June 21, 2007:
Over the last few years, it's become
popular for think tanks and intelligence agencies to compile lists of "failed
states." This is what unstable countries, prone to rebellion and civil
disorder, are called these days. What they all have in common is a lack of
"civil society" (rule of, and respect for, law), and lots of corruption. The two sort of go
The best example of a failed state is Somalia, and
that's largely because the concept of the "nation of Somalia" is a
very recent development (the 1960s). It never caught on. Same could be said for
the Palestinians. Sudan is accused of being a failed state, but it isn't in the
same league with Somalia. Sudan has had central government, on and off, for
thousands of years.
Another common problem has always been the large
number of ethnic groups. This is a common curse throughout Africa. Europe, and
much of Asia, have managed to get past this tribalism, although that has not
always resulted in a civil society (usually the result of a functioning
democracy). This tribalism has kept most African nations from making a lot of
economic progress. There's a similar problem in the Middle East. For example,
two current hot spots, Iraq and Afghanistan, have long been torn apart by
tribal and religious animosities. Same with the Balkans and parts of India and
No one has come up with a quick, or easy, solution
for failed states. It's all a matter of effective local leadership, and that
frequently fails to show up. There has been some success in helping good
leaders develop, by assisting with installing a democracy. But just letting the
people vote often leads to, what looked like a good guy, turning into a
dictatorial "president for life." Haiti has, for two centuries, trying to
develop a civil society, and for over a century has been using democracy in
that effort. Has not worked, and prospects are bleak.
One exemplary leader can make a difference.
Examples abound. Kemal Ataturk, more than any of his close followers and
advisors, turned Turkey from a medieval monarchy, into a functioning democracy.
India also have a handful of strong leaders early on who achieved what many
believed impossible, and created the worlds largest (over a billion people)
democracy. Neither Turkey nor India are as efficient and prosperous as many
older democracies. But compared to many of their neighbors, Turkey and India
are beacons of hope in an otherwise dreary political landscape. Alas, they are
the exception, not the rule, and this sorry state of affairs will continue for
the foreseeable future.