Thursday, January 14, 2016

Competing for the Future: Propositions of Power and Governance, by Alan Whaites

SDG 16 Blog Series:  No 2 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

This series of blogs considers the new ways of working that will be needed to help support the achievement of Goal 16 of the SDGs.  These will include not only improving the impact of aid programming, but also adopting new ideas emerging from the beyond aid agenda, such as Thinking and Working Politically.  But perhaps the most significant area of change will come in addressing the potential spoilers to Goal 16 – complex development problems such as the emergence of Global Bads. 

This blog considers this issue and abridges GovNet’s background paper on the drivers of `und-development; `Competing for the future: Propositions of Power and Governance.’  A paper that argues that the World is no more dangerous than it was, indeed by some measures it is a safer place. In addition, enormous progress has been made in spreading economic growth and access to basic services to an increasing number of people. But there is a sense that our remaining development challenges have become more complex and elusive.  Expectations had been of a future focused on the needs of a small group of `left behind states.’ This is not, and will not be, the case. What the Centre for Systemic Peace (CSP) calls `un-development,’ instability and the potential failure of middle income countries, has become an unavoidable challenge.  


The visible causal issues of this challenge (including organised crime) exploit evolving global dynamics that threaten to outpace development practice. Social, criminal and ideological violence, account for far more fatalities than traditional political conflict. By some measures, the bloodiest war zone in the world is not the middle-east but three countries in Central America. The causes, whether of extremism in the Middle East or organised crime in Central America, are multi-dimensional and trans-national, as are the effects. None of the individual elements are new, the trends discussed in the GovNet paper are well known. However, the ways in which they combine are evolving, as are the impacts, the latter reflected in complex regional security, crime and refugee issues.  

GovNet’s paper argues that the multi-dimensional and transnational nature of these challenges do represent change, and are partly a consequence of development itself. Education, integration and economic growth have transformed societies and people.  These positive human development impacts also bring countervailing risks, particularly when unequally distributed.  These risks become acute when political systems fail, with development creating an age of `choice’ driven problems, rooted in the calculations that people make in relation to their own welfare, aspirations and beliefs.   They are part of a pattern of changes that Tom Carothers and Richard Young report have created a spike in a growing trend of protests movements.  

The familiar nature of the drivers of these problems underlines that a set of issues once seen as `on the horizon’ of politics and violence are now development reality.  Even while traditional measures of fragility decline, development actors will need to engage with these trends.  A consequence is that, as Jack Goldstone commented for the paper: `the age of treating ‘fragile states’ as discrete and isolated problems found in the least developed nations, in which we could choose to intervene or not and hope they would not bother us again, are gone – if those days ever truly existed.  What we face today is a set of transnational ideological and structural forces that can play havoc with the social order in even middle income states and create crises that spill across borders and affect regional and global security.’  

These dynamics help to explain why nearly half of all states defined by traditional measures  as `fragile’ are now middle income, and why protest can turn to instability so quickly.   GovNet’s paper, `Competing for the Future,’ supports the arguments of those who like Vanda Felbab-Brown suggest that whether talking about extremist groups in the Middle East or organised crime in Central America there is an element of competitive state making involved.  Equally, as Felbab-Brown points out, the indifference or connivance of state actors can effectively cede the competition to criminal or extremist groups. For most of these groups, this contestation is not confined to gaining power – but competition for the idea of governance and the right to define power itself.

To help the process of achieving SDG 16, development actors must therefore now find answers to challenges that are by nature regional and global. The familiarity of the themes should not mask the problem of change and adaptation. This paper argues that new approaches need to be developed, particularly to step into trans-national and local spaces.   The multi-dimensional nature of the issues also poses questions regarding the need for improved cross-sectoral working, bringing together governance, conflict and social development actors in ways encouraged by the Sustainable Development Goals, but not necessarily naturally facilitated by development structures and systems. 

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