Are They “One of Us”?
Why State Cohesion and
Ideology Matter to the Poor
Seth D. Kaplan
Author, Fixing Fragile States: A New Paradigm for Development
Managing Partner, Alpha International Consulting, Ltd.
[email protected]
Social Exclusion: At the Root of Poverty
The poorest, most vulnerable
people are typically those
who are socially excluded
because of their ethnicity,
religion, clan, caste, gender,
or region.
Indigenous peoples
Minority religions
Lower castes
Out-of-power ethnic and clan
How are they excluded?
Unfair land tenure laws
Inadequate public services
Poor roads and public transport
Discriminatory job markets
No access to legal system
Outside of social networks
A Vicious, Unending Cycle of Poverty
Born into poverty, they
usually die in poverty, their
talents and hard work
unrewarded and stifled by the
“Inequality, exclusion and
adverse incorporation are key
drivers and maintainers of
poverty. . . . Exclusion from
political, social and economic
institutions is part of a
vicious cycle that leads to low
capability levels, which in
turn reduces the ability of the
people to escape poverty and
horizontal inequalities” (ODI)
© Seth D. Kaplan 2010
Low Capability Levels
Poverty (poor
pay, poor
health, poor
no assets, etc.)
Governments Make the Problem Worse
In deeply divided societies,
governments are “captured”
by one segment of society
Politicians and officials
directly and deliberately
perpetuate social exclusion
and poverty
Social Exclusion
Political favoritism
Markets manipulated
Rule of law flouted
Police and bureaucracy corrupted
© Seth D. Kaplan 2010
The Two Keys to Inclusive Societies
Social exclusion is a barrier to
escaping poverty. That barrier is
like a double door, made up of
two sides, each with its own
lock and key. We need to
unlock one or, ideally, both
sides of the door, and thus we
need to use the two keys.
One key is social cohesion
The other key is leaders and
elites with inclusive ideologies
The First Key: Cohesive States
The countries most likely to prioritize helping the poor are
cohesive societies with shared histories, cultures, institutions, etc.
Their citizens view outside countries as their true competitors
rather than other groups within the state
Fewer fissures mean that fewer people are likely to be socially
excluded from public services and denied equitable treatment
History shows that social cohesion promotes better
development outcomes and more growth, both of which are
crucial to reducing poverty and vulnerability
China, Vietnam, Chile, Costa Rica, and Botswana all have better
track records then their more divided neighbors at taking care of
their poor and building inclusive states
© Seth D. Kaplan 2010
The Second Key: Inclusive Ideologies
In non-cohesive, divided societies, only elites/leaders with a
creed or ideology that emphasizes inclusiveness are likely to
make tackling poverty a priority.
In Islamic countries, society as
a whole is obligated to care for its
weakest members effectively
9 of the 11 countries in the top
category for tackling poverty are
Muslim, and 7 are Arab. Of the
16 countries in the Middle East
and North Africa covered, 12 are
in the top two categories (Chronic
Poverty Report, 2008-9)
© Seth D. Kaplan 2010
Communist states based their
legitimacy partly on their
treatment of the disadvantaged—
and prioritized antipoverty efforts.
Some rebel groups, needing to
court broad mass support, become
more inclusive before they gain
power (e.g., Uganda, Ethiopia).
Governments that come to power
democratically often do not act
How Can International Actors Help
Turn the Two Keys?
Promote Social Cohesion
Support projects that build a
common affinity (national service,
sports, dramas, reconciliation
commissions, etc.)
Encourage the institutionalization
of inclusiveness in constitutions
and norms
Help decentralize governments
around pockets of cohesion
Obstacles: international donors
have short time horizons; nation
building viewed warily by some
Work with Inclusive Ideologies
Frame arguments within the terms
of local ideologies and worldviews
Avoid purely technocratic
Seek opportunities to indirectly
influence ways of thinking in
subtle, non-interventionist ways
Integrate traditional values into
leadership training
Aid nation building programs
Point to neighboring countries that
share a similar cultural heritage
Encourage inclusive state builders
to give more direct advice.
© Seth D. Kaplan 2010
Attitudes Matter More than Policy Design
The sentiments of leaders
and policymakers matter in a
way rarely recognized by
development academics and
The sense of affinity that
people hold towards different
groups within their countries
can strongly affect how
institutions work and how
policies are implemented.
Elites from cohesive societies
and/or with inclusive
ideologies are much more
likely to see the poor as “one
of them”
© Seth D. Kaplan 2010
Francis Deng (UN envoy, former foreign
minister of Sudan):
“[The development paradigm has been
viewed by the international
community] as independent of politics,
culture, and institutional framework. . .
. Over time the continual disregard for
the cultural factors of development has
proven extremely costly for Africa in
terms of retarded economic growth, as
well as increased tensions, mistrust,
and misunderstandings among groups .
. . The African state [should] work with
its international partners to tailor the
assistance so that the resulting
programs are culturally appropriate and
fashioned to the needs and values of
the African people.”

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