2016 continues to witness a growing incidence of violent conflict around the world. These conflicts are particularly problematic in the group of 60 countries often referred to as Fragile States. Donor agencies pour billions of dollars annually, through policy advice and conditional loans to alleviate fragility and promote development. For the citizens living in these countries, change cannot come soon enough.
Development, however it is defined, involves economic, social and political transformation. Such a transformation is shaped by ideas, engages multiple interests, and proceeds within rules and norms set by political institutions. Since the structure of political institutions is influenced by human agency, leadership becomes an important factor in determining development trajectories. It is clear that leadership is crucial particularly in fragile states, where institutions are weak or have been destroyed by conflict. Leadership as an institution is paramount because it provides a transitioning society with the means to solve problems, make decisions, and craft policies. Leaders can help shape institutions that reduce uncertainty.
There is widespread agreement in the international community and among researchers that institutions matter for stable and secure states, economic growth, political democracy and inclusive social development. Policy makers and international financial institutions have been insisting on the adoption of ‘appropriate’ political, economic and social institutions in the belief that these would promote economic growth, accountability and responsiveness through good economic governance and political democracy. It takes effective leadership to achieve this.
As part of my research on the role of leadership in alleviating state fragility, I studied a number of cases that demonstrated the importance of trying to build inclusive coalitions in order to realize a transition away from fragility. In my analysis, I looked at the relationship between the change agent's leadership strategy (the independent variable: political participation and inclusion, economic growth and inclusion, and security and justice) and fragility outcomes (dependent variable: conflict and security indicators, economic indicators, and the approach to political inclusion). The results of the regression analysis exhibit a robust association between leadership and fragility. Furthermore, I also researched a number of country cases which show how different types of leadership strategies lead to varying trajectories of fragile states' post-transition. The case studies reveal different approaches to sequencing of political inclusion and the role of leadership exit in transitions from fragility.
Several of these findings are also supported by the 2011 World Development Report on Conflict, Security, and Development, which also emphasizes that coalition-building efforts will only be successful if they can address the underlying weaknesses that increase the risks of repeated cycles of violence – deficits in security, justice, and job-creation. The World Development Report 2011 also outlines four key principles that can help national leadership galvanize and sustain a virtuous cycle to address the challenges of weak institutional capacity and repeated violence:
Inclusion is important to restore confidence, but coalitions need not be “all-inclusive.” Inclusive-enough coalitions work to build national support for change and bring in relevant international stakeholders whose support is required. At the local level, the coalitions can work with community leaders and structures to identify priorities and deliver programs. Inclusive-enough coalitions help address violence through collaboration with community leaders, parliaments, civil society, private sector, and with regional neighbors, and donors.
Some quick wins are required to build confidence of citizens and create momentum for longer-term institutional transformation. When trust is low, people do not believe in big reform plans. Some early results can help build trust, restore confidence, and build momentum for reform. Sustained economic growth and socio-political development require complex structural and institutional transformations that can take a generation.
It makes sense to establish first the basic institutional functions that provide citizen security, justice, and jobs, and ensure that the new initiatives do not lose credibility due to corruption. Progress in these areas helps lay the foundation for broader change that will require addressing the longer-term issues of social attitudes to marginalized groups, political reform, deeper economic reform, and decentralization.
Leaders and their teams would do well to embrace pragmatic options to address immediate challenges. In post-conflict situations, it is important to be realistic and pragmatic in dealing with challenges, and not wait for a perfect solution based on a single ideology.
A key insight emerging from the experience of development practitioners is that inclusive-enough coalitions need to be managed dynamically; a coalition that is inclusive enough at one point may not be sufficient or sustainable as the regime matures and pressures build for strengthening political participation and inclusion. From the data and experience, it appears as though an inclusive leadership strategy helps put a country on the path out of fragility.
At the World Bank’s Collaborative Leadership for Development program, we work to help government teams build these inclusive leadership strategies that can help propel and sustain in-country reforms and improve the delivery of services for citizens.
 See Douglass C. North, Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990).
 See Adrian Leftwich and Steve Hogg, “Leadership for Development: The Role of Leaders, Elites, and Coalitions,” Research and Analytical Program 2008-2009, Global Integrity Alliance, (Canberra: AUSAID, 2009).
 See Narasimhan, Ajay Tejasvi. (2012). Toward Understanding the Nature of Leadership in Alleviating State Fragility. CGU Theses & Dissertations, 27. http://scholarship.claremont.edu/cgu_etd/27 doi: 10.5642/cguetd/27