Aspirations of being a flailing state

Lant Pritchett has a working paper called “Is India a Flailing State? Detours on the Four Lane Highway to Modernization,” which is wonderful wordplay on the more commonly used failed state.  In it, he defines a flailing state as one where “the elite institutions at the national (and in some states) level remain sound and functional but that this head is no longer reliably connected via nerves and sinews to its own limbs.”

I was reminded of this new categorization when I read about the Nepalese government’s failure to spend any of the $4.1 billion donated after the earthquakes four months ago. Reuters reports that 9,000 people died in the quakes and that 10% of the population is still “living in plastic tents, preyed upon by flies and mosquitoes, with muddy paths and no drains.”  

So what has this incredibly dysfunctional government been doing instead?  First, they cannot agree on a plan of aid distribution and second, the government is spending all of its time trying to “pass a contentious constitution that will create a new political system and divide the country into new regions, a decision that has led to deadly clashes.”  I’m guessing those two points are closely related.  In short, the government is so divided that they have decided to focus on politicking and sowing political violence rather than distribute the money to the tens of thousands that desperately need it.

Makes me think that Nepal is a flailing state in its dreams. We apparently need a new category between failed and flailing.

Another Latin American President digs himself a hole

The Mexican government was not amused by the Uruguayan President’s recent remarks.  In the Latin American edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, President Mujica said of Mexico: “It gives one the sense, seen from a distance, that this is a kind of failed state, in which public authorities have completely lost control.” In case there was any doubt, he went on to say that Mexico was infested or rotten with corruption.  Yikes, those are the kind of sentiments that should probably not be expressed publicly.  It seems like in this instance at least, Mujica hired the same PR people as EPN.

Mexico asked the Uruguayan ambassador for an explanation of this insult, and Mujica went into damage control.  His explanation is ironically so over the top though that it is not very convincing. The President said:

“The crude news that reaches us about the consequences of drug trafficking in countries like Guatemala, Honduras and now Mexico shout to us a lesson of true pain that could show us our own futures. They are not, nor will be, these nations, innocuous or failed states…” [note: the word innocuous seems comically odd in this context; I checked the original and it doesn’t seem to just be a translation error]

The Mexicans should tell the Uruguayans to butt out, that “when it comes to hole digging, we got this.”

“The corpse of a failed state”

The NY Times had an excellent article and slideshow yesterday called A Haitian State of Mind.  In it, they profile the work of Paolo Woods, a photographer who grew up in Italy with a Dutch mom and Canadian dad.  He attributes his unusual upbringing to his fascination with questions of national identity and statehood.

He moved to Haiti to try to understand what it means to live in a “failed state.”  In his words: “How does a failed state live? Who takes the place of the state? How is society organized and how does it reorganize on the corpse of a failed state?”

Woods has some interesting things to say about the effect of NGOs on the island:

“I am convinced the NGOs do not do development. If you go through Haiti, it is littered with the projects of NGOs — mills, canals, thousands of different projects that were built and inaugurated with beautiful pictures that ended up in glossy brochures and that no longer exist. They come to Haiti without a knowledge of the place, and when they leave, everything they constructed falls because they did not create a structure to keep it up.”

He also finds evidence of hope, that people want a functioning government that would provide law and order.  He points to an illegal housing development where the people had named the streets and left lots open for a future town hall and police department. He notes that “This is a completely illegal settlement, yet they desire the presence of elements that represent the state. The whole idea of anarchy and that they are people who do not want a functioning government is completely contradicted by that.”

Here is one of his photos in the show.  It is of Michel Martelly, the current president, in front of a crumbling presidential palace: