State failure as a challenge to peace
and development policy:
How can structures of violence be transformed and
governance be strengthened?
A conceptual analysis with empirical-analytical application
to Somaliland and Afghanistan
Since September 11, wars accompanied by the erosion of statehood
and the establishment of structures of violence beyond state control
are ranked high again on the political agenda. A change of mind
can be witnessed both in peace and security politics as well as
development politics: Formerly neglected, "hopeless cases"
such as Afghanistan and Somalia, which were excluded almost categorically
from development cooperation, have regained attention.
Against this background the research project takes into account
the political and societal dimensions of violence and governance
structures during times of state failure and addresses the question
of how to successfully initiate a comprehensive transformation process
towards the consolidation of peace. International actors (diplomacy,
protectorate administration, aid organisations, civil development
workers, military and international police forces) often face the
fundamental problem of finding entry points and partners to achieve
the political reconstruction after the collapse of state structures.
State actors as the classical partners either do not exist at all
(as in Southern Somalia) or are extremely weak (as in Afghanistan).
In most cases, authentic civil society is very limited, too. Dealings
with private actors controlling the means of violence, the so-called
warlords, are marked by the dilemma that, on the one hand, they
constitute an essential part of the problem while on the other hand,
processes of government formation and peace consolidation directly
confronting or excluding these warlords are doomed to fail, too.
Based on a comprehensive conceptualisation of the topic, the research
project aims to deepen empirical evidence by means of qualitatively
orientated field studies on local and national governance structures.
With Somalia/Somaliland and Afghanistan we have identified two countries
which have both experienced the collapse of statehood to a large
extent and whose societal structures and historical experiences
enable to draw insightful comparisons. The interplay between local
and national governance structures will be of primary interest for
the analysis of two regions in Afghanistan (Kunduz and Paktia) and
three in Somalia/Somaliland (Awdal, Sanaag and Togdheer).
The research project intends to address a significant research gap:
There is little empirically founded knowledge on the possibilities
of accomplishing specific organisational and governance functions
under the conditions of and following state collapse. Furthermore,
the concentration on the collapse of the central state ("national
state") has so far neglected the vertical level that
is its significance and relation to local and other sub-national
governance systems. The innovative approach will address the phenomena
of state failure guided by two complexes of questions: a) the analysis
of state failure and the simultaneous establishment of governance
structures in the interplay of the local and the national level;
b) the contribution international actors can make in a multi-level
model of governance, which incorporates the local level and seeks
to provide answers to practice orientated dilemmas (e.g. inclusion
of actors of violence vs. strengthening of peace constituencies).
Case Study Areas
Guiding Research Questions
The examination of governance and violence structures following
state failure and collapse is guided by the following central questions.
These questions also hint at preliminary hypotheses and causal relations
which may later be exploited to develop strategies for the transformation
of violence structures.
In times of state failure, anarchic conditions hardly prevail for
more than a short time, if at all. In general, collapsing state
authority is superseded by a multitude of actors (e.g. militia groups,
warlords, external military, but also traditional elders, Sharia
courts, businessmen, etc.) who take over security and organisational
functions. Emerging institutional networks are generally characterised
by a hybrid nature, an overlapping of traditional or religious institutions,
remainders of state facilities and new social entities that are
often based on violence. The spectrum of power and authority relations
is redefined; it ranges from arbitrary violence and the pathogenic
collapse of social contexts (social anomy) to the re-establishment
of reliable security institutions.
- Under what conditions are the newly emerged structures relatively
stable or unstable on the local level? Which roles do the strength
of the central government and its relations to local/regional
leaders play in this regard?
- To what extent do remainders of state institutions continue
to assume security tasks on the local level despite a situation
of state failure? Are they acknowledged by the competing actors
and the population? If yes, where does their legitimacy stem from?
- To what extent does the establishment of a minimum of public
security and organisation rely on the deterrent of organised violence?
What role does the recourse to former laws or traditional or religious
systems of regulation play?
- Which balance can de drawn on the different strategies of the
inclusion or marginalisation of actors of violence?
Political and Administrative Governance
In all five local research areas, a vast number of actors (governments,
militia groups, warlords, traditional leaders, religious leaders,
businessmen, international missions, NGOs) do or did exercise political
and administrative functions. Their interplay, however, is/was apparently
characterised by extremely different interrelations within the respective
local or regional sub-state entity as well as in relation to the
center of power. The resulting form of political authority may range
from an extensive fragmentation to forms of oligopoly, and from
horizontal, consensus-based to vertical, authoritatively enforced
structures. What is striking after a first stocktaking is that administrative
functions as a fundamental role of the state remain weak in all
examined cases. This question is just as much in need of explanation
and exploration as the question, under which conditions decentralised
political structures and administration can be conducive to the
(re)constitution of a collective statehood.
- Is the central state recognised by political actors and representatives
of societal interest groups as a potential guarantor for conflict
management or do they rather have confidence in other, perhaps
- Which cooperation and conflict lines can be discerned between
the networks of actors and institutions in the field study regions?
How can the respective types of actors be generally classified
(e.g. as preservers, spoilers or reformers)?
- Under which conditions do traditional institutions and remainders
of the national administration form more or less functioning structures
to regulate political and administrative problems on the local
and regional level? Do collective cultural and ideological convictions
on the embodiment of governance play a central role or are short-term
cost-benefit calculations decisive?
- Is the persistence or rather the revitalisation of traditional
institutions more distinct in rural or urban areas?
Both Afghanistan and Somalia/Somaliland are characterised by agricultural
and pastoral subsistence economies. Still, the economic structures
diverge remarkably. In Afghanistan, the cultivation of and trade
with opium poppy dominates the entire economic and partly even social
life. Somaliland also has a shadow economy, yet the product and
trade structure is far more diversified and it is less influential.
The country's economy is heavily dependent on remittances from the
large diaspora community which grew as a result of persecution and
In both countries, economic interests and political power are closely
connected, albeit on different terms. In Somaliland, economic power
tends to translate into political influence, which in turn is necessary
to protect and promote business interests, yet these spheres are
distinct. After decades of war and the experience of state collapse,
the Afghan civil war economy can hardly be distinguished from the
remaining economy and central actors (army and militia leaders,
local "big men", businessmen etc.) are generally involved in both
Both scenarios have consequences for the establishment of an effective
tax system, a decisive basis of functioning statehood, and the potential
to generate a reliable civil economic foundation from which a part
of the surplus for the reconstruction of a social and material infrastructure
could be legitimately raised. Against this background, it is necessary
to analyse how existing governance and power structures materially
reproduce themselves, whether there are approaches for the transformation,
"legalisation" or substitution of illegal economic activities, and
how a reliable resource base can be achieved and maintained in the
- To what extent are the manifold networks of actors and institutions
in the research regions reliant on their power of disposal over
material resources for their significance in the political process?
- Can a gradual “criminalisation” of the political-economic area
permanently blocking the solution of collective challenges be
witnessed, or is there an interest in reliable arrangements for
the regulation of property relations and business exchange relations?
- What is the constitution of the resource basis and the flow
of resources? Can they be transformed into “peace economies”,
and do they qualify as a foundation for governance structures?
- Under these circumstances, what are the starting points for
the establishment of an effective tax system which is acceptable
for the majority of the population?
The Role of External Actors
In view of regional and international interventions, state failure
has led to forms of cooperation, coexistence and competition between
external and local actors which has never been as intensive before.
Measures within the framework of global governance rather often
prove inadequate as they are insufficiently familiar with the realities
at the interface with local and national actors. Under conditions
of state failure, and following state collapse, regional and international
actors, whether they are neighbouring states, global powers, international
organisations, international NGOs or trans-national networks, cannot
avoid cooperating with the set of de facto entities that substitute
functions of the former state or even seek to replace it. External
actors often support such actors in attending to state tasks, or
they take over these functions themselves.
There obviously is no panacea in dealing with these manifold and
hybrid structures. Thus it is necessary to draw "lessons learned"
from past experiences and to reflect them on their context.
- In the perception of local actors, do external interventions
confine structures exerting violent force (uncontrolled militias,
warlords, civil war economies, etc.) or do they rather spark off
their intensification (e.g. by supplying external resources or
triggering resistance of local actors)?
- Under which conditions is "international neglect" after state
failure conducive to the independently organised development of
governance structures (Somaliland) or to the formation of criminal
networks organising themselves as "rogue states" (Afghanistan)?
- To what extent are efforts to safeguard normative minimum standards
in the reconstruction of governance limited in their scope because
relevant local actors are connected with human rights violations
or because the sources of legitimacy of those actors are grounded
on standards incommensurate with universal norms?
- What are the consequences arising for reconstruction processes
from the fact that the engagement of international actors (in
particular western democracies) towards countries with a weak
statehood is often incoherent, not sustainable and - for good
reasons - is regarded as a "transitory phenomenon" by local actors?
The in-depth analysis of the cases shall clarify in what way and
why different governance structures established themselves on the
local level under the conditions of state failure and which influence
national and external actors have in this regard. Potential explanatory
factors will be compared and balanced. For example it will be analysed
to what extent the different state penetration of urban centres
in contrast to the rural areas has left behind "footprints" from
the time before state failure and to what extent the reconstruction
of statehood is dependent on the former development trajectory (path
dependency). Alternative and complementary hypotheses will relate
to contingently emerged opportunities of the different actors, such
as e.g. the chance to acquire material resources and power by way
of violence economies or the presence of international troops. Finally,
"soft" factors for the development of governance structures will
be analysed and evaluated. This may include the spread of modern
versus traditionally handed down perceptions of organisation and
Semi-structured interviews are carried out primarily for the collection
and evaluation of primary data as well as for the drawing-up of
an actors and conflict mapping. At best a process tracing
could be conducted to link the different causal factors, taking
into account the incentive structures and opportunities for action
of local decision-makers. Since this terrain is hardly explored
so far, our search for explanations is orientated more towards a
"court procedure" rather than towards general causal models (McKeown
2002: 8). This will imply plausibility evaluations, classification
and critical questioning of possible influencing factors, as well
as the construction of chains of evidence, for which comparable
cases will be taken into account, too.
Finally, we will also draw on counterfactual scenarios. This may
allow us to learn whether processes in the research regions could
have proceeded differently or could have been altered at critical
junctures. Counterfactual scenarios are particularly relevant for
the discussion with practitioners and political decision-makers
since they facilitate the systematic deliberation of alternative
action options and development scenarios. The practice orientated
dialogue further serves the purpose to scrutinise the results of
the field research with regard to whether they are bound to specific
contexts or whether they can be made fruitful for an advanced examination
of state failure and action options under peace and development
Thoughts on the transfer process for the research findings are
taken into account at all stages. The project has a marked policy-relevance,
not least because of the inclusion of external actors as part of
the research topic. Already during the research process, the project
seeks to build a close dialogue with political decision-makers by
means of interviews and background talks. These efforts will also
benefit the planned policy workshops and similar events intended
to communicate the project results.
Besides the usual means of scientific and online publication, the
project communicates its findings through media features and opinion
editorials (print, radio, TV), as well as popular scientific contributions
in journals and magazines.
McKeown, Timothy J. (2002): Case Studies and
the Limits of the Statistical Worldview, in: Henry E. Brady/David
Collier (Eds.) 2002, Rethinking Social Inquiry: Diverse Tools, Shared
Values, Chapter 9, p.8 in manuscript.