What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Corruption, corruption, corruption, corruption, corruption

If you find the title weird, it is because it is in reference to something that I find really weird, and not only me, but many of the observers actually paying attention to what they see in Afghanistan and its region, in fact.
"Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Friday that the United States could start holding Afghanistan’s government accountable for corruption by withholding money for projects “where we control the flow of dollars.” "
Well, in Pakistan, the US is certainly not in control throwing out the window all those billions, so why bother trying the same thing there? Beyond the sick sort of coherence of the above message, it is in reality a puzzle how corruption is fought in one place and not fought in another. Or how differently the solution is seen and how this is presented as though it would be the most natural thing: more money to Pakistan to build capacity, less money to Afghanistan to build capacity...
In an article in the latest issue of the Economist, they start out in their usual way, telling the world what the world thinks (which is always just purely awesome journalism by the way): "IT WAS no secret what the world wanted to hear from Hamid Karzai when Afghanistan’s president was sworn in for a second term on November 19th: a commitment to get tough on corruption."
While I certainly recognize that instances of amazingly corrupt conduct can be found with ease in Afghanistan, I inevitably wondered, reading this, what sort of corruption they are thinking of.
- Corrupt handling of the over two-thirds of resources provided by the West that are NOT handled by the Afghan government?
- Corruption in the underpaid Afghan police, financed from the Law and Order Trust Fund? (As this is what has most of an impact on the ground, away from Kabul..)
- Corruption in how a certain percent of aid ends up with the Taliban, often through their "contracts officer" in Kabul?
- Corruption in how armed groups across the country, among them the Taliban, profit from logistical contracts of the US military, ripping off contractors?
Etc. You get the point.
A radical critique of Western state-building was provided early on by Frantz Fanon (1961). In the conclusion of his Wretched of the Earth he said "let us not pay tribute to Europe by creating states, institutions and societies which draw their inspiration from her. Humanity is waiting for something other from us than such an imitation, which would be almost an obscene caricature. If we want to turn Africa into a new Europe, and America into a new Europe, then let us leave the destiny of our countries to Europeans. They will know how to do it better than the most gifted among us."
Fanon was not very strong in offering an alternative, however, and since the end of old colonialism there are historical examples of how what he rejected could actually work quite well in a number of places (and is consequently hardly an exclusively European thing in fact). But we should certainly beware of trying to run Afghanistan while contributing in a major way to making it an obscene caricature. Or: we should rethink our ways.

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