My previous post contained little more than an overview of Paul Collier’s recent talk at the U.S. Africa Command, but I wanted to return to a few of the implications it seemed to contain. Whereas Collier emphasized the centrality of managing specific economic processes to the future stability/prosperity of African societies, I wonder about the viability of frameworks that depend upon extending the same paradigms that have already been pushed to the breaking point in recent decades. Specifically, the “methodological nationalism” currently at the heart of regional and international institution-building (AU,UN, etc.) seems an odd premise for macroeconomic development in a thoroughly globalized world. While power plays between dominant actors are of course already well underway in Africa, it is essential for those with the means and/or foresight to shape circumstances to recognize that perhaps the future will resist being managed in any centralized or grand strategic manner.
Collier seemed to make a move in this direction by calling for a “whatever works” approach to development at local levels; capabilities of organizations across the board should be sought out and encouraged, but with a particular view to bestowing accountability upon the national government. Resources should be centrally delegated, it would seem, but be applied locally. Thus, distributed capacities are the best way of effecting local progress, but a measure of deference is needed to both bolster central authority AND give government the space it needs to prove its credibility. Such a situation might create odd tensions in terms of legitimacy, of course, as the argument seems a bit tautological…but the institution-as-process vice institution-as-moment distinction helps overcome that problem somewhat. Still, this seems to equate sovereignty with legitimacy.
Regarding human rights being “our dialogue”: maybe I was taken a bit by Berlin’s memorials and “Mahnmale” this past weekend, but that notion just doesn’t sit well with me. Whatever a proper arrangement of resources and increases in real income make possible in terms of security/stability, we should be careful that our policies do not relativize the human condition to a point wherein justice becomes a subset of economic measures. I mean neither to suggest universal morality (of which I’m increasingly skeptical) nor to advocate cultural imperialism (which is indefensible in practical terms, at the least). Rather, I wonder if the intended implication is actually that social justice cannot be improved upon absent specific economic processes? In this case, the value-neutrality of commerce becomes a bit problematic, particularly in light of the financial debacles that developed countries seem to be calling upon themselves recently.
Whether or not categorical ideas of justice are made explicit — in constitutional charters, in common law — it doesn’t seem unreasonable to associate healthy politics with premises that are perhaps less tangible, but no less real, than economic growth. Thus, I’m certainly not imputing anything to Collier, since I should think his reluctance to make blanket statements about rights implied more nuance than indecision. At the same time, unquantifiable notions of justice may have a profound impact in their own right on the political culture of torn societies, providing references from which to derive institutions of governance.
Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar. Sie zu achten und zu schützen ist Verpflichtung aller staatlichen Gewalt.