How to build accountability in fragile states? Some lessons (and 2 new jobs) from an innovative governance programme.

February 11, 2014

     By Duncan Green     

One of my favourite Oxfam programmes is called (rather arcanely) ‘Within and Without the State’. It is trying to build civil society and public dialogue in S Sudangood governance in some pretty unpromising environments – Yemen, South Sudan, Afghanistan and OPTI (Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel).

It’s currently advertising two new jobs (one on learning and communications, the other a programme coordinator), if you’re interested.

WWS recently published some crisply-written initial findings on governance and fragility. They echo the work of Matt Andrews and others on how institutional change happens. Here’s a few highlights:

‘The state’ is not homogeneous; even a weak or unwilling state may have levels of governance, departments, or particular officials interested in promoting change.

To achieve change it is necessary to work with both citizens and duty-bearers on developing a ‘social contract’. The social contract refers to the agreement of citizens to submit to the authority of government in exchange for protection of their rights and access to services, security, and justice. Citizens will refrain from anarchy and respect the law; government will govern according to law, and promote peace and development.

Developing a social contract in a fragile context will be the product of ongoing explicit and implicit negotiation between different interest groups and a range of formal and informal power holders; the resultant contract will not be a static agreement but will be subject to renegotiation and changes in circumstances.

The advantage of using the social contract model in governance work is that it emphasises the roles and responsibilities of each party (citizens and government), and shows that by engaging with each other and taking a collective problem-solving approach (rather than by confrontation or challenge) they can work together to build a more effective state.

This can help prevent a negative backlash from a state with authoritarian tendencies, which may be nervous about the role of civil society, and give each party a realistic expectation of what the other can do.

MP Hon Rebecca Michael interacting with her constituents at the end of the MP/public dialogue, Wulu, South Sudan, February 2013. Photo: Crispin Hughes

MP Hon Rebecca Michael interacting with
her constituents at the end of the MP/public
dialogue, Wulu, South Sudan, February 2013.
Photo: Crispin Hughes

Approaches to governance work can also be adapted for more restricted contexts: governance can be developed as a strand within other work-streams, for example livelihoods, as this may prove less threatening to a government nervous about the role of civil society.

Addressing gender inequality is essential to governance work in fragile contexts and will actually improve its effectiveness. Gender inequality is itself a driver of fragility: in South Sudan, for example, high bride price fuels cattle raiding and conflict between tribal groups; in Afghanistan, women may be ‘given’ or ‘taken’ to settle community disputes and conflicts; and women’s exclusion from public life and decision-making in all fragile contexts means public policy will only address the needs of half of the population.

In fragile contexts, significant power may be held not by the state but by informal power-holders, such as tribal, traditional, or religious leaders. These informal power-holders may act either as ‘blockers’ or ‘enablers’, preventing change that they do not see as desirable, or being able to influence formal power-holders in the state to achieve change. Strengthening governance may also involve working to improve the accountability and transparency of these informal power-holders, and ensuring they exercise their own power in the interests of citizens and communities.

This underlines the importance of conducting detailed power and context analysis to reveal where informal or hidden power lies in any particular context, how to target the source of power, and who can help to influence power-holders. Power analysis should be built around multiple sources of information including formal data and the ‘word on the street’. Analysis should be revisited frequently as power is constantly shifting in fragile contexts.

Overall Conclusion: It is possible to achieve change in fragile contexts, but it should not be short-term or measured only by conventional indicators and donor requirements. WWS has many examples of changes and successes achieved in fragile contexts:

• In Yemen, with support from WWS, the Civil Society Network in Ghail Bawazeer District conducted a participatory needs assessment, which identified water and health as priorities. The assessment was shared with local authorities during their annual planning process, and the council agreed to fund a new health unit and water project from its 2014 budget.

• In South Sudan a highly-restrictive NGO bill, which would have made it harder for CSOs to operate, was revised as a result of fragilelobbying by WWS and partner organisations, including consultation with civil society groups and lobbying of government officials. The bill has now been redrafted and is awaiting ratification. Lobbying around draft media legislation also resulted in the development of a more progressive bill than that first proposed.

• In the West Bank WWS trained community committees in five villages in participatory needs assessment, and supported them to engage positively with Palestinian authorities around better service provision. The process successfully mobilised and empowered the community, particularly women and youth who were enabled to play a more active role in community life.

• In Afghanistan WWS partners organised peace hearings in three provinces. At the Parwan Provincial Peace Hearing in August 2012, the Governor was questioned in front of the media and a range of issues were openly discussed – including ending violence against women and creating the security to enable women to participate in society. CSOs called for the issue of violence against women not to be ignored and for incidents of rape to be reported directly to the Governor, to which he agreed.

But the experience of WWS also shows that the pace of change is often slow because of the difficulty of the programming environment, and that the process followed may actually be as important to promoting good governance as the outcome.’

Lots more in the briefing and on the website. If you’re interested in the jobs, closing date is 21st Feb.