New Book “Betrayed” Discusses Tools for Inclusive Statebuilding

Last week, Seth D. Kaplan spoke with Maureen Quinn, Director of Programs at the International Peace Institute, about his recent book Betrayed: Politics, Power and Prosperity, in which he discusses the dynamics of poverty and tools for inclusive development. Mr. Kaplan teaches, writes, and consults on issues related to fragile states, governance, and development.

Your book discusses building inclusive societies and how these societies often succeed. What do you mean by “inclusive?”

My definition is much more of an East Asian one–I lived in East Asia for 11 years, so obviously I’m very influenced by how East Asians view development and social progress. For me, inclusiveness is not so much the type of institutions—it’s the type of society, the type of end-result of how the state behaves towards the population, how elites behave towards the population. So what I mean by inclusive–and I mean economically, politically to some extent, culturally for sure–is that the state is acting equally to all citizens. If a state can act equally for everybody, and then you have leaders, elites that, for whatever reason—whether it’s a moral obligation, an ideological necessity, or simply because they feel that everyone in their country and them are from the same group, whether it’s simply incentives or some accountability—that they’re working day in and day out on behalf of all of their population.

And I think when you look at less developed countries, one of the fundamental problems is these are generally exclusive societies with exclusive statebuilding, and it’s not about elections and it’s not about some superficial political dynamic—it’s something much more fundamental, about how the society is fractured and institutions don’t work for most people. So when I say inclusive, I’m thinking, how do you turn those dynamics around? It’s something more fundamental than the nature of the formal institutions, and more in terms of how people treat each other, how governments operate towards citizens.

So for governments and their allies—business leaders, foreign investors, donors—you list tools for inclusive statebuilding. What are these tools, and in what countries have you seen them work?

I’ll answer that question through two tracks. First, of course, a government that works better and is more apolitical and more impersonal, i.e., that is being equitable—it’s treating all people equally, whatever their ethnic, religious, class background. They’re delivering public services, in particular the rule of law, and access to certain regulations and licenses. If they can deliver that to everybody equally, that is a very important track.

But what I really emphasize in the fragile states or least developed countries is that governments don’t work very well, and what I just said about how the governments treat everybody equally is impossible in most of these countries to achieve.

Therefore, while I think that is important and is something I emphasize strongly, on a parallel track, I look for three things that are what I call the three drivers of promoting inclusiveness, or three tools you can use to promote inclusiveness. One is social cohesion, one is ideology, and the third is incentives.

Social cohesion means that you may not be a nation-state, but ideally, you’ll be a nation-state, and people feel that they’re in this together—elites feel that the poor are one of them, and therefore there’s a common vision and consensus about statebuilding. And where has that worked? That has worked best in East Asia, where you have very strong national states, but I think you see a similar dynamic in a country like Chile, you’ve had it to a certain extent in Turkey, you certainly have it in Botswana. These are countries that are pretty cohesive. I argue that Somaliland works better than Somalia because it’s a pretty cohesive entity, and Somalia, despite the fact they speak the same language, share the same religion, they’re the same ethnic group, the country is divided into clans. So Somaliand has one dominant clan, and it is much more cohesive, and the end result is much better. When the institutions are very weak, the social glue is required to compensate for that. So that’s the first tool.

The second tool is ideology, and this is very much a developmental state ideology, which I think Ethiopia and Rwanda are now the best example of. The leaders feel an accountability to society, the leaders are doing their best to act inclusively, even though the societies may not be so cohesive, and governments are not very effective, but yet the states do something positive. I see this ideology shaping the way leaders work, and it can make them work harder for their people. In most countries, the leaders are very self-interested.

The last thing is incentives. The most obvious way to have better incentives is elections, but I think in less developed countries, elections have not created strong accountability mechanisms for various reasons; therefore, I am looking at alliances between businesses and politicians, I’m looking for alliances between unions and business associations, and it depends on where a country is. In a country that is reasonably well-developed, it’s simply a thing of politics—if we can bring together enough players in politics to press for change, it’s possible. That is a way to change the incentives, get everybody on the same page, and they have a common vision.

For less developed countries where these incentives don’t work very well, you’re going to have to use some informal alliance. I would say one example of that is Indonesia that had the military, and bureaucrats, and the business elites, and they had 30 years of growth and the largest reduction of poverty outside of China in the history of the world. Again, these are all imperfect examples. But I think you’ll find many examples of this business-political, not crony capitalism, but something that gives incentives for politicians to deliver better policy, and both they personally or their countries benefit in return for that.

You also write about a continuum of statebuilding. How do you understand this continuum, and how does it relate to a country’s governance priorities?

I think one of the big mistakes in the development field is that we don’t pay enough attention to context, and we tend to group a large number of countries with very different problems. Even two neighboring countries can have different problems.

I have a triangle or a pyramid in the book, and I try to give some very rough ideas on what would be necessary at what point in the continuum, but I also say that every state is different. But I can give you some examples. Obviously, the need to have security and the need to have some basic stability is arguably more important than anything else for an average person’s life. I mean not being threatened by violence and your goods being stolen, that would be, for example, something that would be on the very bottom of the pyramid, and then you look where countries are. And we need to prioritize, we need to look much more at what is possible, and then we need to make compromises. And I think development requires compromise and trade-offs; we act as if all good things go together, as opposed to, let’s focus on a few basic things, get the basics rights, and as that progresses, as a country progresses, we can incrementally improve many other aspects. So I think this idea of a continuum, an idea of prioritization should be very important to us. I don’t think it’s even talked about in this respect by anyone in the field.

So your book talks about getting to scale in inclusive statebuilding. Can you elaborate on the two examples that you use? Firstly, you mentioned a neighborhood of weak states reinforcing each other, then you also talked about the impact of urbanization.

What I mean by that is in most less developed countries, the government’s ability to project its authority across a distance is very limited, especially when the infrastructure is bad and there are mountains and jungles. When I go to a country, I really want to spend time on the bus with the people trying to get a real feel for what daily life is like for people and how they interact with the government, how they interact with different public services, how they interact with each other and try to combine a bottom-up with a top-down understanding of things.

I would say the inability to project authority across distance plus social fragmentation make less developed countries that work relatively well in a few places—in the capital—and they don’t work well very much anywhere else, and the difference in public service is enormous. I look at this as something important to understand when I’m trying to examine a country.

And what I mean by the two examples: One is, if you’re a region where there’s lots of weak states, it’s very hard to become a strong state, because the moment you make progress, there’s a lot of spillover. I think the best example for that is Cote d’Ivoire, which was arguably the most successful or one of the two most successful African countries in the 60s and 70s, and what happened is they had a huge inflow of migrants that was to some degree destabilizing, but then also, there were wars in the neighboring countries and they eventually sucked in Cote d’Ivoire. Cote d’Ivoire had its own issues and its own problems with leadership, but the idea that you can be strong while all your neighbors are in conflict—I think that’s a hard thought to imagine in most of the world.

You can look at this in other regions, in Central America and in a few other places, where regionalism has to play a much stronger role—and many people have talked about this; I’m not unique in it. But I do think that with fragile states, it’s especially important, because it’s one of the few ways that you can make it attractive for anyone to invest; one of the ways, with some sort of partnership, you could create greater capacity at the regional level and use that capacity to try and prove how the individual states work.

If you look at a map of West Africa, you have 15 countries. One of them is Nigeria, and then you have 14 pretty small countries. The GDP of these countries is less than Norway; Norway has a few million people. Plus, they’re very divided by ethnic and religious divisions. So regionalism, I would say, would be one thing very essential to work on, and we would have to be creative in how we approach that, because mostly regionalism is built on the states. But given the role of donors in working with these states—why don’t donors work more with them to strengthen regional presence and use that to strengthen states?

And the second area is urbanization. About half the developing world is now basically urban; it’s a dramatic change from 30 or 40 years ago. I think a more urban-based governance model will offer much better incentives for performance, because the leaders are more accountable, because people can form institutions to pressure their governments much better in a city than they can in a weak fragile state with weak infrastructure, limited infrastructure.

And the best example I have is Lagos, which is now working reasonably well, with 15 years of solid progress since it became democratic, and it’s had two capable leaders. Yet Nigeria seems to be going no place, despite all of its oil money, while Lagos is now 75% dependent upon local taxes. So it’s a sign of a city doing better than a state.

Jerry Rawlings, the former president of Ghana, writes the introduction of your book. Why did you ask him, and what made his approach to governance in Ghana noteworthy?

I asked Jerry Rawlings because I’m looking at countries that have massive turnarounds because of an example set by a leader. He came to power in a coup, which is surely controversial and not something I recommend, and he returned power to the democratic politicians. That didn’t work out. He tried it a second time, and then he basically turned Ghana around.

Ghana from 1956 to 1981 had an average GDP growth of -1% per year. And this was arguably the most promising African country—it had a very famous leader, had better education than most countries, but it was simply not doing well. But Rawlings acted very inclusively. He’s a person who adopted very practical economic policies, even though he was very much to the left. In addition, he adopted a mixture of policies that tried to make the country more inclusive. So he was pragmatic, not ideological. He’s a person who, if you spend time with him and you see what he’s done—he isn’t perfect, every leader isn’t perfect—but he basically acted over and over again on behalf of his country. And what he did was—besides the fact that he made enormous economic change—he decentralized, introduced different things to make the north of Ghana more included, and so on. He also, after a dozen years, introduced real elections—he ran twice and won, and he retired in his 50s.

So I just think despite the fact that like every great leader, he’s in some way flawed, I think he’s done incredibly good things, and he’s an example of someone who acted, at least in his mind, on behalf of his country, not on behalf of himself.

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us today on the Global Observatory.

Thank you very much, it’s my great pleasure.