Monday, February 1, 2010

Exploring the failed state

Written by Edwin Madunagu

NIGER Delta rebellion, Boko Haram insurrection, mass poverty and alienation, armed robbery and kidnapping, state robbery and corruption, high-profile election rigging, institutionalised anarchy, industrial unrest, violent cultism, state delinquency, etc, etc. All these maladies - and many more - have led some people to suggest that Nigeria has become a "failed state", or a "failing state".

An essay I have just obtained from the internet defines a failed state as a state "that can no longer perform its basic security and development functions and that has no effective control over its territory and borders"; it is a state "that can no longer reproduce the conditions for its own existence". The essay then provides a number of explanatory notes: the opposite of a "failed state" is an "enduring state", but the absolute dividing line between these two conditions is difficult to ascertain at the margins - for "even in a failed state, some elements of the state, such as local state organisations, might continue to exist". The essay avoids defining the state - an exercise that can be very contentious. Rather, it provides some assistance to those who may be interested in the exercise. The essay's main concern is the exploration of a state that has failed, or is failing.

Still avoiding a technical definition of the state, we may however go around the problem by considering the central element of the definition of a failed state, namely, the "functions" of the state. This exercise has been performed several times in this column, but it is obligatory to repeat it here. The functions of the state can be separated into three broad groups, namely: coercive functions, ideological functions and social-economic functions. The group of coercive functions is what has been described in the essay under review as "security" functions. But we prefer to call a spade a spade: "security", as employed in the definition, is the use of force.

Let me quickly add here that we, the citizens, all need security and the state claims that it is concerned with security and is, in fact, often seen providing it, or trying to provide it. But there is an "optical illusion" here. The point I wish to make is that the security functions of the state are designed and carried out in a manner that shows very clearly that the main concern of the state is not the citizens but the social order and the classes and blocs that are ruling. The state provides security for the citizens only for the same reason that it provides means of livelihood, or permits or supports the provision of means of livelihood, for the citizens: the citizens must survive for the state to continue to exist.

Put differently, the state provides security to the social order and the ruling social classes and blocs for the status-quo to remain and be strengthened, while it provides security for the citizens at large (the "common" people) so that the latter can continue to serve the social order and the ruling classes and blocs. The former concern is maximum, while the latter is minimal. The coercive functions of the state - which the essay under review calls "security" - are primarily aimed at preventing or discouraging any threat to the social order. That is why - as some analysts have already observed - the Nigerian state confronted the Boko Haram insurrection with maximum ferocity.

We may introduce the ideological functions of the state with a passage which I took from Ernest Mandel's Late Capitalism. Here, Mandel remarks that "it was Napoleon, an expert in the matter, who coined the adage that one can do anything with bayonets except sit on them". What Napolepon, a military genius, meant here was that force could not achieve everything. Another author remarked that if the ruling classes used only coercive methods to maintain their power, then society would be perpetually in tumult. The state needs ideological weapons as well as coercive (or repressive) weapons to maintain and reproduce its power. By ideological weapons or apparatuses I mean ideas and the institutions that systematically disseminate them: schools, religious doctrines and institutions, political parties and social movements, cultural and traditional institutions and practices etc, etc.

Just as the state is not repression alone, it is also not (repression plus ideology) alone. The third group of functions (of the state) is social-economic. The state has to provide "those general conditions of production which cannot be assured by the private activities of the members of the dominant class", as Mandel put it. Even the fanatical "apostles" of privatisation in our country would agree that the ruling classes and blocs cannot privatise everything: roads, telecommunications, electricity, schools, industries, air transportations, etc., and still remain in power. The competition between the various fractions and individuals, and the extreme selfishness of most of them, will tear the state apart or grind it to a halt.

Even if you theoretically construct a state that divests itself of all social-economic undertakings you will need a state institution - a big and powerful one - to coordinate the activities of the most strategic of them or act as their "overlord" - in the interest of the ruling classes and blocs as a whole. The current global financial crisis and recession and the interventionist responses of various governments attest to this. We are then back to the starting point, namely, that the state provides those social and economic "conditions" of production that the members of the ruling classes and blocs cannot, acting as individuals, provide.

The internet essay under review recognises that if there is the concept of "failed state" and the concept of "enduring state", then there ought to be the concept of "failing state", that is, a state that is "becoming" failed, or a state that is neither a filed state nor an enduring one. This last concept, "neither failed nor enduring" state, happens to be the most important. If we dismiss tautological definitions such as "a failing state is a state that is failing", it becomes necessary to construct a scale for determining the location of any state in the advance to failure.

The internet essay does exactly this. Twelve indicators are provided to determine the location of any state. Four of the indicators are social, two economic, and six political. The social indicators are given as: demographic pressures; massive movement of refugees and internally displaced peoples; legacy of vengeance-seeking group grievance; and chronic and sustained human flight. The economic indicators are: uneven economic development along group lines; and sharp and /or severe economic decline. The six political indicators are: criminalisation and/delegitimisation of the state; progressive deterioration of public services; widespread violation of human rights; security apparatus as "state within a state"; rise of factionalised elite; and intervention of other states or external factors. The indicators are elastic enough to cover all known state maladies.

Employing these indicators, one may ask: Is Nigeria a failed state? I shall preface the answer to this question with further comments and observations on the essay under review. First, I think that "failed" is being confused with "delinquent" where "delinquency" is measured by the degree to which the state does not satisfy the ordinary (basic) existential needs of the people. When the "delinquency" element is removed from the definition of a "failed state" what we have left in that definition is a state's inability to be a de facto effective ruler of the whole polity - by coercive means, however concealed or mediated. The connection between the two categories - "delinquent" and "failed" - is that a delinquent state usually tends to a failed state because a delinquent state ultimately invites rebellions, insurrections, anarchy, "states within a state", revolutions, etc.

Secondly, the state is always a class state. There is no "state of the whole people". A state that is becoming a state of the whole people would have started to transform its character as a state; it would have started shedding some features of the state. Strictly speaking, it is illogical to use such terms as "the state is expected to..." or "the state ought to...", because the state is, and has always been essentially, a class weapon. The basic function of the state is not the satisfaction of people's needs. No. The state meets the basic existential needs of the people only to the extent that this allows it to continue to rule and protect the social order and the dominant classes and blocs, or because it is compelled to do so by the dominated classes and groups - through struggle, of course.

The last point can be put differently. The "performance" of the state is a statement about the state of class and popular struggles. In all these we should remember that there are inter-class and intra-class struggles, as well as struggles within the state itself. So, is Nigeria a failed state? My answer is that, with the distinction that we have made between a failed state and a delinquent state, and if we dismiss all illusion concerning the functions of the state, then Nigeria is not a failed state - even with MEND, Boko Haram, OPC, etc. At least not yet. The Nigerian state is still in full control. But Nigerian state is a delinquent state.

(culled from Nigerian Guardian, Thursday 3 September 2009)