Despite the increasing attention legitimacy has received in critical research and donor strategies, the translation of this into tangible interventions has been lagging. Indeed if the aim of state building in fragile states is to build legitimate states, the process of building a state has tended to remain vague in donor strategies. Teskey et al.(2012) find that, in World Bank strategies in 37 fragile states from 2000 to 2010, the term state-building is employed as a proxy for a range of concerns, from a very narrow perspective of state building as service delivery through the state, to a very broad understanding of state building as a fundamental transformation in political, economic, social and security spheres. Strengthening the capacity of central state institutions is the most common focus in the country strategies. Legitimacy is rarely explicitly discussed, though it is occasionally addressed indirectly, through strengthening mechanisms of accountability.
Despite this lack of clarity about how to build a state, Teskey et al. describe an ‘emerging consensus’ among donors that interventions need to include a mix of activities most likely to contribute to increased legitimacy in the short-term – what the WDR 2011 calls restoring confidence – and longer-term efforts to legitimise the state by strengthening its links to society (what the WDR 2011 terms transforming institutions) (World Bank, 2011).
One example of a programme which aimed to increase the legitimacy of the state, or rather win ‘hearts and minds’ is the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) in Afghanistan. The NSP is funded by a pool of international donors, run by the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and implemented by civilian facilitating partners (Beath, Fotini, & Enikolopov, 2012). The authors argue that, as the programme is presented as a government programme, in the eyes of NSP recipients this development aid is primarily linked to the Afghan government although they concede that it could, to some extent, also be attributed to the efforts of NGOs (who are implementing the project) and foreign donors (who are sponsoring it). Their findings indicate that the NSP has a strong positive effect on people’s attitudes towards the Afghan government (both central and local). NSP also appears to improve the attitudes toward NGOs and, to some extent, to coalition forces on the ground.
A great deal of literature theorises a link between legitimacy and social contract (Hawkins, 2012). Social protection programmes are posited to strengthen the social contract. For example, based on 18 months of research, including field work in Sierra Leone, northern Kenya and Sudan, Osofisan (2011) argues that social protection programmes in the form of cash transfers, if well designed, could play a significant role in strengthening state-citizen relations. ‘Well designed’ does not necessarily mean a programme that efficiently meets its top-down and externally-defined outcomes but one that is designed to consider the ideational and relational significance of an intervention; how a programme relates to beneficiaries values and expectations (Mcloughlin, 2014). Donors considering interventions which are intended to contribute to either short-term and long-term state legitimacy will need a greater understanding of the dynamics of legitimacy construction in a particular environment to assess whether the intervention is (a) an appropriate strategy; and (b) likely to be effective.
- Beath, A., Fotini, C., & Enikolopov, R. (2012). Winning hearts and minds? Evidence from a field experiement in Afghanistan. See document online
- Hawkins, J. (2012). Annotated bibliography on ‘Exploring a “social contract” approach to the politics of poverty reduction’ (CPRC Working Paper 217). Manchester: The Chronic Poverty Research Centre. See document online
- Mcloughlin, C. (2014). When does service delivery improve the legitimacy of a fragile or conflict-affected state? Governance (online publication). See document online
- Osofisan, W. (2011). Towards strengthening state–citizen relationship in fragile states and environments: the role of cash transfer programmes. Presented at the Conference on Social Protection for Social Justice, Brighton, 13-15 April 2011. See document online
- Teskey, G., Schnell, S., & Poole, A. (2012). Beyond capacity—Addressing authority and legitimacy in fragile states. See document online
- World Bank. (2011). World development report 2011. Washington, DC: World Bank. See document online