The Paradox of Failed States: The Key to Strengthening Failed States Is Not Developmental Aid or Democratization, but Infrastructure

Article excerpt


Mogadishu, "the capital of the capitalist world," is where the dreams of anarcho-capitalists and libertarians became nightmares for local citizens and the international community. From the outside, it seems like the city is pulsating and business is booming. In a city where there are no official rules, restrictions, taxes, or fees for licenses, shopkeepers spend large sums of money on security, and hotels prosper only under the protection of armed guards. It is one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

The economy remains functional as the strictly local character of economic activities renders them relatively accessible. On the main market in Mogadishu, one can purchase the latest innovations in electronics, access high-speed WI-FI, and make an extremely cheap international call. But under closer examination, the glow of the economic activity fades away in world in which all the armed men and politicians belong to a safe and secure upper class. Upper class women are safe as long as they do not go outside at night. But the unlucky ones in Mogadishu are members of the unarmed tribes who are not permitted to own weapons. Those people are subject to unbelievable humiliation.

In the last two decades, Somalia has become a synonym and extreme example of a failed state. Failed states circle the entire developing world, and according to estimates, up to 25 percent of the world's population lives in effectively dysfunctional states constantly on the brink of breakdown. The gap between these states and the developed world has been increasing ever since the seventies. According to the World Bank, between 1960-2001 the GDP in the Democratic Republic of Congo decreased annually at an average rate of 3.3 percent and by 3.2 percent in Liberia. The states' massive potential for natural resources makes this decline extremely perplexing.

The situation that Robert D. Kaplan described in the nineties still rings true in many states of Central and East Africa, as well as in Iraq or Afghanistan: streets are often unlit, the police lack the petrol to run their cars, walking at night is not advisable. After sunset, organized crime blossoms and takes over the government's authority. For security reasons, sensible airline companies do not fly direct flights to states like Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia where governments change with the same frequency as on the Apennine Peninsula.


British historian Niall Ferguson pointed out that unlike sovereign states, the club of failed states is not based on exclusive membership. Even though the same countries have occupied the top ten slots since 2005, new entrants enter the top twenty from time to time.

Failed states are typically characterized by democratic dysfunction, high population density, high emigrant and refugee numbers, a brain-drain, uneven economic development between social classes, economic decline from the fall/ rise of export/import commodity prices, the lack of foreign investment, the lack of pay for state sector workers and security forces, criminalization and delegitimization of the state, corruption, non-transparent decision-making, dysfunctional public services (health care, education, public transport), human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing, illegal military units and intervention from external actors. …