How do Fragile States Achieve Turnaround?

This project sought to understand the factors that contribute to turnaround in fragile states. It was Phase 1 of a 2 part project. Phase 2 sought to understand the factors that shape successful donor interventions in fragile states.

Definitions of ‘Fragile States’ and ‘Turnaround’

For the purpose of this project, ‘fragile states’ are defined as low-income countries that 1) are performing poorly in terms of achieving real economic growth; 2) are failing to significantly reduce poverty; or 3) are experiencing severe violent conflict or have done so in the recent past; and ‘turnaround’ is defined as involving 1) sustained high levels of real economic growth; 2) sustained significant reductions in poverty; and 3) a durable cessation to severe violent conflict.


Researchers examined the experiences of a sample of countries, including Vietnam, Uganda, Mozambique, Burundi, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia. These countries were all at one time poor performers in terms of economic growth and human development and/or experienced severe episodes of violent conflict. At the same time, they vary in terms of whether and the extent to which they have achieved turnaround: Vietnam, Uganda, and Mozambique constitute turnaround cases; Burundi, Laos, and Cambodia constitute non-turnaround cases; and Indonesia constitutes a case of turnaround with subsequent reversal. In explaining the varying outcomes achieved by these countries, desk-based resources were relied on.


  • Achieving a durable cessation to conflict was dependent either on changes in geopolitical conditions providing an incentive for warring parties to lay down their arms or the achievement by one party to a conflict of a clear military victory over its opponents; and second, on opposition groups either being eliminated as a political and military force or being given a stake in the post-conflict political order. But this was only the first stage in the process of turnaround; it was not sufficient to generate turnaround in itself.
  • Outcomes in real economic growth and human development in our sample cases depended on two factors: whether or not political conditions emerged in these countries that were conducive to the introduction of at least modest programmes of market-oriented economic reform and the extent to which these programmes were managed so as to keep elites onside while preventing them from hijacking the reform process.
  • The role of donors in influencing outcomes vis-à-vis turnaround in our sample countries was mixed, being significant and positive in some cases, more problematic in other cases, and insignificant in other cases yet again. This variation in turn reflected a series of factors including the degree of donor engagement, how well donors used the resources at their disposal and the leverage that this gave them, and the broader character of the political economies in which they were engaged, including whether or not, there existed a corps of liberal economic technocrats who shared donors’ economic policy preferences.

Project details

start date
30 January 2004
end date
30 January 2005


Supported by
World Bank Group

Recent work

Journal Article

Achieving Turnaround in Fragile States


Over the past few years, the development challenges faced by fragile states have moved to the top of the international development agenda. This has reflected an apparent increase in the number of fragile states in the world over the past two decades.

1 March 2006