and what is a fragile state. I guess in this context, it is applicable and the idea of what is considered a fragile or failed state should be taken with gentle hands.

The Failed State Index was handed out to aid the seminar discussion. This index looks at 12 indicators that impact on the status of a failed state, hence the name… The indicators vary from different aspects of what a sovereign state should entail, so on the lines of economic, human rights, gap between rich and poor and threat from other states. I do think there is problem with including everything and this index does just that. The index rates each indicator in equal measures to provide a total and which then placed in a linear form to show that in 2010 Somalia had failed the most. The thoughts that came to my mind and discussed in my group were (a) can each indicator be weighed equally? (b) Is the methodology affective? (c) Is there a political interest for the US agency to publish these states as being particularly failed depending on their level of interest/ involvement in each country?

I understand that there is a limit to each question and its answers, but I do feel that we need to look at this index with an open mind and not take it as totally factual. I have not been to even 10% of these countries, so I cannot say whether their ranking is correct or not, but I can say that I am cautious, as I find the indicators too wide, especially the ‘human ‘rights’ indictor. I feel that uneven development, delegitimisation of state, public services and factionalised elites all fit into human rights and therefore this indicator leaves too much room for cob webs to grow due to the amount of empty space in the term human rights!

The failure of countries such as Haiti and DRC are great examples of where the state has simply failed in all its essential responsibilities, many other examples can be used – just have a look at the index! The media again has and is acting as a great method of telling us, non-Congolese and non-Haitians, what is happening in the world. The full extent of this failure will probably never be witnessed on our televisions or radios, but we have the power of information and the ability to engage in political debate on the further of both these countries, and the rest. I believe that we, people within intellectual institutions, have such a privilege of knowledge and the power of free speech to challenge those that have caused the failure and those who are trying to bandage it up.

On reflection of the reading Adam David Morton looks at “‘Failed States’ of International Relations” (2005) playing the importance of the policy making and the role of failed states in the postcolonial world, with deviancy, aberration and breakdown as the three concepts at the core of his paper. Two main arguments are drawn on in his analysis, (1) looking at the link between failure and terrorist vulnerability and (2) looking at postcolonial states from a historical, capitalist and the influence of uneven development.

Morton quote’s Hilary Benn’s statement in 2004, which highlighted the importance of strong states to the international community, particularly due to threats of terrorism and the threat of not achieving the Millennium Development Goals. I feel that this was a good method of engaging the international community to the importance of failing states so to ensure that they understand the impact they place on us, especially with the example of September 11th, because as I said before, self-centred goals are higher on the agenda. In terms of international intervention I cannot totally disagree with this method of the west prioritising those countries that improve our standard of living or security, but we should not forget about those countries that have nothing to offer.

Morton then looked at the process of capitalism and its influence on primitive accumulation as “war as a mode of political production”, using examples such as the RUF (Sierra Leone) rough diamond trade, Charles Taylor (Liberia) timber, rubber and rough diamonds. The use of natural resources has and is funding such political parties and rebel groups and therefore counteract towards uneven development through the need for accumulation and consumption. I find this use of analysis very compelling as the consumer society we (the west) live in does attract a glamorous life style of a life with no worries.  

After class an informal discussion between a small group of friends focused on the idea of ‘development and modernisation’ and the idea of the developing world wanting to consume just as the developed world, but without the Americanised connotation attached. I can relate to this argument from a personal perspective, my mother migrated to the UK in the mid 1950s and my father in the late 1970s, both with a similar outlook. That their children would benefit from the cultural influence from the east (family values, language, culinary skills etc) whilst enjoying the luxuries offered by the west (education, health care and stability etc). It did not occur to them that their children would actually become so westernised that they would only be identified as theirs simply through appearance. This is a dramatised version, as many second and third generation youth have deeply embedded eastern values, but I am yet to meet on that has not been teased by the western (maybe even Americanised) consumer culture, be it through designer labels or a vintage collection.

Back to the reading, I would like to write briefly about the article by Robert Jackson and Carl Rosberg (1982) which provides an interesting insight into “Why Africa’s Weak States Persist” I must admit I was taken aback with the first line “Black Africa’s forty-odd states are among the weakest in the world”. I guess because of my age and the fact that I am new to development I was surprised by the term “Black Africa”, never before have I come across this phrase. For me, this is an insight into the way of the world was during this time, and the politically incorrect term of Black Africa and the people of this part of the world. However, in terms of the content it is not much different from Morton’s 2005 article. Both articles look at the importance of statehood and refer to the same failed states – Sudan, Rwanda and Zaire (DRC), over twenty years on and the same states are being referred to as failed.

At least there has been development in terminology of sub-Saharan Africa and the developing world, as opposed to Black Africa and the Third world, one point to political correctness zero to a more stable world. 

A. D. Morton (2005) ‘The ‘Failed State’ of International Relations.’ New Political Economy. 10 (3) pp 371-9

R. Jackson & C. Rosberg (1982) ‘Why Africa’s Weak States Persist: The Empirica & Juridical in Statehood.’ World Politics. 35 (1) pp 9-15