How Can Fragile and Conflict-Affected States Improve Their Legitimacy With Their People?

January 26, 2017

© Alex Baluyut / World Bank
Photo: Alex Baluyut / World Bank

  • Fragility, conflict, and violence affect development outcomes for more than two billion people. This poses a particular challenge to development organizations, governments, and NGOs alike.
  • On December 5, 2016, the World Bank and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy convened a day-long conference to discuss some of these challenges, share the latest research, and exchange knowledge and experience from the field.

Two billion people now live in countries where development outcomes are affected by fragility, conflict, and violence. By 2030, 46% of the global poor could live in fragile and conflict-affected situations. Fragility and conflict can cross national borders, and the consequences of conflict, such as forced displacement, further hinder the capacity of countries and regions to find their path out of poverty.

The World Bank is ramping up its response to the challenges posed by fragility and conflict. The International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the world’s poorest countries, expects to double funding to Bank operations in fragile and conflict-affected states to exceed $14 billion. Understanding effective ways to help those struggling in these situations is critical for achieving the Bank’s twin goals to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity.

The World Bank is also engaging with partners on how to improve development interventions in these contexts. Bridging the academic and policy worlds, on December 5, 2016, the Bank and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University convened a conference on the nexus between fragility, state legitimacy, and service delivery.

The conference, “The Role of Citizens in Service Delivery and Building State Legitimacy in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situations,” brought together about 80 representatives from governments of fragile and conflict-affected states, research institutions, and the international development community to present research and share experiences and lessons learned from ongoing development projects in fragile, conflict-affected, and violent situations.

" It’s a tremendous opportunity, but a tremendous challenge. A challenge that will require more focus on research on what works and what doesn’t work, as well as expanding the use of mechanisms that we know have worked across the world "

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez

Senior Director of the World Bank’s Social, Urban, Rural, and Resilience Global Practice

Community-driven development in fragile and conflict-affected states

One such successful mechanism is community-driven development (CDD), which gives control over planning decisions and investment resources for local development projects to community groups. Often used by the Bank in conflict situations, CDD is fast, flexible, and effective at re-establishing basic services—which can range from health to clean water to education—and has helped rebuild social capital and trust within communities and between communities and governments.

Presenting findings from a study spanning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Uganda, researchers from the Fletcher School and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC) offered insights on what factors help improve state legitimacy. World Bank researchers shared their findings on service delivery and routine violence in Indonesia and the impacts of CDD programs in fragile and conflict-affected situations.

A major insight from the studies’ conclusions was that who delivers the services matters less than how well the services are delivered. Governments seeking to bolster their legitimacy among citizens should seek to improve the quality of these services, even if they are delivered through non-governmental organizations. Poor delivery can quickly destroy hard-fought trust in state institutions.

Trust arrives slowly, like someone walking along an arduous journey through a desert,” said Rachel Slater, Research Director at SLRC. “But trust leaves very quickly, like a horse galloping rapidly away. In the same way, legitimacy takes a lot of time and effort to construct, but it’s vulnerable; delegitimizing [a state] can happen very rapidly indeed.

Country experiences

Shifting gears from theory to practice, government representatives from Afghanistan, Kenya, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, and Cameroon shared their national experiences with CDD projects. The following roundtable discussions tapped perspectives from the research, donor, and government communities to discuss challenges in building state legitimacy and citizen-state relations.

Reflecting on the conference, a government participant from Papua New Guinea said, “We’re implementing a CDD model and I learned about the different challenges that countries are facing and the lessons learned.”

“Such conferences are eye openers and can help us develop a common framework but also learn from past mistakes,” said another participant from Kenya.

This conference is just one example of how the World Bank continues to leverage its international experience and presence to bring people from different institutions and countries together to share knowledge, learn from one another, and bring their diverse perspectives to meet new and deepening global challenges.

The conference was delivered in partnership with Tufts University’s Institute for Human Security and the World Peace Foundation at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the Feinstein International Center at the Friedman School of Nutrition. Other partners included the Geneva Institute of Graduate Studies, and the ODI’s SLRC. The research was supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, UK Aid, and the European Union.