Special Political

  1. Introduction & key terms

A failed state is a political body that has disintegrated to a point where basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government no longer function properly. Likewise, when a nation weakens and its standard of living declines, it introduces the possibility of governmental collapse.

The term ‘capacity building’ describes a range of activities an organization might use to expand the organization or change its direction.

The United Nations defines capacity as ‘the ability of individuals, institutions and societies to perform functions, solve problems and set and achieve objectives in a sustainable manner.’ This is the basis of any well-functioning organization.

Failing states, thus, are often incapable of developing their governments due to their governments being unable to maintain let alone expand their countries capacity. Failing states rely on NGOs and other organizations to assist their capacity building to allow governments to stabilize and develop their states.

  1. Main states involved

The top 10 failing countries in need of capacity building are:

  1. South Sudan
  2. Somalia
  3. Central African Republic
  4. Congo (DR)
  5. Sudan
  6. Chad
  7. Afghanistan
  8. Haiti
  9. Yemen
  10. Pakistan


The Partnership Initiative (PI) established in September 2014 leads on issues of capacity development for Syrian NGOs supporting humanitarian assistance on the Syria crisis. The PI’s main focus is as follows:

  • Coordination and support of trainings and capacity building activities
  • Facilitate engagement and good partnerships for all humanitarian stakeholders
  • Development of learning resources, best practices and standardization of common tools and processes.
  1. Main issues

The above countries all have key issues within their states which are causing them to fail and creating the need for capacity building. These issues include:

  • Military coups
  • Civil wars (Syria)
  • Dictatorship
  • Rebel groups

All these issues lead to unstable government which therefore prevent capacity building from occurring. This is an issue as a country is unable to develop if capacity building cannot take place. NGOs, UN bodies, PI and the UNHCR has taken steps to ensure that failing states are able to begin to rebuild their governments and begin to capacity build for the future. They do this through:

  • assisting the government in providing social and other services;
  • mobilizing social demands to put public pressure on government to be more responsive to public needs;
  • monitoring the state and playing watchdog with regards to human rights and corruption; • convening issue-specific dialogues between disputing leaders or groups; and
  • working at the grassroots level in order to foster inter-group reconciliation through sectoral projects and mediated conflict resolution.

UNHCR has conducted reports on capacity building, including redefining it and highlighting the main aims that should be achieved:

Capacity-building implies the reinforcement of human, institutional or community performance, skills, knowledge and attitudes on a sustainable basis. It is both an approach and a set of activities, intimately linked to nationally driven reform processes.

  • As an approach, it focuses on existing initiatives, commitments and potential as distinct from relief, which addresses needs and problems. It aims to build a network of partners at various levels, is highly participatory by nature and requires shared commitments and objectives on the part of external and domestic actors.
  • As a set of activities, it implies provision of technical support, including training, advisory services and specialised expertise in favour of national/local institutions or structures, aimed, in UNHCR’s case, at fulfilling the Office’s primary objectives of Protection and Solutions, in both countries of asylum and origin.

The report also highlights the importance and success of capacity building:

The relevance of capacity-building to UNHCR’s concerns: ‘There now seems little doubt that capacity-building activities constitute the most useful and cost-effective means of assisting governments. Capacity-building also appears to be the best way in which UNHCR can exert significant influence over asylum laws and practices. It has also permitted UNHCR to maintain presence that enables it to conduct activities falling within its mandate. Thus, not only is capacity-building a legitimate and essential area of UNHCR’s involvement, in most countries it is an activity which should be receiving the highest priority.

Unfortunately, capacity-building remains an aspect of UNHCR’s work in which the organisation continues to be hesitant and somewhat ambivalent. As a consequence, UNHCR has never fully committed itself to defining, professionalising and supporting such activities. Despite several decades of often successful experiences in many parts of the world, capacity-building has not yet been given a clear identity…. A record of the organisation’s experience in other regions cannot be found.

This article thus highlights the importance and relevance of capacity building in such states and highlights the issues surrounding the ambiguity of such a practice. Defining and practicing capacity building is imperative to its successful use in failing states.

  1. Previous attempts at solution

NGOs, PI and UNHCR has made efforts to establish capacity building and to effectively put it into practice. In Syria, PI has taken further steps to capacity build the NGOs working in Syria so that the NGOs themselves may develop to allow their work in the state to be more effective. This highlights, delegates, that Capacity building can be both effective in the governments of the states to stabilize them, but it may also be effective if the NGOs themselves are worked on as they will be able to further maximize their efforts in the failing states.

  1. Useful Links