Improving local governance in fragile states—practical lessons from the field

Sum­mary –

Over the past 15 years, ma­jor in­ter­na­tional donor agen­cies shifted their ap­proach to lo­cal poli­tics in frag­ile states. In or­der to build sta­ble state-so­ciety re­la­tions in con­flict-af­fected so­cieties, they com­mit­ted to study­ing pop­u­lar ex­pec­ta­tions on states, which may differ greatly from in­ter­na­tional norms like com­pet­i­tive elec­tions and ser­vice pro­vi­sion. This blog post ex­am­ines donor in­ter­ven­tions to im­prove ser­vice pro­vi­sion in re­fugee-crisis-af­fected com­mu­ni­ties in Le­banon and Jor­dan from 2011 to 2019. Donor states hoped that im­prov­ing ser­vice pro­vi­sion ca­pac­ity of mu­ni­ci­pal­ities would in­crease pub­lic trust, but en­coun­tered prob­lems with block vot­ing and pa­tron­age, lead­ing them to ques­tion the value of ser­vice pro­vi­sion. Fu­ture posts dis­cuss al­ter­nate strate­gies that some donors at­tempted.

Le­gi­t­i­macy in frag­ile states -

Le­gi­t­i­macy is the ex­tent to which the peo­ple be­ing ruled con­sent to be­ing ruled. Ruler’s who peo­ple trust to ex­er­cise co­er­ci­sion are le­gi­t­i­mate. Author­ity is force (co­er­cion) with le­gi­t­i­macy. A ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans may dis­like Don­ald Trump, but they con­tinue to pay taxes to him and few peo­ple are ad­vo­cat­ing we in­stead ad­dress our taxes to Hillary Clin­ton or Jill Stein. The hang­ing chad con­tro­versy in 2000 was a le­gi­t­i­macy ques­tion be­cause it called into ques­tion whether the elec­toral col­lege should con­fer the right to rule.

Read­ers from de­vel­oped coun­tries are used to always know­ing the rele­vant pub­lic au­thor­ity due to a clear di­vi­sion be­tween state and so­ciety. The mayor de­cides who can park where, and who­ever wins the bi­an­nual may­oral elec­tion gets to be mayor. The pres­i­dent ap­points the head of the IRS, and who­ever gets the most elec­toral col­lege votes be­comes pres­i­dent, et cetera. But in frag­ile de­vel­op­ing coun­tries the ques­tion of who wields au­thor­ity is more of­ten con­tested. If there is no mayor or the mayor is a figure head ap­pointed by a dis­tant au­thor­ity, com­mu­ni­ties some other au­thor­i­ties must judge which spaces are for park­ing or mar­ket stalls and provide other lo­cal gov­er­nance ser­vices. In the ab­sence of le­gi­t­i­mate, func­tional state ac­tors, other ac­tors such as tribes, sheikhs, armed groups and char­i­ties of­ten com­pete for le­gi­t­i­macy. We call these di­verse, com­pet­ing lo­cal ac­tors pub­lic au­thor­i­ties.

Why do we care -

In the 2000s the con­cept of le­gi­t­i­macy be­came im­por­tant to the in­ter­na­tional donors. The donors are gov­ern­ment and in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies who fund over­seas as­sis­tance pro­jects, like USAID, DFID, the World Bank and the Kuwait Fund. Among other fac­tors, the 2000s saw well-funded donor at­tempts to cre­ate sta­ble, le­gi­t­i­mate gov­ern­ments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Th­ese pro­jects did not go as well as in­tended, par­tic­u­larly given the sums in­volved. In fancy re­ports at the Devel­op­ment As­sis­tance Com­mit­tee, USAID, and DFID stud­ied how both state and non-state ac­tors le­gi­t­i­mate them­selves, hop­ing to re­form state-build­ing and im­prove as­sis­tance in frag­ile states.

The pri­mary out­come of these stud­ies we call the em­piri­cal le­gi­t­i­macy agenda. Pre­vi­ous in­ter­ven­tions had as­sumed nor­ma­tive le­gi­t­i­macy, mean­ing that states achieved le­gi­t­i­macy by ad­her­ing to nor­ma­tive stan­dards such as com­pet­ing in elec­tions, pro­vid­ing ser­vices, fol­low­ing clear and trans­par­ent rules, etc. Now donors rec­og­nized that they could not pre­dict pop­u­lar ex­pec­ta­tions of the state. Le­gi­t­i­macy is in­stead con­structed through a va­ri­ety of com­plex, idiosyn­cratic prac­tices which may not re­sem­ble west­ern le­gi­t­i­macy-mak­ing. At least some le­gi­t­i­macy-mak­ing prac­tices will likely be shared in non-west­ern sys­tems, such as pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity and so­cial ser­vices, or listen­ing to cit­i­zen par­ti­ci­pa­tion, some­times through in­ter­me­di­ary rep­re­sen­ta­tives like tribal lead­ers. Some le­gi­t­i­macy-mak­ing prac­tices which are frowned-upon in the west are com­mon in frag­ile states, such as claiming a right to rule through shared re­li­gious be­lief. Pa­tron­age is es­pe­cially com­mon, in which higher elites provide re­sources in ex­change for sup­port to clients. While pa­tron­age de­grades state ca­pac­ity and alienates non-elites, in prac­tice it can be a source of le­gi­t­i­macy. Anec­do­tally, I doubted peo­ple could say “What our poli­ti­cal sys­tem needs is more nepo­tism, but di­rected to­ward my in­group”, un­til I heard peo­ple say it my­self.

Ac­cord­ing to their global strate­gies, donors adopted em­piri­cism to un­der­stand how le­gi­t­i­macy is con­structed, but their goal re­mained the cre­ation of le­gi­t­i­mate, rules-based gov­er­nance. The pur­pose of un­der­stand­ing prac­ti­cal le­gi­t­i­macy-mak­ing is to help states emerge from frag­ility, mean­ing to be­come le­gi­t­i­mate and effec­tive with strong con­nec­tions to their so­cieties.

This blog se­ries in­ves­ti­gates how the em­piri­cal le­gi­t­i­macy has af­fected aid policy in prac­tice in Jor­dan and Le­banon dur­ing the Syr­ian crisis.

Im­prov­ing ser­vice capacity

[I am now switch­ing to aca­demic jar­gon, so this lan­guage can in­te­grate di­rectly in my pa­per]

The most com­mon the­ory of change in­volv­ing lo­cal le­gi­t­i­macy is that im­prov­ing the ser­vices of mu­ni­ci­pal­ities will in­crease the their le­gi­t­i­macy (LCRP, 2016). The Le­banon Cri­sis Re­sponse Plan (LCRP) cites this nar­ra­tive, writ­ing “the sec­tor will then de­velop and strengthen a wide range of com­mu­nity sup­port and ba­sic ser­vices pro­jects, which will serve the dual pur­poses of alle­vi­at­ing pres­sure and com­pe­ti­tion of re­sources at the lo­cal level, and—more im­por­tantly – build­ing the con­fi­dence of lo­cal pop­u­la­tions in mu­ni­ci­pal ca­pac­ity (…)” (LCRP, 2016: 18). This nar­ra­tive is pre­sented fre­quently both in pro­ject pro­pos­als and in multi-donor strate­gies. USAID’s Le­banon strat­egy for 2014-2019 reads “In or­der to deepen con­nec­tions be­tween the pub­lic and their lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives, USAID will build the in­sti­tu­tional ca­pac­i­ties of mu­ni­ci­pal­ities and strengthen their abil­ity to de­liver qual­ity ser­vices, (…).” Pro­pos­als usu­ally sup­port this nar­ra­tive us­ing sur­vey data that in­di­cates ser­vice failures caused by re­fugees are a source of ten­sion, as in the UK CSSF’s pro­gramme doc­u­ment which reads “The in­crease of re­fugees is plac­ing con­sid­er­able strain on already over­bur­dened mu­ni­ci­pal sys­tems, and in do­ing so, threat­ens so­cial sta­bil­ity and co­he­sion” (CSSF, CLCR; 2). The im­plicit as­sump­tion is that mu­ni­ci­pal lead­ers cur­rently rely on perfor­mance based le­gi­t­i­macy from suc­cess­fully pro­vid­ing ser­vices, that the in­flux of res­i­dents from the crisis has wors­ened the qual­ity of said ser­vices, and that in­creas­ing the ser­vices will there­fore le­gi­t­i­mate the mu­ni­ci­pal lead­ers. Sev­eral pro­pos­als in turn as­sert that greater mu­ni­ci­pal le­gi­t­i­macy will lead to greater so­cial co­he­sion, pos­si­bly im­ply­ing less an­i­mus against re­fugees.

The ca­pac­ity in­creas­ing pro­grams provide di­rect grant fund­ing to mu­ni­ci­pal­ities, as­sist with pro­cure­ment, and provide train­ing to mu­ni­ci­pal staff. The UK’s CSSF has pro­vided mu­ni­ci­pal grants de­pend­ing on the re­fugee por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion in a re­gion. The World Bank’s Mu­ni­ci­pal Ser­vices and So­cial Re­silience Pro­ject (MSSRP) in 2015 pro­vided US$ 54.5 M to 21 mu­ni­ci­pal­ities calcu­lated by a base al­lo­ca­tion per mu­ni­ci­pal­ities plus 19$ per Syr­ian. USAID’s CITIES pro­gram pro­vides qual­ify­ing mu­ni­ci­pal­ities with HR au­dits, train­ing on de­vel­op­ment plan­ning and zon­ing among other ser­vices. The DMFA, through UNDP, funds fa­cil­ities re­pairs and trains mu­ni­ci­pal po­lice forces in Le­banon (DMFA, 2016; Ac­tivity Num­ber 29568).

Over­time in Jor­dan and Le­banon donors be­came less con­fi­dent that ca­pac­ity build­ing along would ac­com­plish their gov­er­nance and sta­bil­ity ob­jec­tives. Most im­por­tantly, the large donors with ma­jor sta­bil­ity in­vest­ments in Jor­dan no­ticed that many mu­ni­ci­pal elec­tions were de­ter­mined by bloc vot­ing along tribal lines. May­oral can­di­dates are of­ten se­lected in an in­ter­nal tribal elec­tion af­ter which all tribe mem­bers vote for the can­di­date, or can­di­dates may ne­go­ti­ate an al­li­ance of tribes for the elec­tion. In turn, the tribal sup­port­ers ex­pect fam­ily mem­bers will re­ceive po­si­tions in the mu­ni­ci­pal­ity. As a re­sult, per­son­nel costs dom­i­nate mu­ni­ci­pal bud­gets, av­er­ag­ing 60-65% of their bud­gets to the detri­ment of cap­i­tal costs (for in­sti­tu­tions pro­vid­ing road build­ing and san­i­ta­tion ser­vices), lead­ing to de­pen­dence on over­seas aid (UNDP, 2014). Most work­ers had not com­pleted high school (Ibid). May­ors com­plain that they can­not ac­com­plish ob­jec­tives due to de­mands from their coun­cils to hire rel­a­tives [Ja­nine Clark]. Mu­ni­ci­pal lead­ers pri­ori­tized vis­it­ing lo­cal elites and re­solv­ing dis­putes over ad­ver­tis­ing their ser­vice pro­vi­sion. This ev­i­dence sug­gested that pa­tron­age and tribal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion were more im­por­tant to mu­ni­ci­pal le­gi­t­i­macy-mak­ing than pro­cess (elec­tions) or perfor­mance.

Se­condly, they be­came aware that mu­ni­ci­pal­ities had se­vere ca­pac­ity prob­lems prior to the crisis, such as in­ter­mit­tent trans­fers from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, bud­gets over­in­vested in pay­roll rather than cap­i­tal, and over di­vi­sion into mu­ni­ci­pal­ities too small to func­tion (par­tic­u­larly in Le­banon). The ac­tual re­duc­tion in mu­ni­ci­pal ca­pac­ity caused by the re­fugees may have been over­stated given the low baseline of ser­vice pro­vi­sion (USAID, 2016).

Thirdly, in Jor­dan elite-pop­u­lace con­flicts shifted away from re­fugee is­sues to­ward dis­putes over the amount and dis­tri­bu­tion of pa­tron­age among Jor­da­ni­ans. Protests in 2019 oc­curred more in low-re­fugee cities and par­ti­ci­pants did not cite host re­fugee is­sues, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­vie­wees. In Le­banon host-re­fugee is­sues re­mained im­por­tant in mu­ni­ci­pal poli­tics, al­though in­for­mally donors in the se­cu­rity cluster doubted that ca­pac­ity en­hance­ment in­fluenced mu­ni­ci­pal policy to­ward re­fugees[1].

All of these ob­ser­va­tions sug­gested that en­hanc­ing mu­ni­ci­pal ca­pac­ity was un­likely to le­gi­t­i­mate them. Firstly, they did not rely heav­ily on perfor­mance le­gi­t­i­macy so did not heav­ily ad­ver­tise their ser­vices. Se­condly, the in­cen­tives cre­ated by the pa­tron­age sys­tem could di­rect fund­ing to­ward ghost jobs and away from ac­tual ser­vice pro­vi­sion. One op­ti­mistic re­port noted in Le­banon that the ex­pec­ta­tions for mu­ni­ci­pal ser­vice pro­vi­sion were low enough that any ser­vices would be a pleas­ant sur­prise (Mourad, 2016).

Poli­cy­mak­ers at larger agen­cies with lead­er­ship roles in gov­er­nance co­gently de­scribed the is­sues with block vot­ing and differ­ing in­cen­tives. The UK’s CSSF had com­mis­sioned a se­ries of re­ports on le­gi­t­i­macy mak­ing and ser­vice pro­vi­sion in mu­ni­ci­pal­ities in both Jor­dan and Le­banon. CSSF hired a re­search agency to con­duct in-depth stud­ies in ad­di­tion to com­mis­sion­ing reg­u­lar sur­veys. USAID’s democ­racy and gov­er­nance office kept a close eye on these prob­lems through reg­u­lar re­ports from im­ple­ment­ing part­ners and oc­ca­sional field vis­its. One agency went so far as to sur­vey at­ten­dants at town-hall meet­ings (de­scribed be­low) for the de­mo­graph­ics of par­ti­ci­pants. The re­sults of these stud­ies and the donors col­lected state­ments broadly agree with in­de­pen­dent aca­demic work on Jor­da­nian and Le­banese mu­ni­ci­pal poli­tics (Mu­ni­ci­pal poli­tics in Jor­dan and mo­rocco).

As a re­sult of these con­cerns, donors now rarely site only the ser­vices-le­gi­t­i­macy con­nec­tion to jus­tify large pro­jects for mu­ni­ci­pal­ities. They usu­ally add one or more of the fol­low­ing meth­ods: teach­ing new meth­ods of le­gi­t­i­macy-mak­ing to lo­cal lead­ers, in­creas­ing pub­lic par­ti­ci­pa­tion in gov­ern­ment, and in­creas­ing par­ti­ci­pa­tion of vuln­er­a­ble groups. The sub­se­quent sec­tions (posts) ex­plore these in­ter­ven­tions in greater de­tail.

What I need from you, dear read­ers!

Thanks for read­ing this open­ing sec­tions. In you com­ments, tell me to what ex­tent you un­der­stand the is­sues pre­sented.

- Were any con­clu­sions un­sup­ported?

- Were all sec­tions nec­es­sary?

  • I strug­gled to com­bine data from both Jor­dan and Le­banon due differ­ent due to their differ­ent poli­ti­cal sys­tems. Did this in­terfere with com­pre­hen­sion?