Having explored the rule of law concept in general, it is useful to now briefly examine the perceived relationship between rule of law engagement in fragile societies and the promotion of other significant concepts such as democracy, economic growth and statebuilding, since they are often articulated as being linked in political discourse and development policies. Because such linkages influence the thrust and expectations of development policies and programs, they ought to be scrutinized beyond the sterile platitudes one encounters at times.
Exits from fragility: rule before rule of law
To ensure meaningful progress in fragile societies, one must first explore the existing evidence of how these countries have emerged from fragility and envision their future prospects. This sparse but sufficient knowledge permits us to construct a conceptual image of what developmental transformation might look like for political orders entangled within this uncertainty.
While helpful in understanding fragility and its implications for rule of law development, the existing knowledge lacks prescriptive value because different contexts require unique combinations of factors. In other words, what works in one situation may not be applicable to others - it's a case-by-case basis.
Major works suggest that the following elements have been present in a number of successful (emerging) exits from fragility in places such as Ghana, Mozambique, Cambodia, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Vietnam. Taking the opposite view is also worthwhile as evidence exists aplenty to suggest that the absence of these elements plays a major role in perpetuating the conflicts that deepen fragility over time. In a highly stylised version, they can be presented as follows:
A powerful force of leaders rose to power, carefully controlling the nation's resources and security measures while defining what counted as national identity. Political parties or alliances were commonly used by those in authority to expand their influence - which often times was made possible after a significant event contributed towards consolidating this power.
After fragility, countries have a choice between two paths: the dangerous and disorganized 'rule by gun' or rule with consolidated power. Though some states choose to take control of their situation, many remain in an indefinite stage of uncertainty marked by fragmented authority competing for dominance. Institutional arrangements aiming to combine both formal and informal aspects are frequently implemented as measures against instability - though there is no guarantee this will lead to successful consolidation into elite groups.
Within the upper echelons of society, a select few rose to prominence and control. By relying on an array of tools – from rule enforcement and security forces to funding distribution- they managed not only their own power but also kept in check any opposition that may arise among other elites. Their authority was reinforced by establishing executive strength, allowing them complete jurisdiction over such matters as policy determinations and financial allotments.
Elite players wielded their power to focus on social and economic improvements. This vision incorporated different approaches, including both government-oriented policies as well as market economics. These prioritized areas like safety, education, infrastructure investments and more in an effort for the dominant groups to retain control of politics and security measures - primarily focused around furthering self-interests above all else. Ultimately it is these elite behaviours that will determine whether fragility can be avoided or not; a critical juncture with diverse pathways leading forward from here.
As people's standard of living improved, social tensions began to arise. The ruling class was forced to adapt and adjust their approach in order ensure continued control -- whether it be through suppression or innovation. It became increasingly clear that the political order needed to make changes: either consolidating its rule with increased repression or introducing more progressive methods for a proto-rule of law society - leading away from 'rule by gun'.
Despite facing a long road to true democracy, countries that have followed this trajectory of development should be celebrated for their impressive progress in avoiding conflict and making initial gains. Rarely do nations emerge from fragility unscathed- but looking at the shared experiences can provide valuable insight into understanding how power and rule of law interacts with fragile societies. Two key takeaways relevant to helping these states develop further are also highlighted by this discussion: an encouraging reminder of what is possible as well as potential guidance on developing effective strategies towards meaningful change.
Before we can discuss how the rule of law should be developed, we must prioritize and attain basic governance. As Thomas Hobbes said, some form of order is necessary before a preferred one has any meaning. Samuel Huntington declared that "it's the degree of government that matters". Consequently, laws need to promote unity by consolidating power inclusively but also for those responsible for upholding it to have motivation toward progress instead stagnation.