Approximately sixty countries have been designated ‘Fragile States’ by international development agencies. Home to two billion of the world’s poorest people, these fragile states are characterized by violence, weak institutions and shattered economies. Not only do they pose a challenge to regional security, they often become the breeding grounds for terrorism.
Donor agencies pour billions of dollars annually into these countries – through policy advice and conditional loans – to alleviate fragility and promote development. Development, however it is defined, involves economic, social and political transformation. Such a transformation is shaped by ideas, engages multiple interests, and proceeds within rules and norms set by political institutions. Since the structure of political institutions is influenced by human agency, leadership becomes important to study. Leadership is crucial particularly in fragile states, where institutions are weak or have been destroyed by conflict; however, a systematic effort to examine the role of leaders and coalitions in fragile states is lacking.
My doctoral dissertation sought to create a methodology to improve understanding of the role of different leadership strategies in bringing about transitions in and out of fragility. To make the scope manageable, the study focused on: (i) leadership at the national level; and (ii) fragile states in Africa. It did so by examining: (i) evidence from country level panel data on leadership (regime) change and fragility; and (ii) in-depth analytical case studies of transitions in and out of fragility in four countries: Zimbabwe, Uganda, Rwanda, and South Africa.
The analysis looked at the relationship between the change agent’s leadership strategy (the independent variable: political participation and inclusion, economic growth and inclusion, and security and justice) and fragility outcomes (dependent variable: conflict and security indicators, economic indicators, and the approach to political inclusion).
The results of the regression analysis exhibit a robust association between leadership change and fragility. Furthermore, the country cases show how different types of leadership strategies lead to varying trajectories of fragile states’ post-transition. The case studies reveal different approaches to sequencing of political inclusion and the role of leadership exit in transitions from fragility.
Spurred by the positive results, I am planning further work on this empirical study and will seek to more carefully evaluate the impact of leadership strategies on fragility outcomes over time, and the way these evolve as well. More to come!