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En librairie

Transformation de conflit, de Karine Gatelier, Claske Dijkema et Herrick Mouafo

Aux Éditions Charles Léopold Mayer (ECLM)


, Grenoble, juillet 2010

Rethinking the foundations of the State in post-crisis situations

The application of the western model of the Nation-State in post-crisis contexts is problematic.

Mots clefs : Reconstruire l'Etat | Reconstruire de nouvelles relations politiques

Consensus is growing that the application of the western model of the Nation-State in post-crisis contexts is problematic. This particular model of the State is at the foundation of the current international system, and whilst it originates in the specific socio-historic context of Europe it is widely applied in post-crisis countries (post colonial, post-conflict and post-Soviet) through the assistance or influence of the international community. Mainstream models of State-building assume that State legitimacy can be established and State collapse avoided through international intervention combined with a military presence, huge amounts of aid, and democratic elections. However the reality of what happens on the ground has lead us to question the effectiveness of these strategies; and at the very least the way in which these kinds of measures are implemented. Rather than on methods of State reform or State-building, the focus of this volume is on the model of the State and its transformation. We refuse to adopt a normative approach that uses the Weberian concept of the State, and instead favour an empirical methodology closer to the social sciences, in order to use the expectations and needs of a particular population as a foundation for the State.

While international and national actors are undoubtedly the major players in State formation, they are not the only actors in this process. Local and regional actors at the sub-State level have received much less attention, but are central players in forming or re-forming governance structures. The authorities that take over when States fail, and ultimately collapse, include the conflicting parties such as military faction leaders; remnants of the former State administration; revitalized traditional authorities; religious courts; and local businessmen. These actors will continue or begin to exercise authority as « functional equivalents » of State structures, for example in the sectors of security and social services, and at times will aspire to replace the State.

Looking at the State in conflict from this perspective leads us to understand civil conflict as a centrifugal dynamic or force that fragments State power away from the centre and benefits private actors such as political, military, religious, social leaders on the basis of sub-national communities. At the regional or international levels the presence of cross-border identities (be it of an ethnic, religious, linguistic or other nature) may represent further competition for the State and can increase interference in State affairs, for example through military interference or diaspora support from outside State borders.

In this volume we use the concept of transformation rather than reform to describe the changes a post-crisis State goes through. The ‘trans’ in transformation implies that the form a State takes can go beyond the pre-existant State and that this is in many ways is an involuntary process. This approach is sensitive to the role that both State and non-State actors play in shaping the State. The following sections explain why we have decided to focus on post-crisis situations and the specificity of State transformation in this period. They furthermore introduce major issues of concern throughout the volume: the interaction between levels of governance and types of actors in State transformation; State legitimacy and alternative models of the State.

Post-crisis: both post-conflict and post-Soviet

The objective of this volume is to rethink the State in post-crisis situations. Conflict and crisis are integral parts of politics and guarantee a certain vitality to the system. The term ‘post-crisis’ therefore does not refer to an irreversible state of harmony occurring in the aftermath of violent political conflict. It merely indicates a turning point away from the use of violence, eventually leading to an opening of public space and the renegotiation of power relations. Through out this process the risk remains that the situation can revert to violent conflict. In any case, protracted conflict is always a collection of crises rather than one crisis with a clear end-point. For example our inclusion of a case like Somalia among ‘post-crisis’ States can be defended on the grounds that the actual situation is better than during the years of civil war that followed the ousting of Siad Barre in 1991.

Post-crisis refers to the contexts of both post-conflict and post-Soviet States. The first category encompasses cases of civil war and protracted social conflict with different degrees of foreign interference such as East Timor, Lebanon, Somalia, Mexico, Colombia and Afghanistan. The second category deals with post-Soviet political transitions in Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine and two Central Asian Republics: Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We have associated post-conflict and post-Soviet for the three following reasons:

Firstly the loss of an ideological framework deeply questions the organisation of the State and its power. Secondly, the collapse of centralised power in Moscow led to the independence of former Soviet republics and created an urgency for the re-organisation of power. The resulting transitions opened a space within the State for new actors and new dynamics. In some republics this ended with violent conflict, in most of them it changed little though still necessitating the rethinking of strategies of political legitimacy. Thirdly, the nature and scope of transformation is comparable in both cases, and their association enhances the analysis of both situations.

To understand post-crisis States it is important to understand the history of the political dynamics in the State in question. Since many crisis or post-crisis States also happen to be post-colonial States their pre-colonial political structures, colonial arrangements, and accession to independence (followed in many cases by a period of authoritarian rule) should be taken into account in any analysis. Soviet domination in Central Asia can also be analysed as a form of colonisation. The demise of Soviet control in 1991 created the need for new political organisations and legitimation strategies, just as the independence period did in former colonies. James Mayall analyses colonial legacy and sees in it a useful framework for explaining current State failure (1). His argument exists of four aspect:s: pre-colonial political arrangements, the nature of anti-colonial movements, border demarcation, and the political role of economic development. Colonial regimes interacted with and built on different kinds of pre-colonial social structures and State forms. In cases where the State itself was an import, such as Somalia and where people had not been previously united politically, the “glue” did not take. Moreover, the nature of anti-colonial nationalism and its emphasis on State capture undermine the social basis of legitimacy of power. Furthermore the unquestioning acceptance of the colonial political map with its arbitrary demarcation of borders that more closely reflect the power equilibrium between colonial players than geographical, cultural or social realities have as a result that borders may cut across groups that share a sense of identity, like the Somali population in the Horn of Africa, or borders might bring together a large collection of different nations into one State (2).

The specificity of State (trans)formation in post-crisis situations

Although the types of crises States are going through may vary widely, there are a number of general observations to be made about the process of State (trans)formation in the post-crisis period.

  • Firstly, post-crisis situations share the feature of a break-down in relations between the State and society; and weak confidence in the former is both a result and a cause of conflict. The State is often seen as ‘part of the problem’, as in the example of the Eastern Chiapas discussed in chapter nine. In this case study the Mexican State is responsible for political exclusion, elite capture and a general lack of responsible and responsive governance. Post-crisis State transformations present a need for building confidence between the State and society especially in cases where the State is part of the conflict.

  • A second observation would be that crisis often indicates weak control by the State of certain areas, which needs to be regained in the post-crisis period.

  • Thirdly, whilst the ‘post’ in post-crisis situations implies that differences between clashing group objectives have been sufficiently resolved, a remaining challenge for those in power is how to find the right balance between institutional renewal and continuity. In many cases oppressive structures remain in place, either as result of the remnants of old structures and actors, or merely because armed struggle has proved to be not the best school for democratic leadership.

  • The fourth observation to be made here is that in many post-conflict countries identification with the State is problematic for many in society, often a pre-existing problem which has been exacerbated by conflict. In this kind of situation rather than having a national identity, people identify primarily as members of some sub- or trans- national societal entity, which will be the one that provides the nexus of order, security and social safety for a particular group. This has consequences in terms of their (dis)loyalty to the State. When people are primarily loyal to ‘their’ group (whatever that may be) legitimacy and authority will rest with the leaders of that group, and not with the State authorities. ‘The State is perceived as an alien external force, ‘far away’ not only physically, but also mentally. This of course significantly reduces the capacity of State institutions to fulfil their core functions effectively’ (3).

  • A fifth and final observation is that as a result of a lack of legitimacy at the level of the central State, international actors pay increasing attention to local level political actors, seeing them as the locus of legitimacy. Local government and customary authority can in this way be seen as a valuable resource in creating legitimate national politics (4).

Articulation between different levels of governance

In this volume the authors look at the interaction between the legitimacy of local, national and international actors. In order to analyse the idea of ‘local’, a closer look is needed at what it represents. There is a tendency to view local as synonymous with traditional, but we have to dissociate these categories as even on a local level traditional mechanisms can have undergone change, been fragmented, and possibly mixed with “modern” forms of legitimacy (5). As well as formally recognised local government, local actors also exist in the form of trade organisations that have evolved from wartime armed groups; new ethnic « self-protection » associations; and other organisations that do not occupy formal positions within the State administration (6). Despite this lack of State recognition these groups nevertheless take over functions that are typically associated with the State, and we can therefore consider them to be political actors. In “re-thinking the State”, this volume seeks to understand in which ways these local actors are connected to national and international actors in the combined governance of a given territory. Their interaction opens up space for new forms of governance, based on hybrid models and on pluralism of social norms.

The ways in which leaders seek to legitimise their claim to power reflect this hybrity. Political legitimacy reveals the compliance of a form of power to a set of social norms relevant in a given society. It makes this domination acceptable to and accepted by the population. Wim van Binsbergen reminds us that the rules and meanings held collectively by people at the level of international bodies, the national State, and that of customary authority are ingredients of legitimation which can be in contradiction. “Viewed from a traditionalist chief-centred perspective, the post-colonial State can be utterly illegitimate and devoid of cosmological meaning” (7). A counter example from South Africa shows that customary leaders can use the State to build up their own legitimacy, by associating themselves with State symbols. This willingness to display a picture of the president and the South African flag next to a hunting trophy embellishing a chief’s office should be interpreted as an indication that the South African State has penetrated the imagery of power and legitimacy for citizens in areas where customary rule is nevertheless still relevant (8). This example demonstrates that the relationship between the State and a chief’s legitimacy depends on the degree of internalisation of the importance of the State among its citizens. ‘Tradition’ is of course only one source of legitimacy at the sub-State or local level. Our understanding of ‘local’ is thus that which is relevant and carries meaning in the every day life of people in a geographically limited area.

To make sense locally, States need to take into account the expectations and needs of the population. A better articulation between the levels of governance is one of the ways in which this can be achieved. This does not however mean that governance problems can be solved by a simplistic institutionalisation of local actors into the State architecture. Brown says that: “taking local customary governance forms seriously does not mean the integration of custom and formal forms of government”. This integration might even hurt the latter’s legitimacy locally and negatively impact their accountability. Louise Wiuff Moe shows us an example of the dynamics at play when customary leadership is institutionalised (9). The fact that Somaliland receives external support from various international agencies (10) for the harmonisation of customary and State law gives moreover insight in the impact of external aid on legitimacy (11). We suggest that the focus should, rather than being on the integration of local actors into the State, be on creating plural political orders. Brown comments in chapter four that “the challenge lies in supporting constructive interaction between customary and liberal institutional governance which involves supporting the emergence of networks of communication and exchange between government and communities, and between different levels and spheres of governance – of working not only with structures of government but with processes of linking, interaction and exchange and endeavouring to make interactions between governance spheres visible”. A common concern with regard to the articulation between levels of governance is the potential of incompatibility between values that make sense locally and at a national level, the second of which will be closely scrutinised by international actors. Ingrid Bolivar’s discussion of the differentiated State presence in Colombia and the varying approaches to violence is a case in point. She points out that the political players in Colombia consist of regional politicians, armed actors and local groups that have built and supported specific local political orders (12). In these local orders, national State presence has been very indirect to the point that the national State has not had the economic or political interest, nor even capacity to dominate these regions in an administrative and direct way. On the contrary the central State in Colombia has delegated its responsibilities and its functions to powers in the regions. These regional powers that have supported the presence of the State in some regions are the same powers that the national justice system and the urban population are denouncing in the political trial Parapolitica. In contrast with some ingrained ideas about politics, there is not a peaceful and friendly continuity between the different political scales. Local and regional levels in Colombia tend to be ruled by political forms that include violence, a situation not considered acceptable at the national and international levels.

The example used by Bolivar makes the question of the compatibility of values very tangible. The risks associated with excluding local actors from the dialogue about creating the post-conflict political order are equally important. The latter, in short, would lead to the creation of a State devoid of meaning at the local level.

In conclusion, three issues are important for the creation of States that take into account the expectations and needs of the population.

  • The first is the practice of the principle of ‘active subsidiarity’ (13), by which we mean that each territory and each level of governance attempts to bring specific responses to issues that must be collectively dealt with. How to create a system that allows political participation through dialogue?

  • The second is the way in which the legitimacy and the dynamics of accountability of leaders is impacted through integration in or alliance with the State. For example, how does the integration of local actors in the State structure transform their role, affect their legitimacy and their accountability? What opportunities does this represent for instrumentalisation and manipulation by State actors and the other way round?

  • The third issue is that of the contradictions that are associated with the transposing of norms and practices that are shared and legitimate in geographically limited areas to a national level.

Local values and political projects may reinforce ethnic differences, gender inequality and produce other forms of exclusion. They can thus contradict national constitutions as well as international norms such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While these standards might make little sense in local areas, they are of great importance in the international arena; the result of this is that the national level becomes the locus of this contradiction. How does the State choose its interlocutors, how does it assess their legitimacy if they are not elected? Allowing local voices to be heard at the national level creates tension in the relations between the national and the international level as it forces international actors to acknowledge contradictions that have existed all along but have been denied as long as, at least formally, national actors complied with international standards (14). The issues introduced above will be further developed in chapters 3-5 and 7-9.

Alternative models of the State and their implications for policy-making

In addition to attention for the articulation between different levels of governance, the volume also proposes to re-examine our own thinking about State transformation. Ken Menkhaus (15) joins Anne Brown (16) in the idea that “the reason for misinterpretation of (post-) crisis States can be found in the dogmatic belief in the key tenet of modernisation theory”, which shapes our own imagery of the State. Menkhaus reminds us that “deviation from the Weberian State is not necessarily a slippage {away from an essential structure of modern political life, but can, under certain circumstances, constitute a development beyond this model”.} Delfeld’s fieldwork on the island of Palawan in the Philippines confirms this Statement: “As a result of globalisation, the work of NGO’s and people’s organisations’ increasingly impacts individual’s lives in a way that devolves them away from reliance on the State. It even affects their perceptions of and allegiance to their existing power structures. This leads to a reconsideration of trajectories of State formation and proposes an alternative governance model where “extra-governmental organisations working within the global community will define the look of a State as much as the classic, more catastrophic forces of State-to-State collusion and collision that are credited today”. We may be seeing “a slow-moving coup of a different kind, with governmental structures being supplanted by what could be seen as rivals for the allegiance of the populace”.

These observations have important implications for the policy-making of international organisations. Several authors in this volume argue for taking the needs of local populations as a starting point for international intervention, designing context specific strategies, and supporting communication channels between different levels of governance (17). Van der Haar (18) argues that “one problem of State reform programs that target local government is that they are formulated in a top-down, or ‘centre-out’ manner, rather than starting from the problem definitions in different regions and localities. Thus, the programs are defined in accordance with the needs of the central State and the overall peace process, rather than starting from the question what populations in different parts of a country need in terms of security, basic services and socio-economic recovery, or what local officials and their constituencies think they need to better perform their public function”. Brown adds that “supporting constructive interaction between customary and liberal institutional governance involves supporting the emergence of networks of communication and exchange between government and communities, and between different levels and spheres of governance – of working not only with structures of government but with processes of linking, interaction and exchange and endeavouring to make interactions between governance spheres visible”. In addition, Menkhaus points out that “delayed external action to revive and support failing States only compounds difficulties of State-building later down the road. The very successes of local adaptations to State collapse could actually impede State-building by reducing local incentives to support a revived State” (19).

How should we interpret current phenomena where non-State actors fulfil the role of the State and thereby challenge the State as the locus of collective identification, of the representation of citizen interests or the regulation of economic processes? What conclusions can we draw with regard to the demand for the State?

Bolivar et al argue that in the context of Colombia the competition between State and non-State actors should be seen as part of the process of State formation. In this approach the State remains the primary locus of power. Other authors like Delfeld, Menkaus, van der Haar, and Reno have described political movements that seek not so much to replace the State but to bypass it. This leads to a flexible definition of the State and the popular needs it responds to. Even in cases whereby needs in terms of development, redistribution, security and identification are fulfilled by non-State organisations, the State remains important as the interface with other States, attracting international investment and aid.


This volume attempts to rethink the foundation of post-crisis States in four parts and an epilogue. The different authors deal with the rise of “parallel”, “alternative” or “hybrid” systems that present an adaptation made in response to the prolonged absence of central government. This form of governance is driven by the evolving role of coalitions, business groups, traditional authorities, and civic groups. Moreover, one can observe new forms and new places of expression for citizenships and for the shaping of the political scene. Two examples of this would be firstly the rise of the city as an increasingly relevant level for collective identification and the building of citizenship, and as a place for the balance of powers and counter-powers. The second is the internet as a new vector for the expression of opinions and interests, and for the building of collective identities (20). The first part deals with the question of processes of State formation; the second with bottom-up State transformation; the third with top-down State transformation and the last with State Development.


  • (1) : James Mayal « The legacy of colonialism » p. 38 in Making States work, State failure and the crisis of governance edited by S. Chesterma, M. Iganietieff and R. Thakur, United Nations University Press, Japan, 2005.

  • (2) : James Mayal « The legacy of colonialism » p. 38 in Making States work, State failure and the crisis of governance edited by S. Chesterma, M. Iganietieff and R. Thakur, United Nations University Press, Japan, 2005.

  • (3) : Kevin P. Clements, Volker Boege, Anne Brown, Wendy Foley, and Anne Nolan, “ State Building Reconsidered: The role of hybridity in the formation of political order”, Political Science, Vol. 59, No. 1, June 2007, pp. 45-56.

  • (4) : This idea has also been put forward by Anne Brown in her presentation “Trajectories of post-crisis State Transformation – the case of East Timor” at the conference “Post-crisis State Transformation, rethinking the foundations of the State, 1 May 2009.

  • (5) : Contribution Jochen Hippler in the debate, Linköping 1 May 2009.

  • (6) : William Reno, abstract paper Linköping 1 May 2009.

  • (7) : “Wim van Binsbergen (ed.), The dynamics of power and the rule of law: Essays on Africa and beyond: in honour of Emile Adriaan van Rouveroy van Nieuwaal, Africa Studies Centre, Leiden, 2003

  • (8) : Example drawn from office of customary leader in GaMothiba, Limpopo region, South Africa, 2008

  • (9) : See chapter 9.

  • (10) : Somaliland’s relative stability has encouraged pragmatic inventiveness on the part of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to pursue a development strategy that also benefits Somaliland’s process of State formation. Thus, despite the fact that the UN sticks to its position of non-recognition, it has found a way of engaging with Somaliland by channelling substantial support to the country through the Economic Development and Poverty Reduction strategy 2004-2006 with reference to the “Poverty Reduction Strategy for North West Somalia” (Jhazbhay 2007)

  • (11) : Paper presented by Louise Wiuff Moe, Conference « Post-crisis State Transformation », Linköping, 1-5 May 2009

  • (12) : See chapter 3.

  • (13) : The concept of active subsidiarity has been extensively dealth with by Pierre Calame in ‘Active subsidiarity: reconciling unity and diversity’, in O. De Schutter, N. Lebessis and J. Paterson (eds), Governance in the European Union, ‘Cahiers’ of the Forward Studies Unit, European Union, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2001, page 227-240.

  • (14) : Lidwien Kaptijns, discussion prior to conference Linköping, May 2009.

  • (15) : See chapter 7.

  • (16) : See chapter 3.

  • (17) : See chapters Brown, Menkhaus, van der Haar, Bolivar.

  • (18) : See chapter 9.

  • (19) : Menkhaus, K. « Somalia: Governance vs. Statebuilding » in Call, C. and Wyeth, V. Building States to Build Peace, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008.

  • (20) : Notes from the last session during the conference “Post-crisis State Transformation, rethinking the foundations of the State”, 1-5 May 2010.