On June 12- 13, 2014, WPF hosted a seminar on The Political Marketplace: Developing a Framework for Addressing the Real Politics of Coercion and Corruption. Below is an excerpt from the seminar briefing note, which you can find in full here.

Existing models for peace-making, state-building and stabilization, which assume that “fragile states” can move, under international tutelage and sponsorship, towards capable and legitimate states, are wrong. Peace agreements that consist primarily in allocating rents to belligerents only reinforce the logic of a rent-based political marketplace. Indeed, international efforts to achieve stabilization and state-building by channeling effort and resources through governments are more often counterproductive than not.

Rethinking is needed especially in the case of overt political marketplace systems. These are places where:

(a) Political disputes are not resolved by institutional rules and procedures;

(b) Control over the instruments of violence is dispersed;

(c) Political finance is in the hands of political, military or corporate interests; and

(d) They are integrated into the global order in a subordinate position.

It follows that we need to develop an alternative language, framework and metrics that are honest to the realities of these countries. Case studies discussed in this seminar include: Sudan, South Sudan, Chad, Somalia, Egypt, Tunisia and Afghanistan. We hope that this can be the basis for a frank discussion about the problems of violence and corruption that they face.

For many scholars and practitioners who have worked in so-called “fragile states,” from Afghanistan to Mali, and in states purportedly in “transitions to democracy,” from Burma to Tunisia, the existing models and language for state-building simply do not fit reality. Specialists involved in military stabilization efforts, peacekeeping, governance and security sector reform, economic development and law enforcement, share a similar set of concerns: the concepts and language they are obliged to use in their professional lives do not match with the lived realities of the countries in which they are working.

In extremis, one participant described how international officials in Somalia spent their office hours working on systems and procedures that they knew were a fantastical construction, and in the evening secretly read the papers of political analysts to find out what was really going on—like clandestine users of pornography. Meanwhile, any Somali officials who spoke publicly about the “real politics” of the country, including the graft, patronage payouts and commercial-political bargaining, would be treated as if they were breaking the rules of acceptable behavior.

The seminar sets out to develop a set of conceptual tools and working models to allow political scientists and policymakers to bridge this gap.

Read the entire seminar briefing note [pdf].

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