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The Critical Link between Failed States and Values

Alan Tonkin

I am honoured once again to publish AlanTonkin’s work as a ‘guest blog’. Alan wrote this piece for the Global Values Network web site he runs but also thought it would be appropriate to publish it here. GVN is one of the most advanced projects in the world at using Spiral Dynamics to monitor shifts in societies and assess impacts at national, international and even global levels.

As the world seems to become an ever-more dangerous place, Alan offers this consideration as to why so many ‘Third World’ states fail to develop in positive and healthy ways for the benefit of their own peoples and the international community.


The latest edition of Foreign Policy magazine for July/August 2008, in conjunction with The Fund for Peace, has just published their latest rankings of Failed States with Africa occupying 7 of the top 10 positions. These include Somalia (1), Sudan (2), Zimbabwe (3), Chad (4), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (6), the Ivory Coast – no 8 – and the Central African Republic (10).

The non–African countries are Iraq (5), Afghanistan (7) and Pakistan (9) which are in the Middle Eastern region (see map below – copyright © 2008 The Fund for Peace).  A further eleven African countries are included in the critical Alert list of 32 countries.  This is a total of 18 or 56% of the total and raises the question of why is this the case? The balance of 34 fall into Warning and only South Africa currently falls into Moderate.



In order to more fully understand this situation it is necessary to fully appreciate the direct link between  failed states and values and why the two issues are so closely intertwined. 


Dr Don Beck, in his ground breaking work on ‘values’ in ‘Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership & Change’ (co-authored with Christopher Cowan and first published in 1996) explains this link.  The book is based on the original work by Professor Clare Graves at Union College in New York in the 1950s and shows how different values require different levels and approaches to leadership. 


Beck also visited South Africa over 60 times in a fifteen year period extending from the early 80’s to the mid – 90’s during a period of rapid political change and transition. These visits generally were on average a minimum of 15 days in length giving him an in-depth exposure to South Africa covering a total period of over two and a half years.  


During his visits Beck interacted with a wide variety of organisations and individual leaders including top politicians from both the leading ANC and National parties as well as other political parties and groupings. He also had wide exposure to leaders in both business organisations and NGO’s.


How different values influence democracy and leadership.

Beck has produced an interesting graphic to illustrate his approach and we will use this to show how different values produce different leadership.  It is also important to note that different ‘values mixes’ exist in both developing and developed countries.  This helps explain why bodies such as the United Nations are often unable to agree on how to facilitate and resolve global problems due to widely differing worldviews.


Stratified Democracy

South Africa has a dual profile with both a developing and developed component.  This scenario is often described by commentators as the 1st and 3rd World components of the South African economy.   However, even South Africa as the largest and most developed economy on the African continent still has a majority of its citizens who exhibit the Tribal PURPLE and RED Power values. 


In looking at Sub-Saharan Africa it becomes clear that the reason why many African states behave as they do is due to the values systems present.  In considering the African countries represented in the top 10 failed states they all without exception exhibit high levels of tribalism and the influence of ‘warlords’.  Until this changes with increased stability democratic values are simply not possible. 


The Zimbabwe issue

The current problem of Zimbabwe lies in the values struggle between ZANU–PF and Robert Mugabe filling the Tribal PURPLE and RED Power space with the MDC being more centred on BLUE Stability and ORANGE Growth.  The shift from Tribal Order and Warlords took place in Europe over two centuries ago.  However, until a larger number of Africa’s leaders and people make the shift into BLUE Order and ORANGE Enterprise the continent will continue to remain a serious global concern. 


This is best illustrated in the graphic shown below illustrating the influence of values in The Competitive Impact of Values updated in 2002 from the World Competitiveness Report of 1992.  This shows how countries move from collective individual values over extended periods of time going back centuries.


Competitiveness Values

It is important to note that Africa is still moving into BLUE Order and ORANGE Enterprise and helps to explain the reasons for the dictatorships and corruption still prevalent on the continent.  At this stage much of Africa broadly compares to Europe during the 18th and early 19th Century.


Some Conclusions

The countries of the developed world need to more fully understand the reasons why African countries and leaders behave as they do.  They need to encourage positive change by demanding positive action on democracy and its institutions in return.  The days of not setting achievable outcomes on both aid and project financing should change to positive outcomes being rewarded by the developed economies. 


At the same time, the new younger generation of emerging African leadership who were not part of the transition from colonial to nationalist politics must take responsibility for the required values shifts in Africa.  This includes providing the correct messages for the population of their countries and encouraging hard work and responsibility, as has occurred in countries such as Singapore and China. 


At this stage many African politicians avoid criticising irresponsible RED Power language within their own countries in order to avoid confrontation with rogue elements.  Until there is a significant change in the values of the leadership in these countries this essential challenge is unlikely to happen.  In addition, there is a real risk that existing democratic institutions such as the courts may be threatened if there is no support for a set of more ‘developed values’.  This equally applies to African leaders who support advanced values criticising those who are in denial of these.


The new South African Constitution is an example of an ideal being ahead of the values of the broad population.  It is generally accepted that the Constitution is one of the most advanced in the world.  However, the thrust of the South African Constitution is on the BLUE Order, ORANGE Enterprise and GREEN values set.  At the same time the bulk of the population are in the Tribal PURPLE and RED Power range and this is why it is critical that the emerging ‘black middle class’ continues to grow and move into the values range as set out in the Constitution.  


What is also required in South Africa is a visionary leader who can integrate the wide spread of values present and move the values spread of the whole country forward.  This will involve an understanding of the Tribal PURPLE and RED Power values while at the same time moving the majority of the population into BLUE Order and ORANGE Enterprise.  A young version of Nelson Mandela is urgently required who can mobilise all the differing levels and build a shared vision of the future.  This type of leader is the one who operates at the Integral YELLOW level.    


If Africa is to move forward as a continent its leaders have to take more responsibility for their actions. They also need to avoid falling back into the habits of the past by accusing the developed world of not understanding its positions. We all operate in a global economy and common standards are being applied on an equal basis.  However, equally there needs to be a better understanding of the developing world by those holding economic power in order to move the development process forward.  


It should also be realised that this is a journey, not an event and that values change over time due to the existing life conditions.  This includes the fact that we often  only change as individuals and countries only when it is too uncomfortable to stay where we  are. This is where positive pressure and encouragement from the developed world can move developing countries forward on the values continuum.  This is also a key step in the ongoing movement against global terrorism and other threats.  


This process can significantly accelerate change in developing countries which can results in the shifts that have taken centuries in some regions being compressed into a shorter time frame. This is the key opportunity in the 21st Century for both the developed world as well as in those countries and their citizens currently occupying the areas of most concern on the ‘Failed States’ league table. See also Failed States Index on



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  1. Jerry says

    It is good to talk with you again, too, Keith.

    You seem to know a good deal about the mechanisms that underlie Ireland’s recent ascension to near the top of the good end of the failed states inventory. Based on Graves’ ideas and the history/geography of Ireland, I would have invented a fiction to explain Ireland’s recent success that would have been quite similar to the factual explanation you recited. And I would have been concerned, as you are, about the festering, residual purple/red that likely will erupt if Ireland’s success turns out to be unsustainable.

    That Graves’ theory can be used to correctly create my predictive fiction which matches well with your fact is an indication of the validity of his hypothesis. Its predictive ability is the standard by which a theory is measured.

  2. Jerry says

    Lebanon ranks 18 out of 177 on the Fund for Peace’s list of failed state indicators (1 [Somalia] being worst and 177 [Norway] best.) It’s hard to think of Lebanon as any sort of example of success, unless, maybe, you’re comparing it to a state like Iraq (#5).

    Eight years ago a number of people in the Spiral Dynamics community conceived Iraq to be run by a big RED dictator and a number of people in the Spiral Dynamics community thought Iraq could be substantially improved by neutralizing or destroying its RED leadership. Maybe things have to get worse before they get better. Or maybe not.

    Graves’s ideas, however, can be put to better use. I noticed a couple other things looking at the failed state list. First, South Africa is not among the “moderate” group but is still among those countries for which there is an “alert”(it ranks with Ghana.) Ireland, on the other hand, is ranked 174 (4th best – ahead of Switzerland behind Sweden.) That struck me as odd in that I’ve thought of Ireland as being sort of terrorist territory what with the IRA and all. Obviously, my conceptualization of Ireland is dated. Maybe we could use Graves’s ideas or Spiral Dynamics to relook at South Africa and Ireland. Why haven’t things improved more for Mandela’s country and what’s behind Ireland’s recent success?

    • keitherice says

      Hi, Jerry – so good to converse with you again!

      My take on Ireland is that ORANGE really grew up in the Irish Republic on the back of huge amounts of European Union Objective 1 money in the early 1990s and came to dominate culturally over BLUE’s constitutionally-enshrined claim to the 6 counties of Northern Ireland. When the Good Friday agreement was put to referendum – involving dismantling forever Eire’s claim to the North, it passed easily. (“Get those crazy gunmen out of the way o me making money” sort of thing.) In the economically-depressed North, it was only the personal intervention of David Trimble, the then-High Priest of Ulster Unionism which got BLUE to vote enough for the referendum to scrape through. (Which support for an entente with the Catholic Nationalists effectively put an end to Trimble’s career.)

      Since Good Friday huge amounts of money have been pumped into Northern Ireland and the economy has boomed. I suspect the Republic has gone too far culturally up the Spiral to go back entirely – BLUE values have changed somewhat, as a result of ORANGE’s domninance. But in parts of Northern Ireland the old PURPLE/BLUE factions still simmer. If the recession really bites and jobs are lost wide-scale, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see at least a partial return to sectarian violence. Hope not but wouldn’t be that surprised by it.

  3. Jerry says

    We need to thank Alan Tonkin for directing our attention to the The Fund for Peace website from which he pulls the statistics for this piece. In an effort to understand the information that organization presents, it is also good to have an explanatory tool like that provided by the work of Clare Graves and by Spiral Dynamics.

    However, jumping to the conclusion that what is needed for the failed states is a dynamic “yellow” leader along the lines of Nelson Mandela could be the reasoning of someone operating at the blue/orange level of thought. A visionary leader along the lines of Nelson Mandela may no longer be a workable solution because the rogue Red elements that need “confrontation” have seen the success of visionary leaders before and are onto this strategy. Red does not imply stupidity. Red is aware of the threat visionary leaders pose and are busy blowing them up.

    • keitherice says

      Interesting observation, Jerry. Rafik Hariri is one blown-up visionary who comes to mind. For all the (pretty substantial!) allegations of corruption, he had helped take Lebanon a long way on from the civil wars of the 80s.

      I see the RED need for “confrontation” you talk about illustrated in Don Beck’s ACE concept. You can’t really accommodate such people. Preferably isolate and neutralise them; destroy them if necessary. Awful but perhaps no other way.

      Of course, being able to isolate and neutralise depends a lot on a favourable zeitgeist (spirit of the times).

  4. keitherice says

    Re: “The countries of the developed world need to more fully understand the reasons why African countries and leaders behave as they do.”

    I think to some very considerable extent, the West still tends to see Africa through the eyes of Modernisation theorists like Walter Rostow and Talcott Parsons. For them, the traditions of PURPLE tribalism are a hinderance to developing the blue/ORANGE values of Western consumerism and so have to be undermined and, if necessary, destroyed.

    Thus, not only has the historical colonial West disrupted the development of Africa through the arbitrary redrawing of tribal boundaries into nation states but the modern post-colonial West has tied aid to socio-economic policies designed to jumpstart PURPLE tribalism into ORANGE Capitalism. Small wonder it hasn’t worked and the disruption of PURPLE traditions has led to so much unhealthy RED in the form of corrupt ‘warlords’.

    As you so eloquently say, Alan, we need YELLOW-thinking Nelson Mandelas who understand all the values levels and can work to shift the bulk of their populations up the Spiral.