Week 4: State legitimacy: can I rule through clean water?


A presentation on service delivery and state legitimacy in my Development Politics course was important in that it assisted in me building up my repertoire of knowledge about governance and statebuilding.  Having already taken the Governance and Statebuilding course, I had heard much emphasis on the theories of service delivery providing legitimacy to government.  Reflecting upon what I learned during this presentation, I admit that it bolstered my belief in legitimacy through the provision of services, including healthcare, education, clean water, sanitation, and other infrastructure.  I can point towards Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom as an interconnected example; humans know what they want, should have the freedom to know what they want for survival and day-to-day living, and if a government provides those necessities, from healthcare to security, people will enjoy further freedom to move onwards from simply surviving.  For example, the freedom to do business and earn an income requires a specific environment, one that is safe and a society that is sufficiently open.  True freedom of opportunity, according to Sen, requires that people no longer worry about the absolute basics of day-to-day survival.  How might a government earn legitimacy (the keyword here is ‘earn’ and not ‘demand’)?  I do believe one of the most effective ways is through the basic provision of services.  Otherwise, if the government does not lend itself to providing services, people will look elsewhere for necessary services, based on ability to afford them.  In Somalia, where the state has been virtually non-existent since 1991 (bar Somaliland or Puntland), people have turned to local traditional hierarchies for justice, international aid organizations for supplemental food and healthcare, and even more radicalized groups such as Al-Shabaab for income and basic services.

Many extremist groups are fully aware that they can legitimize their presence through service delivery; another such example is Hezbollah in areas of Lebanon, where people maintain a loyalty in exchange for services, a form of social contract.  I can also point to Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes, such as that of Nasser in Egypt, who maintained a sort of unofficial social contract with the population, in that they allow him to govern in a non-democratic manner in exchange for services and subsidies.  Modern Ethiopia, as briefly mentioned in one of my earlier posts, is another example of an authoritarian state that provides security, albeit lacking in human rights, in exchange for legitimacy.  To conclude, the presentation of service delivery in Sri Lanka further reinforced my belief that the provision of services is a basic precursor to the Weberian state that we know in much of the Global North, or alternatively a precursor to any sense of a legitimate state, be it democratic or not. One only has to look at how the LTTE maintained legitimacy in Sri Lanka’s northern regions for a few decades; services provided by the LTTE in this case undermined the right of the central state to rule in rebel areas, and that includes security. Unlike Ataturk’s quote in which he states that the right to rule and sovereignty are acquired through force, power, and violence, I believe that the right to rule is derived through a visible and generous state.

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