School of Policy Studies

School of Policy Studies
School of Policy Studies

Queen's Contagion Cultures Lecture Series

September 8, 2020

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COVID-19--Redefining Fragility and Resilience of Nation-States: The cases of Italy, the United States, Ethiopia, Germany and Cuba

Abdelkerim Ousman
Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Royal Military College

The concept of fragility represents a combination of risks and coping capacities in economic, environmental, political, security and societal dimensions. The concept of resilience describes the ability of states and their institutions to absorb and recover from shocks, whilst positively adapting and transforming their structures and means for living in the face of long-term changes and uncertainty. High-income countries and liberal democracies are supposed to be most resilient. With COVID-19 pandemic, one would expect most fragile states to be insufficiently prepared to face the spread of the disease and its consequences, while countries recognized for their resilience like the United States, Italy and Sweden would be supposed to fare well. However, COVID-19 reveals that countries’ income levels and type of political regimes are not indicators of resilience or fragility in coping with the pandemic. Cases such as Italy, the United States, Ethiopia, Germany and Cuba rather demonstrate that resilience in pandemic is determined by three factors, which have nothing to do with income level or governmental regime. The three factors are: (1) whether health is a public good, (2) whether the state is relatively autonomous from social classes to ensure the equitable provision of that public good, and finally (3) whether there is a relationship of confidence between citizens and state institutions.