The concept of state and legitimacy used in international development has been strongly influenced by Weber (See Section 1). As discussed, donors have tended to prioritise legal-rational legitimacy and, as a result, have understood the process of increasing legitimacy in terms of institution building, service delivery, and policy making. Clements (2008) criticizes this preference for legal rational legitimacy by donors, and argues that the imposition of formal political processes and institutions based on a Weberian ideal-type of state does not always produce the increase in legitimacy that donors are hoping to achieve. Clements bases his analysis on his experience of working on various donor-funded governance programmes in the South Pacific. He observes that many people living there have difficulty understanding formal bureaucratic capacities (and political processes) and institutions associated with a Weberian state. Indeed, they are often perceived as being incompatible with the traditional understanding of how legitimacy is generated. He suggests that there is a tendency of western outsiders to overestimate the potential of democratic and statutory legal processes to secure legitimacy. The competitive dimension of liberal democratic elections, for instance, is alien to local custom in many places, and institutions and people that come into positions of power on the basis of such forms of competition are not necessarily seen as legitimately authoritative. Tim Kelsall (2008) also observes similar tensions between some African politicians’ need to deliver resources through personalised clientelistic networks to local communities to maintain their traditional sources of legitimacy, and their obligations to respect a legal and governmental system that expects a separation between public and private life.
While these observations are useful, the distinction between western states, where legitimacy is based on rule conformity and procedural correctness, and developing countries where the sources of legitimacy are a mixture of traditional and charismatic with some weak influence of rule conformity and procedural correctness, may represent an oversimplification. In western states, plenty of leaders still draw on charismatic and traditional sources of legitimacy to enhance their authority. For example, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi drew heavily on charisma to support his claim to legitimacy when there were valid legal-rational arguments to delegitimise him. Similarly, Russian President Vladimir Putin draws on Russian ideas of the ‘strong man’ to boost his legitimacy as a leader, in the face of accusations of violating international law over Crimea and Ukraine. Furthermore, the distinction between the different sources of legitimacy in Weber’s categorisation suffer from some of the problems that the OECD categorisation suffers from i.e. that rational-legal could be understood as traditional (in the West) and vice versa.
Another widespread assumption in the development industry is that increased inclusivity will increase the legitimacy of an authority. There are some studies which seem to support this. For example, in Sweden, it was found that perceptions and evaluations of opportunities to influence local municipal decisions and activities were positively correlated with the perceptions of legitimacy of the local government (Roos & Lidström, 2014). In China, a system for allowing citizens to nominate the head and secretary of township party committees was found to increase trust in government (Ma & Wang, 2014). Interestingly, similar to the findings on service delivery, quality of inclusivity mattered in Ma and Wang’s study – only in places where some type of genuine open election was introduced was there a tangible boost to political trust in the local government. Mallett et al. (2015) also found that, across different contexts, higher degrees of participation (or knowledge of opportunities to participate) were correlated with higher levels of legitimacy for local government.
What these studies don’t reveal is the extent to which legitimacy is dependent on total vertical inclusivity. According to Beetham’s (1991) conceptualisation of legitimacy, the degree to which inclusivity will influence legitimacy will depend on citizens’ concept of the degree to which they should be included. It is likely that, as long as inclusivity is in line with mainstream societal norms, inclusivity is likely to increase legitimacy. This means that, in societies where certain groups are not deemed qualified to participate, including them may affect the justification for the legitimacy of the ruling party. In the Algiers Peace Accords signed in 2006 between the Government of Mali and the Tuareg insurgency groups, provisions were included which attempted to increase the participation of Tuaregs in the government and bureaucracy. This provision led to lower class Tuaregs accessing positions of power within the state which in turn, began to threaten the ‘traditional’ power structure among the Tuareg clans, thus giving some of the more elite Tuareg increased incentives to attempt once again to establish a Tuareg state (Ag Erless & Kone, 2012).
There is some literature which indicates that inclusivity in peace processes is associated with more sustainable peace (e.g. Doyle & Sambanis, 2000). Again, the theory on legitimacy indicates that the degree to which inclusivity will increase the legitimacy of a peace process depends on the expectations of those affected by the peace process. To get a sense of what is appropriate in terms of inclusivity, donors need to pay attention to the perceptions of different groups who exert power in different ways. In conflict situations, this may not necessarily be the groups directly involved in conflict. To return to the Mali example, local youth groups were involved in providing security during the conflict in the city of Gao. When the peace talks began in 2013, they were angry that they hadn’t been included. Furthermore, they expected to be rewarded with jobs (just as the Tuareg were perceived to be rewarded with jobs in the civil service) (McCullough, 2014).
- Ag Erless, M. & Koné, D. (2012). Le patriote et le djihadiste. Bamako, Mali: L’Harmattan.
- Beetham, D. (1991). The legitimation of power. Palgrave Macmillan: New York.
- Clements, K. (2008). Traditional charismatic and grounded legitimacy. University of Queensland.
- Doyle, M. W., & Sambanis. N. (2000). International peacebuilding: A theoretical and quantitative analysis. American Political Science Review, 94(4), 779–801. See document online
- Kelsall, T. (2008). Going with the grain in African development? (Discussion Paper no. 1). London: Africa Power and Politics Programme (APPP)/Overseas Development Institute. See document online
- Ma, D., & Wang, Z. (2014). Governance innovations and citizens’ trust in local government: Electoral impacts in China’s townships. Japanese Journal of Political Science, 15 (3), 373–95. See document online
- Mallett, R., Hagen-Zanker, J., Slater, R., & Sturge, G. (2015). Surveying livelihoods, service delivery and governance: baseline evidence from DRC, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Uganda (Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium Working Paper 31). London: ODI. See document online
- McCullough, A. (2014). Conflict analysis of Northern Mali. Norwegian Refugee Council.
- Roos, K., & Lidström, A. (2014). Local policies and local government legitimacy. The Swedish case. Urban Research & Practice, 7(2), 137–52. See document online