The Security-Politics-Development Nexus

The Lessons of State-building in sub-Saharan Africa

Background paper to the ERD2009


Necla TSCHIRGI – University of Ottawa, Centre for International Policy Studies


Paper prepared for the Workshop on “Transforming Political Structures: Security, Institutions, and Regional Integration Mechanisms”, organised by the European Report of Development in Florence, Italy, 16-17 April 2009.


How can development policy support weak, dysfunctional or fragile states? What constitutes state fragility and what are the appropriate instruments for state-building? After reviewing two recent quantitative indexes (The Index of State Weakness in the Developing World and The Ibrahim Index of African Governance), this paper cautions against the current tendency to categorise a large number of countries as weak, fragile or failing states. Drawing upon country case studies on Namibia, Somalia and Guinea-Bissau, the paper argues that state-building is fundamentally a political process and external “state-builders” need to develop greater understanding of the internal dynamics of individual societies in order to provide appropriate support to address state fragility. Current strategies for state-building are heavily weighted in favour of technical, institutional and formal arrangements. Moreover, since 9/11, the international state-building agenda has increasingly focused on state weakness as a challenge for international peace and security, rather than as an issue of national governance. As a result, many preferred policy prescriptions risk weakening the very states that they hope to strengthen.

Download the paper pdf

Back to Background Papers