Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chris Blattman on the lack of real justice systems, and Western support for building formal justice systems in Africa:
To borrow a phrase from Tyler Cowen: “Views I toy with but do not (yet?) hold”:
  • State weakness in Africa may be exacerbated by attempting to graft the West’s idea of a 20th century developmental state onto structures not fully capable of providing the basic bits of law and order.
  • The international system and aid can exacerbate the problem by pushing the state to build a public education and health system ahead of more core state functions.
  • Conspicuously, there is no Millennium Development Goal for access to a court system, or freedom from crime and violence. Everyone has heard of UNICEF, few have heard of UNPOL.
  • I would bet that more donors and non-profit organizations focus on microfinance than justice, by a factor of five to ten.

Having spent significant time in Liberia working primarily on observing the state of law and order in addition to observing more traditional aid programs, I can tell you that there is a complete lack of any foreign support for state building, outside of the rather corrupted UN peacekeeping system. The only non-UNMIL/UNPOL programs focusing even remotely on justice involved concentrating on violence against women. There was an inordinate focus on ex-combatants, but no concern for supporting routine law and order enforcement.

NGOs feel a need, rightly or wrongly, to maintain an air of impartiality in local politics. There is an understandable desire to keep a significant distance from the inevitable corruption of much of the developing world. Politics and local policing are inherently messy, even in the West, and it is much easier to deliver a truckload of supplies, or to simply erect a school building. The only times when western governments feel a need to get involved in local politics, and local governance, is in the cases of Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia.
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