Fixing a failed African state

This is a thought experiment, assuming a lot of money and control over the upper echelons of government.

Let us imagine a failed state, say, somewhere in west Africa - and to be honest, take your pick of states that resemble my hypothetical. It has abundant natural resources that are in the hands of foreign multinationals; resource competition means that it is subject to raids from outside. It has a fertile climate but much of the population is still farming at subsistence level. Various militias and warlords are vying for control of outlying areas. Urban areas are subject to high crime. Corruption is endemic.

If you were suddenly given control over this country, how would you set about “fixing” it?

These are my priorities, in order:

  1. Stamp on corruption. I have no idea how this would work. It would have to come from the top down, and be met with severe punishment. I know Lee Kuan Yew managed it in Singapore with the ‘Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau’ and it worked - but it would require bodies like the CPIB themselves to be monitored to avoid corruption. There would need to be constant vigilance.

  2. Seal the borders. There will be enough trouble within the country without incursions from outside. This would provide employment; however, a non-corrupt army would also be required. See 1.

  3. Ramp up security. Massive injection of funding and armaments to protect government, infrastructure, cultural heritage, and the organs of state including the security forces themselves. Must be balanced between different forces to minimise the possibility of coup or overthrow.

  4. Disarm the general population. A controversial move on this board; however, to maintain order, the police and armed forces would be required to have the upper hand and not be subject to attacks from rebels and brigands. Additionally, workers dealing with infrastructural development should not be subject to robbery or insurgent attack. This would help to reduce crime too.

  5. Massive infrastructural development. Imported engineers should oversee the building of highways and railways, ports and depots. Without the movement of goods and people, the country will never be able to profit from trade. State control of natural resources initially, to prevent profit flight.

  6. Educate the population. Massive school-building programmes and compulsory education to 16 years. This would create problems with working children in rural areas - so a child supplement payment must be given to all parents who educate their children. Adult education centres should be provided - universities in the major cities, with an emphasis on practical education before research. In rural areas, free courses on health and agriculture.

  7. Healthcare. Free-at-delivery healthcare available to all. Hospital/clinic building programmes and the injection of foreign medical workers to train local people in full medical training, and basic health provision.

How do people feel about these provisions? Which are too controversial? What else would be required that I’ve overlooked?

I think the fact that something similar happened in Malaya/Singapore gives some hope. But actually, would they work at all? Should elections be banned at first for, say, ten years? Would it be more efficient for this government to act in a more democratic way?

Suggested only half humorously: Declare war on the USA.

Ouch. Are you asking this with a Rawlsian perspective? That is, so deattached from reality as to make it a completely theoretical exercise with assumed omnipotence and limitless resources? Would the answers your expecting differ much had you based the question on a hypothetical moon base that underwent similar problems? Or are you asking with more limited assumptions in mind? If so, what do you see as the main stumbling blocks to, say, Benin or the Congo (plain RoC, not DRoC) in achieving the Millennium Development Goals over time?

Ultimately the success of a nation depends on the capability of its native peoples.

So far, despite efforts undertaken in many or most of the pathways you describe, failed African nations haven’t shown much promise.

There seems to be more effort at blaming the rest of the world–nefarious Multi-national Corporations Raping Our Country; Colonialization; US CIA inciting tribal wars–on and on go the various theories, always looking to place blame on outsiders and history, and less focus on getting their own act together: stop being violent toward one another; stop being personally corrupt; stop focusing on immediate gratification and build toward a future; stop stealing…

Did you ever meet one of those people whose life is wretched and who has an excuse for everything that ever went wrong in their life? Africa is that person on a grand scale.

I see no hope for most African nations to ever be much more than they are now. The list of those promoting the notion that Africa’s problems are the fault of Everyone Else is limitless. Other nations with different populations have risen from the rubble of war or of horrible national mismanagement. It’s a highly unpopular and ferociously-attacked notion that the people of Africa themselves are less capable of forming stable and succesful modern societies. But so far massive amounts of aid, a thousand wonderful New Plans and decades of freedom have not moved many of them from dependent and developing to contributory and developed.

As they say on TV: Our People Make the Difference.

I’m sorry… did you say decades of freedom? Well, I guess about four since independence is technically “decades” of freedom, but casting it in the light of “oh, those people again, haven’t they got their act together yet?” is a bit naive in terms of recent and long-term history.

There was a similar thread a year or go or so where we did this sort of question. MrDibble and I had a rather spirited exchange of ideas as I recall.

I stand by my conviction in that thread. Truly failed states in Africa, or any other remote, mostly rural area will benefit from temporary outside management by a stable foster nation. This is NOT the same as colonialism. What you have to do to ensure some of those goals is create enough stability, for enough time, to educate and train a population of native peoples to assume control of themselves in the world.

  1. All foreign interests are subject to revocation, revision, provision, or amendment. In the event of a “failed state” that comes under this program, all business and privately owned interests are subject to this clause. Good deals and companies will be allowed to stay and provide jobs, bad or exploitative ones will be revoked and booted out.

  2. All proceeds from said interests will be held in trust by a neutral third party for the new government AFTER it is turned back over to it’s people.

  3. Agree to meet with all factions regardless of political stripe. Amnesty for everyone who agrees to diplomatic arbitration of their grievances.

  4. Useful infrastructure before non essential. Roads and clean water before military bases and governmental buildings.

  5. Massive and rapid development of sustainable, local agriculture. All genetic bans are lifted, and restrictions temporarily relaxed to spur rapid development of useful native crops. When everyone is fed, everyone is more peaceful in general.

  6. Immediate expulsion at the state;s expense of any foreign religious group who cannot or will not comply with basic health principles (catholics and condoms for example). The people may practice as they wish, but health concerns trump religious dogma in emergency situations. Churches will not recieve state sponsorship or tax breaks.

  7. Linguists will be imported, and a study will be done to form an official native language that is acceptable to all major tribal groups and dialects. This will be used for all official functions, with availability in other dialects, and languages available at need.

  8. All civil servants, and officials will have a native apprentice if a qualified person cannot be drawn from the population immediately. These people will form the first wave of *necessary bureaucracy * when they are deemed ready to assume control. They will be subject to reviews and termination during this period.

That;s enough to start with I think.

jjim’s program is basically what Kagame is doing now in Rwanda. He sees LKY’s Singapore, and the other rapidly developing nations of SE Asia as the models he wants to emulate.

The returning Tutsi diaspora, with their Western educations and skills are playing a substantial role. As a practical matter, a rapidly growing, more prosperous Rwanda will of necessity recreate the wealthy, dominant Tutsi class, which will in turn become the focus of Hutu resentment. There probably isn’t any way to grow the country as a whole without allowing the people with the most education and best skills to become rich. So it may come down to basic political skill - how to convince people that the enrichment of others is not a cause of their own relative poverty.

Kagame’s become the man to watch in Africa now, darling of international development orgs. The odds are against him, of course. If it can work in a country as ravaged as Rwanda, it can work in other parts of Africa too.

On the language issue, Africans are, in my experience, overwhelmingly interested in learning Western languages, especially English. English offers them a window on the world in a way that other languages don’t, and English is ethnically neutral.

Kagame has switched Rwanda from French to English as the Western language of choice, partly because of France’s role in supporting the regimes that fostered the genocide, and part because of the Tutsi diaspora’s years of exile in English speaking countries.

Ah comon, just send some laptops

Language is an interesting question. It does have a lot of power neutrality-wise (that’s an odd turn of phrase, no?), but there are political implications (e.g., if you’re trying to impart distance to your Francaphone past, can you expect the same aid from Francaphone countries?) and trade-offs (e.g., if primary school education (or lack thereof) is a major problem, is importing/paying for language instruction a better investment than in basic maths and sciences?).

In Kagame’s case, he doesn’t appear to need French aid. The other question is how much aid the French have to give relative to English speaking nations.

It is a major issue, though, especially in countries with a long French speaking tradition and language infrastructure. In a poor nation, the costs of switching to another language may be prohibitively high.

I wonder of the Chinese are trying to establish Mandarin as a major language in the countries to whom they give aid?

Can I state something before you proceed?

African States are not interchangeable. This is hard to follow because as westerners we tend to buy into the concept of “Africa” for simplicity sake. In reality there is no such thing as “Africa” outside of the plain simple geographical sense (a continent). There is nothing political, linguistical, cultural, historical, or religious that unites Africans or justifies this grouping. However as outsiders (but mostly due to our own historical racial concepts) we use this blindingly simple paradigm that has no basis in reality.

Compare this to India/South Asia which as much religious, linguistical and cultural diversity but shares many uniting factors: historically (fully united during many times in history under Ashok/Mugels -or in the case of the south, Rajaraja-), or religiously (majority follow dharmic faiths -one of the many flavours of Hinduism- or due to partition, Islamic blocks), or politically (united under one recent colonizer, England). Due to historical reasons this is not true for “Africa”.

There is more uniformity among the states of the Americas (yes, north/south/central) then there is for “Africa.” I can’t state this enough “Africa” doesn’t exist. Not in the way YOU think it does. All the books/news reports/people who you see using the word “Africa” are using a false paradigm. Before we think of helping “Africa” we first need to understand what we are helping.

How do you fix this mentality? Think of regions or historical states superimposed onto the historical colonies WHICH NOW CONSTITUTES THE MODERN STATES. I know, it hard. However it is necessary.

This will make it a bit simple.

  1. Pick a nation. Just one, please, forget tackling all of “Africa,” not now, not all at once. Pick a nation… say Ghana.

  2. Read about the demographic details (religious and ethnic makeup) this will give you a feel for the number of identifiable groups and their relative sizes. Ask questions like: Is there an ethnic plurality or not? a religious one? How does ethnic groups and religious groups mix? Does religion split along ethnic lines or not? What about language? ethnic groups and language groups are usually not the same. Which groups speak which language? How different are the languages in question? What about dialects? How do they split among the language groups?

Just stats (sans analysis) for Ghana from the CIA factbook:

*Side note: the geographical locations of the demographic groups is very important as this show relations and possible tensions betweens them.

  1. Read about the political history of that nation. This includes pre and post colonial. Start in the pre-colonial history to show how things were run and how groups interacted with the other groups. It also will help you learn about which groups are more closely related to which other groups and if there is a deep history of ethnic/religious strife between them. Starting from that you should continue the colonial history which –most likely- shaped the modern state that you are interested. There are a thousand questions to ask for this time period but to keep it (too) simple the most important things to learn are: Who was the colonizer? How was the colony run? Did they build an educated administrative class? What basic infrastructure was laid down? Did the state act as a political cohesive unit?

Now read about the post colonial history. Who were the rulers? How was it run? What economic system was followed (communist/capitalist/mix)? Was they political security? Was there a strong concept of national pride? Was there strong sense of demographical tension? Is there any political, linguistical, cultural, historical, or religious cohesiveness that was forged before/during/after the creation of the modern nation? These are simple questions that need to be asked.

This is a very complicated task. With Ghana I am clueless. I know it was an English colony. That is pretty much it. When it comes to knowledge about Africa, western ignorance reins supreme. Here is a simple rundown (

  1. Read about its geographical details. Where is it located? Who are it’s neighbours? What is the climate? What are the economical details? And so on…Then repeat these steps for every one of that country’s neighbours.

If you want to learn about “Africa” do these steps for all the 50+ states.

These are simple questions that we already know of any country in Europe but we don’t even ask about when “Africa” is concerned. We fall onto stupid discussions about discredited racial theories due to our ignorance of basic history or our knowledge of politics. We must admit that we know jack about these people, and we need to learn before we can even try to talk about them.

Orcenio, The points you bring up are valid, but if the failed states are ever to grow and prosper, the people will have to learn to think of themselves as (national identity) first, (tribal identity) second. They will have to be convinced to work for the good and peace of everyone, rather than their family, or tribal group.

I know what your saying but please, lets lay off of the aphorisms. At least until we learn about history and politics first. :slight_smile:

What Aphorisms? Placing aside differences to work for a common good is a basic necessity of society building. Without it, most of the history and tribal politics is completely irrelevant since they won’t get anywhere. I understand your point, but we are talking about fixing a failed state, and that requires a lot more than understanding. The simple fact is that while Africa as a whole certainly does encompass a wide variety of cultures and ecosystems, most of the nations share a similar cultural heritage of tribal allegiances rather than national identities. This is a major contributor, along with poor education and poverty that combines to create a lot of the corruption and infighting seen in so many African countries.

I agree in most. Although I don’t know where you are planning all the money should come from. To save on the expenses one could imagine the investments are first directed towards small areas of the country, which – like in China – should at some point function as the engine of growth for the rest of the country.

…in addition:

  • Kick out all the international NGOs
  • Stop trying to blame everybody else for the malaises in ones own country
  • Foster a feeling of national patriotism (rather than tribal allegiance, or pan-Africanism or allegiance based on religion)
  • Set up special tax-free zones for international companies to invest in.
  • Invest in family planning. Population growth is swamping any income increase.
  • Combat unnecessary bureaucracy. Other side of combating corruption.

So they should just accept the artificial groupings imposed on them, sit in a circle, and start singing Kumbaya so that real progress can finally start taking place? So if aliens or whatnot told Texas and parts of Mexico that they were suddenly a single nation, and for centuries played on those differences (e.g., really playing up to the George Bush/Don’t Mess with Texas crowd as well as the Che-loving, Santa Ana idolizing crowds), that it’s remotely realistic to just brush off that experience and tell them that they should all just get along?


You mean like the ones helping to train election workers? Or those that are providing engineering assistance for clean water projects? Or those helping to wire government facilities to the Internet? Or those providing legal aid to the poor?