This article investigates the multifaceted nature of governance reforms in failed states, and the complex interplay of technical and political factors. It examines three questions: (1) What do the theory and practice of international assistance in public administration tell us about building and/or repairing governance systems? (2) What are the challenges to applying these lessons and models to failed/failing states? and (3) What are the corresponding implications for promoting sustainable governance strategies? The discussion shows how the synoptic efforts to grapple with the 'big picture' are often undermined by the operational nitty-gritty of donor agency procedures and aid delivery mechanisms on the ground. Attention to the complexity of shifting foreign assistance agendas, the application and refinement of analytic and process tools, appropriate incorporation of sometimes conflicting values and agendas and democratic processes to maximize effectiveness can contribute to bringing the conceptual and the practical aspects of promoting governance reforms in failed states closer together. The events of 11 September highlighted the dangers of failed states, not simply for the unfortunate citizens living in those countries, but for the rest of the world as well. This article focuses on the challenges of rebuilding viable governance systems and the implications for international assistance in public administration and governance. When governance systems break down or are destroyed, the door is opened to instability, oppression, conflict and unchecked political and economic opportunism. A vicious cycle ensues in which the institutional fabric that supports societal agreement on basic rules of conduct in all spheres is weak-ened and torn, leading to further decay and conflict. Post 11 September events have focused attention on Afghanistan but it is only one case among many; a partial list of others includes Kosovo, Liberia, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and East Timor. In all of these cases, governance and administrative systems are both part of the problem — due to their absence, insufficiency, or capture — and part of the solution — in their centrality to the viability of the state.
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