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November 2010

Was Keynes right about fragile states?

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Keynes said that “In the long-run we are all dead.” But for people living in fragile states affected by violence, the short run can be deadly too.

The challenge is to balance swift action with long-term stability and security. The two must be carefully paced and sequenced if we are to make progress, both sooner and later.

Not by bricks alone.

Frustration with the slowness of recovery efforts has focused attention on the short-term part of the story. No wonder. We have seen the promise of peace dashed so often by tardy action on meeting immediate needs.

Look at Haiti. Whoever emerges from the presidential elections will be under huge pressure to get a lot done fast, from controlling the cholera epidemic and rebuilding homes to getting intimidating gangs off the streets and creating jobs.

We've been there many times before in fragile places the world over - whether they are emerging from the devastation of violent conflict, exacerbated in Haiti by the earthquake, or about to plunge into it. Neither national leaders nor the international community have been effective enough in responding to the pressures that lead to conflict or reignite its embers.

Speedy action to meet immediate needs is a good start but it is not enough on its own to solve what is perhaps our greatest development challenge -- giving a stake in the future to the 1.5 billion people who are forced to look on as the middle income countries power ahead, with many lower middle income states on their heels.

Encouraging leaders to do the right thing

Nicholas van Praag's picture

“Spare the stick, spoil the child.”

Rewarding the rewardable

That was the advice from proponents of the tough love approach to parenting that prevailed in Victorian times.

 

Plus ça change. Looking around the world today, encouraging leaders in fragile states to do the right thing, whatever that might be, is more about punishing them for erring in the performance of their governance duties than rewarding them for doing good.

 

There is a panoply of international sanctions to punish leaders who abuse human rights, undermine constitutionality or indulge in corruption. Some are regional, others global. Some are formal, others informal. Whatever their provenance or legal standing, the stick remains the instrument of choice.

 

Mechanisms to recognize or reward good leadership are few and far between. Yet leaders are human and, unless they are beyond redemption, they are more likely to respond to recognition and rewards than sanctions and reprimands.

 

The Nobel Peace Prize and the Ibrahim Prize are both strong incentives and could be emulated to acknowledge the contribution of leaders who consistently do well.  Why not find ways, for example, to reward ministers who make a lasting impact on corruption or top brass in the military who reform the security sector peacefully? 

 

Overcoming past traumas to build a stable future

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims. Photo by Adam Carr, February 2005.

If your child is murdered or your friend is tortured or someone tries to kill you, it is tough to forgive and forget.   Animosities that spring from these kinds of brutality run deep. Yet moving on emotionally and psychologically is an important part of rebuilding society after the trauma of conflict and violence.

 Different societies deal with these things in different ways. This week Hilary Clinton visited a former prison in Cambodia where thousands were held before being sent to their deaths in the killing fields. She urged the authorities to proceed with trials of the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge so that the country can ‘confront its past’.

This followed the decision by Prime Minister Hun Sen that there would be no more prosecutions after the trials of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders already charged.  The prime minister says the country needs to bury the past. Ms. Clinton argues that a country that is unable to confront its past is a country that cannot overcome it.

 

The same day, there was another story describing how East Timor’s President Jose Ramos Horta plans to free Gastao Salsinha, the former rebel who shot and badly wounded him in 2008. The UN Secretary General, rights groups, and the opposition have reacted to the decision with dismay, saying it will undermine the rule of law.

 

For President Horta, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, it is about mercy and reconciliation. With internal tensions still strong in his impoverished Asian nation, he believes offering clemency is an opportunity to consolidate peace and stability which outweighs arguments for punitive justice.

 

Is there a right approach to this thorniest of post-conflict problems? Research for the WDR finds that over the last three decades almost 40 countries have implemented various measures to redress serious human rights abuses.