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Fragile States: Development in the World’s Basket Cases

1/19/10

Vijaya RamachandranMy guest this week is Vijaya Ramachandran, a senior fellow here at the Center for Global Development. Vij directs the Center’s research on fragile states—countries where, often due to recent or ongoing conflict, the basic functions of government are weak or nonexistent. These states present special challenges to aid donors and practitioners, both in planning how to give aid effectively and in delivering it.

Vij explains that learning how to respond to state fragility will hold benefits for development even in more functional states. “"We certainly have a set of countries that are a complete puzzle to policymakers, to development practitioners, to the foreign assistance community,” she explains. “But there are other countries that have weaknesses within them, elements of fragility. They might not be fragile overall, but they may have certain areas that are in need of assistance, or they may at different points in time present as cases that are representative of very weak states.”

Together with visiting fellow Satish Chand, Vij is writing a book that will tackle these difficult issues. The book will include a set of papers that outline lessons learned by development practitioners in fragile states, and the first of those papers was just published this week. Written by Nicholas Eubank, the paper examines the fascinating case of Somaliland, a universally unrecognized breakaway republic that is home to about a third of Somalia’s population. Vij explains that, since it’s unrecognized by any other state, Somaliland has been completely ineligible for development assistance. Thus, she says, "It lends itself as a natural experiment on what happens when a government has no aid and no prospect of aid."

As it turns out, despite (or because of) a total lack of foreign aid, Somaliland has developed strong, accountable institutions of government and has outstripped the rest of Somalia on key indicators of development. In the podcast, we delve into why this might be the case and think about the implications for other fragile states.

Vij also previews some of the other papers that will be part of the fragile states series, covering topics that range from the interaction between military and development personnel in Iraq and Bosnia to the provision of basic services in Zimbabwe. You’ll find a complete listing of the forthcoming papers on our Fragile States page.

Listen to the Wonkcast to hear our conversation. Have something to add to the discussion? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.

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