Fragile states have been at the heart of Western development and security strategy for over a decade. Bringing together the findings of five case studies of states that show clear signs of illegitimacy or a weak capacity to govern, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guatemala, Kosovo and Pakistan, this paper examines the roots and dynamics of state fragility by placing the spotlight on the way political power works. The paper highlights the aspects of political economy that give rise to weak or fragile state institutions, freeze or reverse attempted reforms, create public insecurity and paralyse economic development.
The paper concludes with suggestions that may help guide a pragmatic and realistic approach. Above all, donors must be constantly sensitive to the structures of power, interests and incentives that can capture and subvert new formal governance arrangements.
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