We have seen the rise of fragile and conflict affected states, so acronym-ed as FCAS. The World Bank’s changing of acronyms is reflective of the malaise as to what to do with these countries? LICUS, low-income countries under stress, managed under Centre on Conflict and Security Development; which has now become the Fragile, Conflict and Violence Group. The changing of names continues, but the capability to deal with the situation has not seen such bold steps made with such purpose. The centre is housed in Nairobi, East Africa, with all its potential and it’s seemingly perpetual crises and unrealised potential.

Classic responses prevail – build the state institutions and give people jobs. Any jobs. Alongside this humanitarian response has continued to evolve delivering effectively and with efficiency. The improvements in keeping people alive are fantastic, to be warmly applauded and embraced. Twenty-five years ago, two generations into the World in Somali terms, I delivered food with a great team. We buried thousands of people as supply chains were not strong enough, insecurity prevailed and clean water, any water, seen as a luxury rather than the basic necessity of life. Now we have stronger supply chains, options of ways to deliver to, empower, people and markets, backed by quality work on accountability. Alas, Somalia has become embroiled in the ‘Global War on Terror’ as malcontents have been used to perpetuate differing drivers of conflict. Our efficiency and effectiveness has become the necessity as beneficiary numbers, keeping people alive, have overtaken the development granting people dignity. Although Somalia, as a country, is noted, the nuances are tremendous between the cosmopolitan setting of Hargeisa, Somaliland and the massive insecurity felt by disenfranchised people trapped in the rural areas of Lower Juba. The core principles can be applied across any number of these FCAS, LICUS, countries with similar nuances of societal, cultural and economic refinements.

This last point is reflective of the manner leaders continue to work on matters. Absent are the detailed implications of an emergent World order of disorder, created around centres of power radiating out influence to challenge other centres of power. Classic geopolitical centripetal forces at play at multiple levels. These are talked about and churned around ad infinitum; but there is a lack of critical mass to change the yawn-yawn to Churchill’s jaw-jaw to stop war-war.

There appears a bureaucracy built on the political analysis although how this fits to the issues of fragile and conflict affected states, the development of states per se and the issues of rule of law, accountability and good governance is not readily apparent. We are fixing the cracks we can see in the ocean defences without looking at the longer term, deeper water, issues coming up to undermine the work to be seen. The work to be seen, on what a particular generation of career aid and development workers are judged on, looks fine. However, the missed point is we are building on ground itself in motion and our edifices are conditional on how this ground shifts. The response of many international bodies is to have a place ‘there’, in the fragile state; but totally insulated with a security perimeter changing the whole dynamic of where ‘there’ is.

There are two elements brought forward – working intrinsically and totally within the environment is no longer truly an option for the majority of people, as extremist of different hues and motivations attack their organisations. Fundamental understanding as to the inertia we have always had (now reinforced) in our institutions is further reinforced.

The processes we use, designed sixty years ago to assist in the analysis often of military conflicts, have been standardised and must now fit to the constraints of attention for decision makers. Thus detail is sacrificed in order to have brevity and a one size fits all – an adjustable spanner to fix a complex engine requiring digital analysis.

The resultant elements are classically evolved as well and have, in themselves, become part of the problem. People are partially safely removed from the rigours the majority of people in these states face. It is often far from the comforts many of us enjoy but, then again, how many people in these places have running water, a safe and clean toilet and three meals a day cooked for them?

The second theme is those looking at political processes continue to have contextual understanding of the on-going setting which is sanitised as internet searches and physical security protocols reinforces the gatekeeper mentality. We end up with academic analysis, often with social anthropological bias, addressing the here and now. The expressed problems and means of engaging on these problems tend to reinforce the power and influence of the gatekeepers. We do not have the fundamentals in place to offer a reality check placing the places within the process of geopolitics and state development. In fragile states, in fact in the majority of middle and lower income countries and possibly exhibited in virtually all states, government in its classic form is under duress because of the manipulation of the means to hold power and exert influences.

The perpetuation of the aid, humanitarian and development industry is founded in the idealism and real desire to do good for people; to keep them alive and offer them a better tomorrow. But will this come working in the present manner? No.

The need for fundamentals is clear. Endless context analyses reinforce the false equilibrium of patrimonial set up where jobs, work, power of decision goes to those in the system. Yes, there are challenges, of course because of the dynamism of an open system. However, the inertia and in-built power of the incumbents uses these challenges as if they were ripples atop the ceaseless tides rolling in and out, generating income and reinforcing the setting. To grant an allusion of accountability as an engineered democracy is undertaken through voting in systems long since known to archaic when used where education is weak and marketing strong. To continue the analogy of tides, there is some erosion of the shores. The tides, that are (Somali) power bases have to be aware of the changing landscape. Major erosion has taken place in the last decade with two major food crises and the swift development of electronic media and related business in terms of money moving and accountability chains. Blockchain will come; but capability to enforce and address issues when millions remain destitute and the media is able to use the images to mobilise fresh resources?

Are there opportunities for new entrants who bring fresh perspectives?

Possibly, but do they challenge the established industry continuing to go short-term and reinforce the patrimonial establishment? Very, very, doubtful given we have such efficiency gains in the delivery of aid and development and these are what people in the system are measured on. Sadly, dig just slightly and the needs are so great, the results will be achieved relentlessly without addressing the underlying causes of the problems. Problems those seeking to cause negative change or benefit from the present oligopoly of power and a mutual sycophancy club are not willing, or able, to change.

Evolution within a system does not, will not work. The need for a massive shift in how work is undertaken from the initial analysis through to approaches reinforcing the false equilibrium of states captured by elites is now required. A reality check as to what can be done given the changing influences, centres of power and how this power is exercised is critical. Lastly, what is a state and its role in the delivery of fundamental Rights of the Individual must come under scrutiny. Seventy years ago the states saw the need to shift to an international system, now we see a reaction creating a patchwork of opportunities for elites to perpetuate their hold on power and use the levers of power to drive out influences not reinforcing their own power. Fundamental change is required otherwise expect more of this 1984 scenario as we reach 2024.