A revised version of my 2009 Christian Michelsen lecture is published by the London Review of Books. In the lecture, I argue that conventional models of state-building that are based on trying to achieve an end-state that accords with an idealised, western view of a state, are not only doomed to failure, but also miss or even undermine what can actually function in these countries. The original sin of much international policy in this field is a familiar intellectual error, to overlook the necessary analysis of how countries, in which state institutions do not possess the autonomy or capability required for them to manage political conflict, actually function. It’s an argument in which an “ought” is derived from an “is not”: a country like Afghanistan or Somalia doesn’t look like Austria or Sweden, but it ought to. Better, I argue, for the outcome to make Afghanistan or Somalia more like a better version of itself. Superficially it’s a pessimistic analysis, insofar as it implies that the existing international toolkit isn’t up to the job. At a deeper level it is a more optimistic account, because another implication is that “failed”, “fragile” or problematic countries may possess the mechanisms that could […]
There is one very important issue which has not been raised by anyone, as I have listened to all reports from the election observers , until now , that is the buying and selling of votes and loyalty. According to my estimate this has amounted to not less than one billion US dollars over the last two years. For the last year and in every Sudanese region, the issue of buying the loyalty of tribal and community leaders has been happening. This has not been by investing in their communities in terms of health, education and other services but instead in a crude way, by bribing them with cash or other material resources or jobs. Above all, it is cash. That has occurred not only for traditional leaders, but political parties also. The recent row about the amount given to the Umma Party, just two days before the election is one example. This amount was given in cash , and not through bank transfer or cheque and without any signature from the recipient. Until now we don’t know whether it was two million Sudanese pounds (US$ 800,000) or four million (US $1,600,000). It was a bribe for the Umma Party […]
Alex de Waal’s Christian Michelsen lecture, ‘Fixing the Political Marketplace,’ given last month in Bergen, Norway, is now available online at this link. His article ‘The Price of Peace’ in Prospect magazine can be accessed here.
Conventional peacekeeping operations are designed as stop-gap measures, either for a brief period of time or with a limited brief in a frozen conflict. This can be functional if the peacekeepers are dealing with institutionalized belligerents, with functioning hierarchies. In so-called ‘fragile states’, there is a risk that peacekeeping missions will turn into open-ended commitments. Fragile states are typically defined by what they are not–they are not Weberian states in which autonomous state institutions administer the rule of law and regulate political conflicts, and not states in which governments deliver services on an efficient and impartial basis. International policies for dealing with such states, from Afghanistan to Congo, assume that these states can build ‘normal’ institutions in a brief historical span. Kofi Annan’s 2001 report, ‘No Exit Without Strategy,’ defined the criteria for success for peacekeeping operations in an identical way: ‘domestic peace becomes sustainable, when the natural conflicts of society can be resolved through the exercise of State sovereignty and, generally, participatory governance.’ This is, I fear, a formula for peacekeeping missions without end. In this month’s International Affairs I have an article, “Mission without End” which outlines my analysis of why this is so. I argue that our […]
The political geometry of Sudan defies resolution. No sooner had a framework been agreed for the provisional settlement of the North-South conflict in 2002 than the war in Darfur blew away all conventional wisdom about how the country could achieve peace and stability. The twin challenges of deciding whether Sudan is one country or two, and seeking a more inclusive and democratic system of government, combine to create an equation with no solution. For decades, Sudan’s leaders have tried to manage the unmanageable by alternating doomed revolutionary projects with simply buying time. The latter—in which tactical crisis management drives out strategic problem solving—has been the order of the day for the last decade. Today, the ruling party hopes that oil money will sufficiently change the game for them literally to purchase a solution. Read the rest of Sudan: Buying Time.
It’s frequently observed that Darfur’s conflict has “spilled over” into Chad and Central African Republic. It is probably more accurate to say that Darfur has become part of a regional nexus of conflict that includes these two countries, characterized by a political pattern in which both local elites (tribal chiefs, militia commanders, small-town political leaders) and followers (especially armed young men) have contingent loyalties, constantly engaged in political bargaining with their actual and potential patrons in Khartoum, Tripoli and (more recently) N’djamena. Marielle Debos provides an interesting insight into this in her recent short essay, “Porous Borders and Fluid Loyalties.” She illustrates how single individuals have multiple political allegiances through family and kin links, how military entrepreneurs (both leaders and followers) are motivated by financial payoff, and how combatants cycle between different conflict zones. In short, we have a cross-border political game akin to a political marketplace in which loyalties are auctioned to the highest bidder. Debos argues for an integrated regional approach to stopping this cycle of violence. Programs such as demobilization, disarmament and reintegration need to be designed in a compatible manner across the whole region, which of course also extends into Congo. We also need to attend […]