Even in Africa’s fragile states, many businesses are able to adapt and thrive, generating jobs, goods, and services in an otherwise volatile context. However, fragile states are among the lowest recipients of international assistance for the private sector, even compared to other low-income countries. International partners should better support the needs of private businesses in fragile states, as they represent an anchor of stability and a rare positive influence. Core necessities include stronger and more transparent regulatory frameworks as well as improved telecommunications and transportation infrastructure.
Institutions of accountability are instrumental to achieving sustained development and stability, but the starting point for many contexts of limited statehood—autocratic legacies, low social capital, and cultures of impunity—hobbles progress. Limited checks and balances over the executive branch, which often monopolizes power and defies oversight, is a critical problem. In such contexts, non-state mechanisms of accountability—often traditional authorities, media, information and communication technology, civil society groups, and external actors—play critical early roles.
Political violence in South Africa is worsening and indicates the country’s potential fragility. Since the end of apartheid, steadily rising inequality has deepened the divide between a wealthy minority and a poor majority. Frustration with an uneven pace of change often ignites into violent protest. Elite competition for financial and political resources available through the state also drives violence within and between competing political parties, usually at the local level where intimidation and assassination are sometimes used to ensure electoral success. Much competition exists in a grey area where the distinction between politics and crime is blurred.
South Africans still overwhelmingly support the democratic process and view the government as legitimate. From this foundation the state can move to head off emerging political violence and stem ebbing public trust. This will require breaking up the current intertwining of political authority and economic opportunity. Citizens must also see tangible evidence that government is interested in the socioeconomic priorities of ordinary people.
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Functioning states are essential to conflict prevention, regional stability, and poverty reduction, yet state fragility remains widespread and currently impacts tens of millions of Africans. Key elements of stabilization strategies include security and justice, revenue and expenditure management, and job creation, but priority should be placed on inclusive state-society interaction and accountability at all times and levels.
Persistent reports of extremist activity from across Africa have deepened concern over the spread of radicalism on the continent. Extremists capitalize on political and security vacuums within Africa’s fragile states to grow their support base and consolidate their strength. Stable states that provide opportunities for political participation empower moderates while delegitimizing extremists’ use of violence.
Stabilizing fragile states is a central security challenge of the twenty-first century. Fragile states pose a seemingly intractable problem, but there has in fact been a commendable record of stabilizing post-conflict and transitioning states over the past two decades. Success requires integrated political, security, and development efforts, sustained over time and focused on the overarching challenge: building legitimate and effective state structures that can earn and maintain the support of their populations.
An updated version of an earlier work by Patrick for the Center for Global Development. Patrick argues that fragile states do not compromise a monolithic phenomenon, but can take on different forms and contribute to a variety of transnational threats in distinct ways. Thus, the U.S. and other international actors must tailor multi-pronged diplomatic, defense, and development (3D) engagement strategies to assist these threats to global security. Patrick reviews U.S. efforts to date, and finds a variety of well-intentioned but ultimately insufficient inter-agency and multi-lateral collaborative efforts. Five specific tasks to overcome this deficient response to transnational threats and state instability are offered for the Obama administration.
State fragility is complex but often begins with a divergence between citizen expectations and a government’s ability to deliver services. Whether caused by unforeseeable exogenous shocks or an erosion of legitimacy due to élite misbehavior, this divergence can be reduced through state-building efforts that prioritize good governance and democratic processes in capacity building efforts.
This brief work examines the differences and similarities between “state-building” and “peace-building.” Many international actors often conflate the two, with repercussions on programs intended to assist fragile states. For example, efforts to forge peace often require the acceptance of political arrangements that later undermine state stability, such as working with elites at the expense of forming an inclusive government. The authors offer recommendations for donors, some of which may be useful for field practitioners in state-building efforts.
Three analysts with experience working in unstable regions develop a template for strengthening weak states. There are 10 fundamental functions a state must fulfill in order to achieve stability and sovereignty. From this basic conception of state responsibilities, a “report card” can developed to assess particular “sovereignty gaps” within weak states, or areas where a state cannot fulfill its fundamental tasks. To address these gaps, donors can develop and implement a “sovereignty strategy,” a guideline for which is developed by the authors with the proviso that strategies must be tailored to the context of differing states.
USAID’s fragile states strategy emphasizes the need for detailed information on the internal dynamics of weak states in order to develop appropriate goals, priorities, and strategies. The strategy also outlines ways in which USAID might work with U.S. interagency partners to develop and reform fragile states.
Security Topics: Stabilization of Fragile States