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More on Dealing with Failed States

September 9, 2008


In an earlier post entitled Dealing with Failed States, I discussed a book review published in The Economist about a volume written by Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart [Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World (Oxford University Press, 2008)]. In the “Introduction” to that volume, Ghani and Lockhart write about many of the things I have covered in my posts and many of the things that my colleague Tom Barnett has spoken and written about over the years. Ghani and Lockhart begin with the most important point:

“Forty to sixty states, home to nearly two billion people, are either sliding backward or have already collapsed. … The hundreds of millions of people who are not currently enfranchised by the economic and political system want in, not out. … They simply want their states, economies, and societies to function. … They know that it is the dysfunctional state that stands between them and a better life.”

Anyone familiar with Tom’s writings knows that his strategic vision asks the global community to “shrink the Gap.” He labels the geographic area that contains most of the failed and disenfranchised countries as the “non-integrating Gap.” By reducing the number of those states (i.e., by shrinking the Gap) the world will not only become a better place but the hundreds of millions of people to whom Ghani and Lockhart refer will have a better quality of life. Ghani and Lockhart introduce their own “gap.” They call it the “sovereignty gap.” There gap describes the difference between what a sovereign developed nation can provide for its citizens and what a so-called sovereign failed state can provide for its citizens. That is the gap they would like to see shrink.


Ghani and Lockhart also stress the importance of security. I have continually underscored the fact that security and development go hand-in-hand. You simply cannot achieve sustainable development in an unstable society. They write:

“The failure to maintain order not only makes fear a constant of daily life but also provides a breeding ground for a small minority to perpetuate criminality. … This problem — the failed state — is at the heart of a worldwide systemic crisis that constitutes the most serious challenge to global stability in the new millennium.”

They point out that the Gap, to use Barnett’s term, cannot be isolated or fenced off in a globalized world and that the best way to ensure that the benefits of globalization are sustained is to strengthen the institutions that support it — especially in areas where those institutions are weak.

“Market stability and growth stem from strong institutions everywhere, not just in the countries where [multi-national corporations] do business.”

They note that developmental institutions are finally recognizing that effective states are the key to eliminating poverty. Capacity building in failed or underdeveloped states is therefore critical. As long-time readers know, one of the objectives of the Enterra Solutions® Development-in-a-Box™ approach is to help develop local capacities. As Enterra expands its offerings, we see Development-in-a-Box taking two distinct paths. The first path would be for governments — Government-in-a-Box™ — aimed at helping states reduce the sovereignty gap described by Ghani and Lockhart. The other path would be for businesses — Company-in-a-Box™. Both of these paths are aimed at helping ensure that organizations operate using international standards and best practices so that they can assimilate more easily into the global economy.


Ghani and Lockhart understand that connectivity is essential in a globalized world. The framework they promote helps generate networks that assist countries to connect with the flows of globalization.

“The virtuous, legitimate networks needed to enfranchise populations — through flows of human, financial, and informational capital — cannot thrive in areas of the world that suffer from chronic misgovernance. … Only the stat can organize power so as to harness flows of information, people, money, force, and decisions necessary to regulate human behavior.”

One of the things I like most about Ghani’s and Lockhart’s writing is the optimistic outlook it presents. They write:

“Despite the enormity of the task, we believe that the world has the resources and imagination to arrive at solutions to this problem if a different approach is adopted. … Our optimism is based on three arguments. First, the world has generated prosperity on an unprecedented scale. To put it simply, more money than the world has ever known is now in circulation. … Second, global knowledge and information technology are expanding at a rapid pace, making it possible for people to communicate with each other more quickly and more affordably than ever before. … However, the creative power of networks has yet to be fully mobilized in this field. Third, and most important, there is now a stock of experience in transforming states; practice has been far richer than theories of politics and power.”

Ghani and Lockhart are all about hope. They believe that by giving the disenfranchised people of the world a stake in the future they can create webs of trust that allow the benefits of globalization to wash across all shores. Undergirding all of this hope must be fully functioning states that make and keep social contracts with their citizens. They insist, and I strongly agree, that states must adhere to “international norms and standards of accountability and transparency.” They continue:

“It is critical to devise ways to empower and enfranchise citizens in decision making with regard to resources to ensure they become coproducers of public value. … For the state to perform its multifunctional role there must be a virtuous circle in which authority translates into collective power that is kept accountable to the citizenry.”

You can’t measure progress if you don’t have standards. You can’t generate trust if you don’t have transparency. You can’t foster hope if don’t have stake in the future. Ghani and Lockhart concentrate on building the capacity of weak states to assume fully their duties and responsibilities. It is an approach that I can fully support. I recommend their book for anyone interested in the subject of development.

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