A Democratic Alliance of Development

The President elect has pledged action on the issues of energy supply and global warming.  He has been outspoken on the Darfur “genocide” and has criticized some African leaders for corruption.  He has a close advisor in Susan Rice who is well versed in the problems of Africa, having been Assistant Secretary of State under President Clinton.  She brings knowledge of AIDS, global poverty, conflict and terrorism as these issues relate to Africa.  And while Obama will have many priority issues to deal with when he takes office, he should be carful not to relegate the Africa related issues to the back-bench.  He should also be aware, as I am sure Susan is, that the problems that plague Africa cannot be dealt with in isolation from one another.

Aside from the humanitarian interests, the existence of al-Qaeda franchises in Algeria and Morocco, threaten not only those countries but Europe as well.  If failed states are, indeed, a Petri dish for the growth of terrorism, then Africa is an incubator.  The problems in a number of countries feed on each other.  Impoverishment, overpopulation, lack of resources, lack of education, corruption of leadership, draught and disease are the handmaidens of a failed state.  Global warming promises greater problems in the future, as arid areas expand and food crops contract.  Diseases like malaria will threaten new areas as warming and humidity patterns change.  And those individuals who manage to attain a higher level of education will be lured away by higher salaries than impoverished states and institutions can afford to pay.

Foreign assistance, external forces, sanctions, and mediation are among the few tools available to the West, to exert leverage for change.  If the mantra of the Obama Administration in America is “change,” it is all the more appropriate for the failing states of Africa.  Too often, our tools for change are blunt instruments or are not suited to the job.  While sanctions may have worked in Libya, they seem to have little impact on Sudan other than to increase the plight of the average Sudanese citizen.  Foreign forces can perhaps stabilize a situation, but are poorly designed to repair a country.  As for foreign assistance, it seems to have little lasting effect in the absence of good governance, corruption and the cleptocracies that prevail in too many countries.  It is a noble thought to expect that programs like the Millennium Challenge Account can impact on a failed state.  But the very nature of the Account precludes it from investing in a failed state.  Good governance is not an attribute that is in great demand in the most desperate countries where the watchword among the authorities is “take what you can get.”  Another major engine for growth in a developing economy, foreign direct investment is also not available given confiscatory laws, instability, xenophobia and other deterrents to rational investment.  And it is not at all clear that traditional aid programs, which seek to build infrastructure and bottom up development, are equal to the task, particularly when aid personnel are constantly under the threat of attack and death. 

While it is tempting to allow failed states to go their own way and devolve into chaos, the problem is that they too often are infectious to their neighbors and offer a safe haven to thugs, criminals, and terrorists.  But if our traditional tools are inadequate to deal with the problems of rebuilding societies, then perhaps the new administration should begin over and, working with other democratic states, building on some of the lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan, Northern Ireland and other crisis spots, and using the lessons of the past in terms of foreign assistance and private investment, build a new model for international intervention in situations like Sudan. 

An international study group of counter terrorist, foreign policy, political experts, and development experts, freed of the institutional jealousies, stereotypes and prejudices of existing institutions, might be able to offer a basis for international cooperation among like minded governments to deal with the disease of failed states.  While I am not an advocate of the concept of a league of democracies, in this case, an international effort among democracies might be able to propose credible policies and institutions that could deal effectively with issues like global poverty, disease, corruption, hunger and other destabilizing forces. Certainly, more of the same, as we have seen over the past decade, is not going to work.