Universität Bonn


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
Afghanistan Somaliland


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.

Security Governance

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.

  1. 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?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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.

  1. 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 local leaders?
  2. 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)?
  3. 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?
  4. Is the persistence or rather the revitalisation of traditional institutions more distinct in rural or urban areas?

Socio-Economic Governance

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 war.
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 segments.
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 longer run.

  1. 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?

  2. 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?

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

  1. 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)?

  2. 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)?

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

Empirical-analytical Assessment

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 power.

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 policies.

Transfer Process

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.