Category Archives: Development Politcs

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.

Week 2: Foreign intervention and the modern Congolese state

MONUC political cartoon

Having chosen the governance and statebuilding pathway of International Development and having always had an underlying interest in states, what defines them, and electoral systems, I found the presentation on ‘Engagement with Non-state Actors (NSA)’ in my Development Politics course to be quite enlightening; it also reinforced a lot of previous information I had gathered over the years from reading travel writing from various journalists and experts who had visited the DRC, ranging from Michela Wrong’s In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz to Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World’s Most Dangerous Country by Tim Butcher, a well-regarded journalist. Other than reading various books on the country and its history, other background information came from watching Lumumba, a film on the nation’s first prime minister’s life and from reading various biographies and history books. Much of this background information also included detailed, but almost always out-of-date information on rebel groups that have operated in the country’s eastern regions from the First Congo War (1996-1997).  Although this is only a brief summary of the situation in the Eastern Congo and how much of the state is actually visible in that region, more substance about what defines a state can be found by reading Acemoglu and Robinson’s Why Nations Fail: The origins of power, prosperity and poverty (2012) and Thomas Risse’s Governance Without a State?: Policies and Politics in Areas of Limited Statehood (2011).

The presentation on NSA’s included a quick look at what defined the state, especially in the Congo’s case.  With more than half a century of kleptocratic rule, much of the nation never received any semblance of social services, and those that did exist in the security sector were made up of corrupt officials, often placed in remote cities by the central government in Kinshasa.  In the Congo today, most people would openly admit that they simply do not trust government forces and police, as they are as corrupt and if not as brutal, as the various rebel groups operating in the country’s east. Beyond acknowledging that the security services can be considered to be both inept and unreliable, another key point is the involvement of surrounding nations in Congolese affairs. Beginning with the downfall of Mobutu, and not including earlier intervention in the 1960s, surrounding nations played major roles in both Congo wars, between 1996 and 2003. These interventions, many of which continued to be funded by the Rwandan government, both indirectly through rebel groups and directly through Rwandan military forces, continued to impact the strength of the Congolese state in eastern regions.

To conclude, it being quite apparent that the Congolese state is viewed on par with the various rebel groups, it can be surmised that interacting with NSA’s might be productive in that they play an important role in remote areas of the DRC.  In smaller communities, Mai-Mai self-defense groups operate with the claim that they provide security where the state and rebel groups do not operate. As with more organized rebel groups, they also collect taxes through roadblocks and forms of resource extraction; much of the funding behind rebel groups comes from mining.  I feel that it is apparent that donors and other outside actors might find it more productive to reinforce civil-society groups who are not connected to armed NSA’s and work through them to reach local populations in Eastern Congo.


Week 3: The nature of illiberal democracy – common trends in Africa


Although this presentation was not new to me – it had been a component of my Governance and Statebuilding course – it was certainly useful to hear again.  Parts of the presentation were buttressed further through class discussion, ranging from what defines liberal democracy vs. illiberal democracy, and how it differs from totalitarian states or non-democratic authoritarian state structures.  Although the focus was on Angola and its illiberal democracy, where civil liberties are restricted and human rights, in the Western sense of the word, are not prioritized components of rule, I want to compare it directly to Ethiopia and its experiences in building an illiberal democratic state. I re-read McFerson’s Governance Without a State?: Policies and Politics in Areas of Limited Statehood (2009) and realized that it also was similar to another book, titled A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa by Howard French, which I had read, about corruption in Angolan politics and the collusion of Western corporate interests with Angolan elites in transferring vast amounts of money out of the country. One can summarize this by looking at how the formerly Marxist regime gravitated out of centralized state control of the economy and gradually handed out lucrative resource contracts to current and former military generals.  In that sense, it can be said that Angola is an illiberal democracy with a façade maintained through unfree elections, where ultimate control over finances and business interests lie with a small elite that emerged from the military and from Angola’s decades of civil war.

Ethiopia also experience a surge of illiberal statebuilding in that it also emerged from a civil war where a Marxist regime was overthrown, only for it to be replaced by a new non-ideological elite seeking to concentrate wealth amongst themselves. Ethiopia and Angola both maintain facades of democratic governance in that they do not follow norms of Western liberal democracy, where civil protections are key to democratic rule and where governments are beholden to the people.  Instead, both nations hold unfree elections that are largely ceremonial in that the ruling party maintain an iron grip on control and everyday affairs of the state. The ruling parties in this case are one and the same with the state bodies of power; in Angola, the state oil monopoly is a purse for ruling party members and the small elite within.  To conclude, I believe that illiberal democracies in Africa provide a sense of stability to nations that were wracked by instability in the past and are better than the alternative; one only needs to look so far as the DRC or Central African Republic to see one alternative.  At the same time, I believe that illiberal democracy should still only be a stepping stone on the way to liberal democracy and governments responsive to their own citizens.  How that might happen is still a mystery and a topic for further debate. Just to note, that doesn’t mean I think other nations such as Kenya and Ghana, with more ingrained aspects of liberal democracy should revert to illiberal democracy once again.

For an excellent look into Angola’s past and its Marxist history, I recommend this documentary: