What does a Hollow State look like?

According to John Robb a Hollow State has:

The trappings of a modern nation-state but it lacks any of the legitimacy, services, and control of its historical counter-part. It is merely a shell that has some influence over the spoils of the economy. The real power rests in the hands of corporations and criminal/guerrilla groups that vie with each other for control of sectors of wealth production. For the individual living within this state, life goes on, but it is debased in a myriad of ways.

A good example of a Hollow State is Zimbabwe where the Government under Mugabe no longer has legitimacy. Government systems are either in a state of collapse (witness the looting of food carried out by the Army) or are non existent (the health system). State infrastructure is broken (water) and the population has to rely on other sources, from charities or private citizens.

Zimbabwe has been spiralling out of control for years, and it’s only recently that the international community has had sufficient leverage over the Mugabe regime to bring about change, but the results have been limited. The failure by the international community to intervene both early on and with force (not necessarily hard power) has allowed Mugabe to operate with only a few (in some cases meaningless) constraints.

The widely reported cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe seems to have motivated the international community to speak out once again. Today Gordon Brown argued that:

“This is now an international rather than a national emergency. International because disease crosses borders. International because the systems of government in Zimbabwe are now broken. There is no state capable or willing of protecting its people. International because – not least in the week of the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights – we must stand together to defend human rights and democracy, to say firmly to Mugabe that enough is enough.”

But let’s be realistic. We can ramp up the rhetoric to the nth degree but without firm action, under a UN mandate, Mugabe and his horrifc regime isn’t going to disappear. Unless an individual or organisation takes the initiative this tragedy will continue to unfold.

Update: The arguments for not doing anything with Mugabe are numerous. Two arguments stand out: first the lack of an international mandate; second, a deficeincy in our collective moral responsibility. But I notice in today’s Observer online that the Archbishop of York is calling for President Robert Mugabe to be toppled from power and face trial for crimes against humanity. Could this be the moral outcry that creates the environment for a Chapter 7 intervention?

What Gordon didn’t say about Africa (but Gowan did)

Gordon Brown is getting a good write-up for his speech to the UN on Africa and development.  It’s short, sharp and effective.  Here’s the essential extract:

In the museum in Rwanda, which commemorates the thousands killed as the world looked on and looked the other way, there is a picture of a young boy who was tortured to death and the plaque reads:

Name: David
Age: 10
Favourite Sport: Football
Enjoyed making people laugh
Dream of becoming a doctor
Last words: the United Nations will come for us.

But we never did. Even as he died, that child believed the best of us. In reality, our promises meant to him nothing at all.

Today, facing famine, we promised we, the United Nations of the world, will come to help, but the hungry are dying while we wait. Facing poverty, we promise that we will come to help, but poor are dying while we wait. Facing betrayal of the Millennium Development Goals, we say again we will come, but many continue to die while we wait. And I believe our greatest enemy is not war or inequality or any single ideology or a financial crisis; it is too much indifference. Indifference in the face of sole-destroying poverty, indifference in the face of catastrophic threats to our planet.

A powerful point. But you can’t just wish away “war or inequality or any single ideology or a financial crisis”. As I’ve argued here before, differences over how to handle conflict and ideological tensions are increasingly complicating Europe’s relations with Africa. Brown’s focus today was development, but what about issues like Darfur (that’d be in the war file), the ICC indictment of Bashir and Zimbabwe (revealing deep ideological tensions)? The PM didn’t mention these – wisely – but they are fouling up the West’s relations with Africa pretty badly. And they aren’t about indifference, but real political differences over who governs Africa and how.

This is a theme that I discuss in a guest post over on the iR2P blog, where I argue that a Euro-African alliance that flourished around issues like the Responsibility to Protect a few years ago is withering.  We can’t just keep on blaming ourselves for indifference towards Africa, although we have to remain wary of it.  We need to explore the real political obstacles to continued Western engagement there.

Labour Conference keynotes in times of meltdown

Listening to Gordon Brown’s speech today, Philip Stephens notes that “Mr Brown kept his audience in its comfort zone”:

Though he set out the challenges Britain faces in a period of tumultuous global upheaval, Mr Brown did little to challenge his audience’s preconception that the present mess was all the fault of greedy capitalists.

Reading that brought to mind another Labour Conference speech in times of global upheaval: Tony Blair’s back in 2001.  Remember this?

This is a moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.

I re-read the whole thing this afternoon, and was struck by a) its brilliance, b) its insight, c) how it soars compared to Brown’s speech today and d) the extent to which – in retrospect, with all that’s happened since – it shines with an eerie messianic fervour.  It’s well worth another look: full text below the jump.


“African ownership” strikes back

It’s ten days since seven UN troops were killed in Darfur – today, one more has been killed.  In between, there have been a series of events that raise big questions about the UN’s future in Africa.  First, there was the defeat of the US-UK effort to slap arms sanctions on Zimbabwe in the Security Council – notable less for China and Russia’s vetoes than the African Council members’ (pace Burkina Faso) rejection of the resolution.  Then there was the ICC decision to charge Sudan’s President Bashir with genocide in Darfur – again, the most striking part of the international response has been the level of African opposition, with the AU’s “Panel of the Wise” announcing the charges could “lead to a lot of danger”.

The convergence of these events may mark a turning-point in how Africa fits into the international system.  African leaders are setting limits on global governance. 

For most of the last decade, the continent has been a laboratory for international institutions: it has hosted the bulk of UN peacekeepers; been the testing-ground of the Millennium Development Goals (and so the G8’s efforts to hang with Bono); and was the ICC’s focus even before the Bashir indictment.  The AU has emerged as everyone’s favorite new regional institution, not least for taking on Darfur.

For quite a few commentators, myself included, it has been almost axiomatic over the last few years that better international institutions mean a better Africa.  But we mostly missed the politics of institution-building: the interests and ideologies of African governments, and the limits on their desire to be subsumed into supranational organizations (hey there, EU specialists, does this ring a bell with you?).  There’s been lots of talk of “African ownership” over all this institution-building, but it’s all too often hollow.  In May, I was at a seminar in Berlin at which the African participants gave the phrase a kicking (check out the event report).

It was never going to be possible to keep on piling international institution on international institution in Africa.  I wrote a short piece in October 2006 arguing that the UN might find itself “Out of Africa” sooner than expected –  that looked silly as the Security Council went on to mandate blue helmets for Darfur, and mused about sending them to Somalia.  But I may not have been so wrong.  It’s too early to know whether July 2008 is a turning-point or a blip in international engagement (or interference, depending on your perspective) in Africa.  But it should be the moment we start thinking what “African ownership” really means.

Zimbabwe veto says as much about US and UK as Russia

The Russian and Chinese veto of UNSC sanctions against Zimbabwe may in hindsight have been predicable, even inevitable, but on day of the vote they came as a clear surprise to many, not least British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who only days earlier told the House the tougher sanctions were in the bag.

Leaving aside whether you believe sanctions are a good idea – I certainly do – what happened? Had Russian President Dmitri Medvedev not signed up to sanctions only days before at the G8 Summit in Japan? Did the Prime Minister simply not take “Njet” for an answer? Bit by bit, the run-up to the vote is emerging. 

It now seems the issue was driven not by No. 10, but from the 7th floor of the U.S State Department, where Jendayi Frazer, U.S Assistant Secretary of State, sits. Even though no U.S interests are at stake, Ms Frazer, an academic colleague of Condi Rice’s from her Stanford days, has focused intently on Zimbabwe, apparently raising the issue whenever she meets African leaders.

Ms. Frazer – who is known to abhor her British opposite number Lord Malloch Brown from his UN days – apparently was in the driving seat on Zimbabwe policy, after having waited in vain for a UK lead. With the US Ambassador to the UN, Zal Khalizaid, she apparently pushed hard for a tough resolution. Better to make a stand, the argument went.

But after the G8 meeting, British diplomats apparently thought that the Russians would balk and became nervous. In fairness, Brown – who had been micro-managing the issue – thought he’d gotten Medvedev on board. But either little thought was given to whether the Russian president could in fact deliver – especially after the British Prime Minister harangued him at his first summit – or the issue was not deemed important enough to merit a Russian rejection.

To be on the safe side, however, the Foreign Office apparently asked Bush to call Medvedev and Rice to raise the issue with her Russian counterpart. None of this happened and things began to fall apart. The Chinese, who diplomats believe would probably have abstained if the Russians had not decided to veto, moved to veto as well.

By then the Prime Minister had already sounded confident in his post-G8 address to the House during PMQs. As a last-ditch effort, diplomats considered tabling a weaker resolution, giving South Africa more time to find a solution and thus putting the onus back on Tabo Mbeki and, ultimately, Robert Mugabe. But the U.S – who chaired the UN Security Council – decided to go for broke, tabled the old text and the rest, as they say, is history.

In the aftermath of the no-vote, the U.S government has been quick to point out that the Russian veto shows Russian cannot be seen as a reliable partner. Russian officials have reacted angrily at this, saying Medvedev never promised support for U.N. sanctions.

But what does the episode say about U.S and UK foreign policy?  That even on an issue of such totemic importance to Britain – and where the Prime Minster has taken a personal interest – the U.S remains in the lead, yet unable or unwilling to do the necessary due diligence to ensure more than declaratory success.