TED@State: Paul Collier on the steps to rescuing a failed state

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Economist Paul Collier studies the political and economic problems of the very poorest countries: 50 societies, many in sub-Saharan Africa, that are stagnating or in decline, and taking a billion people down with them. His book The Bottom Billion identifies the four traps that keep such countries mired in poverty, and outlines ways to help them escape — a thesis he outlines in his TEDTalk from 2008.

Onstage at TED@State, Collier describes the 3 traditional principles for intervening in a failed state:

1. It’s the politics that matters — first, try to fulfill the political expectations
2. It’s a bad situation but it’s short-term
3. The exit strategy for peacekeepers: an election and a return to prosperity

And, he says, this approach denies reality. Doing good politics is infinitely easier in a climate of prosperity. An agenda of inclusion is key to rebuilding a failed state. But if the object of repairing a state is to hold elections, you create a group of outsiders — the people who lost.

What are the 3 keys to rebuilding a failed state? Jobs, health, clean government.

Most important: jobs, and especially jobs for young men. Because young men need something to do or they create more conflict. How to employ them? Focus on the construction industry -– an industry not subject to foreign competition, and employing lots of young men.

Rebuilding basic services: Too often, in a postconflict nation, all resources for health services go directly to NGOs –- which doesn’t help rebuild the nation from the inside. Instead, help the country develop independent service authorities with standards of accountability for NGOs, to “co-brand” services with gorvernment and NGOs together.

Clean government: A typical postconflict government is out of money. It needs money just to exist. It’s vital to have accountancy and openness to remove the temptation to steal and cheat.

Discuss these ideas and more in the comments below: