Failed States

Who Else Is to Blame?

From security short falls to lack of government accountibility, Mo Ibrahim, Paul Wolfowitz, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Bruce Babbitt, and Raymond C. Offenheiser explain those contributing factors that cripple societies and inevitably keep failed states failing.

By Mo Ibrahim

There's corruption at the top, and then there's corruption at the bottom. At the commanding heights of failed states, massive theft and fraud perpetrated consistently by elites diverts funding from social projects and scares off investors. This grand corruption, when combined with the discovery of natural resources, often leads to conflict as expectations rise and are dashed when a select few capture most of the benefits. Everyday petty corruption -- baksheesh to the border guards or cash to the ambulance driver -- ironically allows daily life to go on in countries where salaries are low and irregular. But over time, this too takes its toll on a society's moral fiber, undermining governance. The unaccountable, opaque nature of all corruption is irreconcilable with the principles of transparency and accountability -- the exact principles required for the creation of peaceful, stable, and prosperous societies.

Mo Ibrahim, founder of telecommunications firm Celtel, is chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which grants an annual prize for excellent leadership in Africa and compiles an annual index of African governance. Finding no suitable candidates last year, the foundation did not award the prize.


By Paul Wolfowitz

Bribe-takers are bad enough for a country teetering on the brink of failure, but for every bribe-taker, there has to be a bribe-giver, and those givers are all too often from a rich country. These firms are enabling corruption, crippling or even killing off vulnerable states. In Africa, the Chinese are the newest offenders. But though the United States has come far from its Cold War days, when it funneled billions of dollars into corrupt Zaire, U.S. companies are no angels either. In 2008, Transparency International listed two U.S. oil companies (Exxon Mobil and Devon Energy) -- along with two Chinese and one each from India, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, and Russia -- as the least forth-coming about the revenues countries collect from them. Perhaps these companies have nothing to hide. But the best way to show they aren't paying bribes is to open their activities to public scrutiny. And we must all hold them accountable.

Paul Wolfowitz is former president of the World Bank and is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

David McNew/Getty Images

By Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin

One of the major factors that creates failed and corrupt governments around the world is us -- Americans -- and our insatiable consumption of oil. As the largest petroleum consumers in the world, we are the driving force of a global energy market in which the suppliers are often corrupt regimes maintaining power in part through the revenues they extract from our consumption. If we want to fix the problem of failed states, we must start by reforming our own approach to energy: adopting smart-growth policies, driving less, and creating alternative energy sources. Until then, we are just fueling the very corruption we condemn.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland chairs the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission).

David McNew/Getty Images

By Bruce Babbitt

If you really want to send a country into a tailspin, the key resource to tap isn't oil, gold, or diamonds, but something a bit more prosaic -- trees. The rampant, corrupt extraction of timber has been consistently, repeatedly, and devastatingly linked to state failure, from the Khmer Rouge's clear-cutting in 1990s Cambodia to Charles Taylor's deforestation-for-guns in Liberia in the early 2000s. Today in the Congo Basin, rebel groups are financing their ruinous activities by selling rainforest trees via shady European logging companies to eager consumers in the West, who prize the exotic woods. In Burma, Chinese groups are slicing away at virgin teak forests, the revenues from which are supporting the junta there. With so much corruption and secrecy involved, estimating how much of the world's timber industry is illicit is a guessing game, but the World Bank estimates annual losses due to lost revenue and resources at $10 billion -- eight times the amount of aid aimed at sustainable forest management. And beyond the environmental catastrophe of this highly unsustainable industry, timber smuggling requires a network of bribery, corruption, and graft that hollows a state from within.

Bruce Babbitt is former chairman of the board of directors of the World Wildlife Fund and was U.S. interior secretary from 1993 to 2001.


By Raymond C. Offenheiser

It may seem obvious: A government that cannot provide security for its citizens will soon find itself running a weak or failed state. But recognizing the problem doesn't make combating it much easier. From Chad to Colombia, Somalia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the absence of trustworthy security forces has inspired illicit armed groups to protect themselves and settle disputes through whatever means possible. The presence of such militias practically guarantees that a state will have difficulty expressing its authority and advancing development. Strengthening the police and military forces, however, is only half the battle; the easy flow of weapons exacerbates the proliferation of well-armed groups. Unscrupulous arms dealers are experts at exploiting the underregulated global arms trade, to deadly result. At least 95 percent of Africa's most commonly used conflict weapons, for example, come from outside the continent. So, until governments take real steps to curb arms flows, few troubled states are likely to emerge from weakness or failure.

Raymond C. Offenheiser is president of Oxfam America.


NEXT: Robert D. Kaplan: Actually, It's Mountains

Failed States

La Vie en %$!

Why is France still propping up Africa's dictators?

Almost as soon as they had been elected, Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama began planning high-profile trips to Africa. Surely the French and American presidents had more pressing priorities than addressing a continent so long ago judged unimportant to global affairs. But as it turned out, this curious exercise of "talking to Africa" offered the perfect opportunity for these two novice Western heads of state to prove that they embodied exactly what they said they did: leadership unwedded to the conventionalities of business as usual.

So our two guests came, portraying themselves as friends of the continent -- and indeed possessing an affection so profound that they were unafraid to say out loud all the unpleasant truths about Africa usually reserved for whispers in private. Like the gentleman who fondly lectures the beggar before dropping a meager coin into his jar, they came to Africa with an innate sense of superiority. Their sentiment derived, of course, from a conviction that they had done all in their power to avoid making such a mess of things, unlike the beggars -- the African countries themselves. Obama and Sarkozy, it seemed, were tormented by the desire to restore reason to the world's most irresponsible nations.

But what a shameless rewriting of history!

Certainly, Obama was courteous enough in his trip last year to Ghana. Yet even he needed reminding of the extent to which Cold War America pushed so many countries toward becoming today's "failed states." Between the two presidents, however, Sarkozy is surely the leader most deserving of rebuke. For never in modern political annals has there been anything close to the powerful, inseparable synergy between France and its former empire. At the very moment it realized decolonization was historically inevitable, Paris concocted a true masterpiece of political genius: undertaking all that was necessary in pulling out of Africa -- and doing so in such a way as to, in fact, not budge an inch.

Gen. Charles de Gaulle's trusted advisor, Jacques Foccart, was the architect of this neocolonial ruse. His methods were simple: install trusted African politicians, some with French nationality, as the heads of these 14 new states and maintain the firm, French grasp on their natural resources. It was a system that naturally bred corruption and instability -- and could hardly persist without massive abuses of human rights.

But no matter; Africa's new dictators could rest easy. Thanks to its almost 60,000 troops on the continent, the French Army could rush to their aid at a moment's notice -- and had already agreed to do so as part of defense agreements in which certain key clauses were kept secret. The French secret service was also poised to undertake, if necessary, the liquidation of the dictators' most formidable rivals. The list of African opposition figures who perished this way is dreadfully long.

In truth, the greatest fault of the French model was not that it existed in the first place, but that it so unabashedly survived the Cold War. At the time, when Moscow and Washington were behaving even more savagely in their respective spheres of influence, Paris's meddling in Africa seemed relatively benign. But today, it would be unimaginable to see the British prime minister interfering in the succession of the Ghanaian or Kenyan heads of state. And Sarkozy? He did exactly that last year when Ali Bongo emerged victorious in Gabon's disputed presidential election -- with the endorsement of the French president to succeed his father. No wonder: Bongo senior was himself installed by de Gaulle back in 1967. Jacques Chirac similarly backed the son of Togo's Gen. Gnassingbé Eyadéma in 2005.

And so it goes: France destabilizes and destroys the countries of Africa, as if nothing in the world had changed. Indeed, among all the former European colonial powers, France is unique in its refusal to decolonize. And the countries that have refused this "friendship" with Paris -- Vietnam, Madagascar, Cameroon, and Algeria -- have paid for their liberty with many hundreds of thousands of lives.

Consider Niger, where France is not content to simply extract uranium from the country while paying Third World prices; it does so under such exploitative conditions -- sucking the groundwater dry -- that agriculture has become an impossibility in this agricultural nation. Suicidally focused on supplying 40 percent of France's uranium needs, Niger may be the world's second-largest uranium producer, but it is also today one of the poorest countries on the planet. And Paris will have it no other way; the French secret service was widely rumored to have ousted the country's first president, Hamani Diori, in 1974 after he said that his country benefited not one bit from the mineral's extraction. Niger's current instability -- three coups since 1996 and an ongoing internal rebellion -- is directly linked to the French imperative to control its strategic resource.

For years, many assumed that this Françafrique had become an anachronism, one that would eventually wither and die a natural death. Yet somehow or another, the marriage keeps on working, in Gabon and Chad, Niger and the Republic of Congo, with no apparent sign of duress. France is content to pull the strings from behind the scenes in such a way that no popular African revolt could ever take aim at its involvement.

Instead, French leaders have done all in their power to nourish a profound emotional complicity in their African counterparts. In his memoirs, de Gaulle's advisor Foccart insisted upon the importance of maintaining deeply personal relationships with African presidents, far beyond what protocol requires. De Gaulle was irritated that Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic always called him "Papa," but he held his tongue, surely so as not to compromise France's provisions of tropical wood and diamonds. African counterparts felt more at ease, it was believed, with Chirac, less snobby about good food and even an aficionado of bawdy jokes -- in short, not a very complicated man.

Such a philosophy rests upon the uncomfortable notion that Africans, "joyous by nature," as Chirac once said, are simply big children. That assumed immaturity authorizes France to act in a way so undemocratic in Africa that its practices would be unimaginable back home. Unfortunately, my continent doesn't have to imagine those realities because we live them every single day -- with every deprived citizen who wants for education, for health care, or even, at times, for so much as a bowl of rice to eat. France, meanwhile, is satiated.

NEXT: Who Else is to Blame?

Illustration by Sean McCabe for FP