Crilly’s Laws

As I prepare to head for yet newer shores, it strikes me (not for the first time) that with one or two basic principles the journalist can turn his hand to writing about any fragile/failed state in the world. Having developed the following laws during the past five years (mostly in Sudan and Somalia), I’ll be testing them in my new hunting ground:

  1. Arm proxies at your peril: They don’t stay proxies for ever and although it is easy to arm allies, they are much harder to disarm, eg the Janjaweed in Darfur or the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda
  2. There are no good guys: It is tempting to side with the rebels. Don’t. They may be up against an oppressive regime, but don’t let that make you overlook their use of child soldiers or lack of respect for democracy (also known as Zenawi’s Rule or Museveni’s Term Limit Paradigm or the Kagame Mirror – each a special sub-set of the Clinton Great Hope Error)
  3. The answer lies with the tribes: Outside interference will not work if it doesn’t act in harmony with the will of grassroots leaders. This becomes more true in direct proportion to the fragility of the state. In failed states, step aside until a solution emerges. Then, and only then, be ready to spend development dollars
  4. Analysts obey an inverse square law: their distance from the action correlates to a rapid diminution in their understanding. (However, their certainty increases with increasing distance from their geographical area of expertise.) Those closest to the action often ramble or give answers that begin with an apparently unrelated event in the Nineteenth Century – don’t worry about that. Just listen harder

This series may be continued later…


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