The complex nature of state fragility impedes the search for effective policy responses. While a useful shorthand, state fragility spans a vast sweep of contexts, from troubling patterns of poor state functioning to complete state breakdown. Different indices of fragility produce differing lists of fragile states. The range of causal factors contributing to fragility is wide. Yet as international attention to fragility has increased in recent years, it has converged around at least one central common feature of fragile contexts – systemic exclusion – and one common prescription – encouraging inclusive governance.

Of course, exclusivity and inclusivity are themselves not simple concepts, each having its own multiplicities of meaning and interpretation. The adjective “inclusive,” for example, now appears almost everywhere in policy discussions in the development world, attached to any number of nouns as a polymorphous good – whether it is inclusive politics, inclusive governance, inclusive economics, inclusive states, or inclusive development. Moreover, inclusivity is not just about politics and economics – social and cultural inclusiveness is also relevant. For some analysts, democracy is key to achieving inclusive governing systems. For others, democracy is chronically riddled with patterns of exclusivity due to the tendency of elites to dominate democratic politics.

Understanding fragility through the lens of exclusion and inclusion highlights the important connection between fragility and the growing global trend of closing space for civil society. During the past 10 years, a startlingly large number of governments in developing and post-communist countries – by some measures more than 70 governments – have taken steps to curtail, sometimes drastically, independent civil society within their countries. They have done so through legal and regulatory measures restricting the ability of civic groups to organize and operate, extralegal harassment and intimidation, and political messaging that calls into question the legitimacy and authenticity of such organizations. A common element of governments’ efforts to close space for civil society is measures restricting foreign support for civil society and denunciations of such foreign support as subversive activity.

Read the full brief