Global Policy Forum

World Bank Urges New Focus on Global Development in Fragile States

The World Bank has demanded that a new focus should be placed on the stabilization of fragile and failed states. Warning that criminal and political violence are chronically damaging weak states, the World Bank Report 2011 argues that the gradual rebuilding of legitimate state institutions is vital to state health. Quoting the cases of Ethiopia, Mozambique and Rwanda, this article highlights the difficult path to rebuilding secure states and providing security, justice and poverty reduction.

By Julian Borger

April 11, 2011

The World Bank is calling for a new focus in global development efforts towards providing justice, law and order to the estimated 1.5 billion people living in fragile and failed states.

In its World Development Report 2011, the bank warns that one of the biggest threats to development in the 21st century is chronic insecurity caused by cycles of criminal and political violence that defy easy answers.

The report asks: "How is it that almost a decade after renewed international engagement with Afghanistan the prospects of peace seem distant? How is it that entire urban communities can be terrorised by drug traffickers? How is it that countries in the Middle East and north Africa could face explosions of popular grievances despite, in some cases, sustained high growth and improvement in social indicators?"

Patterns of global violence have changed in recent years, with fewer conventional conflicts between two identifiable sides. The number of deaths from civil wars are only a quarter of what they were 30 years ago. In their place, since the end of the cold war, is what Sarah Cliffe, one of the report's directors, calls more fluid types of violence, often driven by cross-border crime, such as drug trafficking.

"Peace processes in southern Africa and central America have been threatened by criminal violence," Cliffe said. "In Guatemala you have more people dying now from criminal violence and from drug trafficking than you did during the civil war."

In such circumstances, conventional development spending may do little or nothing to improve the situation for ordinary people.

Cliffe said: "The message is that getting the basics in place is crucial. Without a basic functioning justice system, for instance, and an economic stake in society for people, then more sophisticated plans to improve education or health systems or infrastructure tend not to work, because they get undermined by turbulence and instability."

Escaping from repeated cycles of violence in fragile or failed states could take a generation at best, the report argues, but it is possible through the gradual rebuilding of legitimate institutions. It says the priority should be placed on those institutions that provide three crucial ingredients of a stable society: citizen security, justice and jobs.

This means outside assistance is often best provided by specialists in human rights, mediation and policing, alongside traditional humanitarian and development aid workers. The international community has a role in trying to cushion an affected society from the external stress of conflicts on its borders or drug trafficking.

The report cites Ethiopia, Mozambique and Rwanda as countries that have successfully emerged from violent conflict and are making rapid progress towards reducing poverty.

"What we look at in the experience of countries which have gone through these transformations is the emphasis on what it takes to keep the peace during periods of dramatic change," Cliffe said. "It's very much less linked to technocratic approaches to how to build the best schools or dams."


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