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The conceptual status of the phrased- failed State

By John Moyibi Amoda
LEXICAL  globalization can be likened to the spread of virus in the operating systems of computers. Like harmattan, it windlessly spreads. Ask the  road side mechanic- “wetin dey happen” he promptly replies “economic meltdown ni”. Ask him what economic meltdown is- he has no clue.

It is like asking him the meaning of A, B, C, D. meltdown, or downturn are metaphors coined to identify a problem of global spread and significance. It is a label of a Pandora’s Box containing an assemblage of challenging problems. It is a shorthand for “Wahala” of a gigantic proportion. It is not an explanation of the wahala but they that have invented it did it for a purpose.

The phrase as now become an explanation in popular discourse. Those who employ it expect their audience to know what the phrase indicates- but no information is presently communicated through the use of this phase. This is why “economic meltdown” has become a cliché.

When I was growing up in California in the heyday of the “flower people”, groovy” was a non-word that provided a stop gap, a filler to connect indicative phrases- it was the last recourse of one that needed a word to say what was intended. Groovy performed such a function- the hearer was free to interpret the word groovy in a way that made sense out of what the speaker hoped to communicate.

Such is now our over employment of the phrase “failed state”. It is a phrase that is to be found in the oratory of President Obama. It is a phrase that both scholars and journalists and the so-called layman freely employ. We find it lavishly used by non-Africans intelligentsia to describe African societies in crises. Given our very best describe Nigeria as a failed state.

“Failed state” is now a currency that is in circulation among academics, policy think tanks, and diplomats. However high-browish this phrase may now be, it is still a cliché, a phrase that is not operationalishable because it is not descriptive.

At best it helps the user to define what a “non-failed state” is, it is like day defines night through contrast or in the same way wet defines dry. Without clear appreciation of one term of the contrast in the binary concept, in this case a clear appreciation of dry, wet makes no sense and vice versa.

If we must employ the phrase “failed State” that was invented to define what is the contrast to “non-failed state” we must begin where we have to begin, namely begin with the interest in the task of describing what a non-failed state is!

In casting the issue in this manner, we are able to recognize that when the phrase failed state is used, it is used to say that the society being so described is not a state ordered and secured society.

Those who use this “damning phrase” imply that the society which hitherto had been “state ordered and secured society has through   mismanaged struggle for power and corrupt governance become so mismanaged that the non-failed society has become a failed state society, that it has become a society lacking the security and order provided by the state which before secured it.

The problem in this usage arises from the application of the phrase. It is a phrase used to describe societies defined at one pole by Somalia and Nigeria at the other pole. With so many societies of marked structural differences categorized as failed state societies, the phrase ceases to be descriptive since so many qualifiers have to be employed to describe what is to be identified as a failed state.

Indeed,  an earnest effort to use this phrase descriptively will require a lengthy enumeration of what a state ordered and secured society is not so as to identify a single case of what a failed state society is.

When what is involved in branding a society as ordered and secured and another as not is fully appreciated the damage done in the pretence to knowledge when there is none can be estimated. The employment of such concept as:  Fragile  state, weak state, strong states, are descriptive of societies in term of ideals.

Whatever society may at a moment in time is describable as strong state is not frozen in that moment. It is susceptible to crises that can introduce changes that transform the societies from being strong state into a weak state society.

The same can be said about a society that at a moment in time is describable as a weak state and that also in time evolves into a strong state, whatever may be the indices employed to categorise the contrasting states of that society. France was reduced to a weak state by Germany twice, first during the First Word War and then in a second time by the same Germany during WW II.

France has since its occupation by Germany developed into a stronger state. Has France therefore developed into a state that can never be reduced to a weak, or fragile state by its enemies? This surely is one of the measures of its national defence policy-viz, that it develops the capacity to deter any such project of invasion by its enemies.

The same can be said of a United States that was invaded in the 1812-14 War between it and the Great Britain. Great Britain marched into Washington and set ablaze the White House.

The United States then was weaker in comparison to Great Britain. Between that time and now the United States has developed into a much stronger state. But has it developed into such a state that it is secured from attack from its enemies?

September 11, 2001 shows that not even the United States can boast about its security from external attack. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was armed to be a strong Middle East State. It was however reduced to a sectarianly splintered society by the occupation army of the US and those of its allies. So much for conceptual descriptions of societies.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.