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Confusion permeates Western aid programmes, says new LSE research

An LSE report summing up six years of research underlines that aid and other forms of external intervention need to be better directed in the so‐called “fragile states” of the developing world.

In the wide‐ranging report titled, Meeting the Challenges of Crisis States, James Putzel and Jonathan Di John argue that confusion permeates Western aid programmes in countries where states either face mounting violent challenges or are attempting reconstruction and state‐building in the wake of war.

The research, which comprised country and city case studies in Africa, Asia and Latin America and analysis of regional conflict trends, looked into the drivers of violent conflict in the developing world and why some states and cities have fared better than others in avoiding large‐scale violence or in rebuilding public and private organisations after war. Its implications are striking in the face of challenges facing donors today, in new conflicts in Syria and Libya, in long‐standing conflicts in places like the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and in on‐going efforts to secure peace in Afghanistan and Colombia.Afghan

The report highlights 46 policy‐relevant findings in seven thematic chapters. Some of the big messages are headlined here.

Donor attempts to promote democratic or market reforms can lead to violence

Research found that sometimes toleration of corruption, unproductive rents and less than democratic governments has actually been the price of peace. “Good governance” reforms promoted by aid agencies need to take into account existing elite bargains or they may have unintended negative outcomes on democratic and developmental possibilities.

Military Interventions Often Have Made Democracy Less Rather than More Likely

In findings relevant to the current situation in Libya and Syria, a large quantitative study of military interventions in the developing world over the past sixty years found that whatever their intentions they tended to make democracy and development more difficult to achieve in the long run.

Failures to Prioritise Security in State‐building Threaten to Undermine Aid Efforts

Comparative studies in Sub‐Saharan Africa demonstrated that where the state’s own security forces are weak or where the state cannot maintain power without unleashing violence against its own population, as is currently the case in the DRC, external efforts need to put the construction of accountable security forces ahead of other aid programmes.

Cities have become major sites of violent conflict and state‐building after war and deserve much greater attention from international aid organisations

The concentration of high‐value economic activity in the cities of fragile states makes them central to state‐building. Urban violence often written off as criminal activity is usually highly political, while both elites and social movements capable of securing progressive reforms are most likely to emerge in cities.

Understanding the organisational mechanisms and incentive structures of armed rebel groups is essential to finding a route to peace.

Research in Afghanistan and Colombia demonstrates why a knowledge and appreciation of the different motivational incentives and patterns of organisation among armed groups will be central to current efforts to strike peace agreements. The report summarises extensive research on Afghanistan and Colombia that points to the need to engage constructively with organisations like the Taliban and the FARC if peace is to become a reality.

Donor aid programmes in fragile states have not focussed enough on promoting economic production

Comparative country and city studies demonstrate the need for donors to back efforts among developing country officials to elaborate production strategies that can foster accelerated economic growth. Greater resources need to be directed to programmes to formalise and regulate informal economic activities, both to scale up growth and eliminate the possibility of using these sectors as sites of finance for violent challenges to legitimate states.

Western donors need to support the creation of taxation capacity in developing country states

The report provides plenty of evidence supporting recent moves by OECD donors, including the UK, to put resources into the creation of taxation capacity in the states receiving development assistance. Taxation is a key indicator for measuring state performance and taxation can be deployed to promote investment in sectors with developmental potential. Increasing a state’s authority and capacity to raise revenue is crucial to financing all its other activities and the only route to lessen aid dependency in the long‐run.

An extended introduction and executive summary at the outset of the report summarise its many findings on the political, economic and social dynamics of fragile states. They present new challenges to Western donors attempting to navigate the treacherous waters of conflict‐prone states.


The report can be accessed at:


To interview Professor Putzel or Dr Di John, please contact Joanna Bale on j.m.bale@lse.ac.uk

Posted 1 October 2012