Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Failed States corrupt, incompetent and neediest

By Martin Regg Cohn, Toronto Star, December 14, 2010
The poverty and pathos of Haiti are hardly unique. Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, North Korea — the world has no shortage of borderline failed states that are failing their people. And need help.
Here’s an unpleasant political truism: The most corrupt and incompetent countries also tend to be the neediest nations — dependent on foreign help to feed the hungry (and foreign muscle to help keep order). That’s the dirty little secret of development aid.
After years of frustrating setbacks in Afghanistan, with little to show for our sacrifices, there is a growing clamour in Canada to cut and run. Next year, we will shift from front-line combat near Kandahar to a less dangerous training role in Kabul, yet Afghanistan skeptics are suggesting we should cut our losses further, by reallocating our development aid to less corrupt countries.
The hard truth is that there is nowhere else to go if we want to remain engaged with the world. If we insisted on helping only angels — the most transparent and accountable regimes that respected human rights — few countries would qualify.
And, of course, wherever there is a need, especially a humanitarian need of considerable proportions, there will be an agency, or a group of people ready and willing to jump to fill that need. And for that, the world can be thankful.
However, it is the political/religious agenda that accompanies much of this aid that is really troubling.
Much foreign aid is attached to an agenda to prosletyze or convert the "needy" to a particular faith, or a specific morality, and the "rich" countries are looking for more success and more allies and more adherents to their (our) world view.
Of course, we have to hold our noses and provide aid to the most corrupt and the most incompetent and the most needy, at the same time; however, we need to be extremely circumspect about how we provide that aid.
Throwing money around, as apparently is the case in Afghanistan (and formerly in Iraq) makes a mockery of any humanitarian motives; such acts are so highly charged with political agenda, with so blatant a purpose as sheer bribery, that the acts leave both provider and recipient without dignity. The purchase of political and/or religious converts demeans both parties.
And, when the "charity" stops, there will be little evidence of the long-term help that was one of the goals of he effort.
In fact, one has to wonder if such "purchased" loyalty can or ever will be authentic loyalty.
There is a commercial exchange: my money for your support. And in Afghanistan the stories are legion about attempting to purchase the loyalty of the Taliban while also fighting them in the mountains and in the valleys.
They must think we are terribly stupid to be engaged in both killing and bribing at the same time; they also must wonder when we will leave, without accomplishing any of our stated purposes.
And the same can be said of many of the failed states. The so-called first world countries still really do not have a legitimate approach to foreign aid, from country to country. When they bail other first world countries out of massive debt, as in Greece, Ireland, and potentially Portugal and Italy, they prevent social chaos. However, when there is little or not government, and the country is in the hands of  rebel forces, often little more than gangs, those countries need some semblance of law and order, some semblance of governance and some sense of legitimacy in order to begin to receive aid, and to administer that aid with any kind of respect for the proportion of need. And there seems to be little evidence of a global system of accountability in tracking the path and the spending and the impact of large sums of aid money.
Some are even calling for an end to foreign aid, because of the patronizing of the recipient that includes a lack of ambition to do for themselves.
Perhaps the U.N. could undertake a proposal for responsibility for all accounting of money pledged to failed states, remove the countries' political agendas, as well as the various agencies religious/conversion agendas from such aid, in order to remove all the "strings" that might be attached, to provide a modicum of dignity and integrity and global respect for the process, since everyone knows that the transition from failed state to legitimacy is not only hard and long, it is also filled with caves of bandits just lying in wait for the money-trains to be ambushed.
Both the donors and the recipients of this aid truly need a process which honours their philanthropy. It must be transparent, and credible and self-sustaining and the "books" must always be open to full public view, with respect to the dollars, their investment income and their production of value in the recipient country.
Since "out-sourcing" is so much in vogue,perhaps the U.N. could commission one of the global accounting firms to serve as watchdog on the foreign aid rivers of cash. Certainly, the Auditor General in Canada is a worthy model on which to build such a process. And any such process must also be free of donor interference.
  As the highly respected "giant of American foreign policy,"  Richard  Holbrooke, (deceased on Monday December 12, 2010) stated emphatically in a CNN interview,
"A peace deal requires agreements, and you don't make agreements with your friends, you make agreements with your enemies," he said. (from the CNN U.S. website, December 14, 2010)

Negotiating with enemies was a skill at which Holbrooke excelled; sadly his voice will no longer be available in the situation room at the White House. However, he also noted that in Afghanistan/Pakistan, there is no single leader or group (like the PLO) with whom to negotiate, but rather a fragmented cluster of small and independent groups or forces each seeking some agenda, but not providing a negotiating partner. This seems to be a condition that applies to many of the failed or failing states, and finding common ground amid such chaos will be inexplicably complex, frustrating and often futile.
Let Richard Roth, Senior UN Correspondent for CNN, have the last word on Richard Holbrooke, as a person who knew and worked with him: (from the CNNU.S. website, December 14, 2010)
I recall a comment someone made in the '90's during the Balkan wars. "What's the most dangerous place on earth? Standing at an airport arrival between Richard Holbrooke and a TV camera."

I liked Holbrooke because he was not your typical diplomat. I have seen hundreds of diplomats at the UN who were, how can I say, not ready for prime time. The typical envoy is close mouthed, secretive and avoids TV cameras like the plague. Many seem to have poor social skills and enjoy reading documents than learning about others.
Holbrooke was the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. from 1999 to 2001. He didn't live in the U.S.-owned apartment at the Waldorf, preferring to stay at his West Side residence with wife Kati Marton, no shrinking violet either.
Holbrooke transformed the way the U.N. Security Council holds many of its meetings. He initiated "theme" days or months of debate. Instead of closed-door discussions about AIDS or Congo, Holbrooke began a practice of open sessions in front of TV cameras. Other nations quickly followed suit.
Now a country will announce a special theme for their month in the council's presidential chair. Often I would hear "well Holbrooke started this." He made sure the council passed a resolution with the first reference to AIDS as a threat to peace and security.
Holbrooke got Israel to be included in the Western European bloc of nations so it could finally get the right to run for various U.N. posts.





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