In many crises around the world, we’re hard at work strengthening “state authority”. We try to deploy police, reinforce corrections, and improve administrative services, all in the midst of active or just-ended conflict.
In my experience the tougher the context, the more doctrinaire we seem to get. The more we focus on hard security; on equipment & training; and on “boots on the ground”.
This was driven home for me once against during several recent trips to rural areas of the Central African Republic. These are places where there is literally no history of effective government service provision, for security or anything else. The cards are stacked against us right from the beginning – and yet we revert to the same approaches.
What’s particularly striking is that this contradicts the conventional wisdom on governance and institution-building in the development sector. It’s now routine to insist on “politically smart” approaches to reform; on working “with the grain”; and on carefully building coalitions for change. But in the peacekeeping and stabilisation world we seem to be a bit more old-school.
So here are my questions:
What are some successful examples of “state-building” to mitigate conflict in fragile settings, above all for regions that are both poor and plagued by conflict?
What does a “politically smart” approach to strengthening government services look like in these contexts? What are the key considerations?
Grateful for any pointers to cases or personal experiences!