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Assignment:  Nation Building

Assignment:  Nation Building

Assignment:  Nation Building


The development process can be—and often is—destabilizing. It is therefore no great surprise that governments in least developed countries are often authoritarian, prone to coups, and beset by crises. Poor countries typically face four fundamental developmental challenges:

· nation building,

· (2)state building,

· (3)participation, and

· (4)distribution.*

The first and most basic challenge is nation building—the process of forming a common identity based on the notion of belonging to a political community separate and distinct from all others. Often the concept of “nation” is based on common ethno-linguistic roots. The countless conflicts in Africa and Asia in the post–World War II era testify to the extreme difficulty (if not impossibility) of artificially building something as natural as a nation within a territory containing multiple ethnic and religious communities. The lessons of recent U.S. attempts at nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan also point to the conclusion that it cannot be done from the outside by outsiders.

Nation-State Newbies: Four Challenges

Building a new nation-state is an exercise in political development. Rich countries often display certain common traits: a stable government, a merit-based civil service system, basic public services (police and fire protection, education, health, and sanitation), and legal structures (law codes and courts). All these traits are typically lacking in poor countries. Imagine growing up in a society where not only schools but also drinking water and basic sanitation do not exist. How can people who have no money, no police protection, and who cannot read or write lift themselves out of poverty or demand decent government?

Having a charismatic leader present at the creation is a key variable in the initial nation-building stage (try to imagine the founding of the United States without George Washington). Notable examples include Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser (who ruled from 1954 to 1970), Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta (1964–1978), India’s Jawaharlal Nehru (1947–1964), Indonesia’s Sukarno (1945–1967), and Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi (1969–2011). Flags and celebrations also help instill a sense of national identity, and threats from a neighboring state—real, imagined, or manufactured—can galvanize unity, at least until the perceived danger subsides.