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, Grenoble, July 2010

Bottom-up State Transformation

Introduction Part 2 of the book « Rethinking the foundations of the State, an analysis of post-crisis situation ».

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Dissatisfaction with a terminology that negatively defines States in terms of ‘failure’, ‘fragility’ or as ‘rogue’ has been an incentive to search for concepts that provide positive descriptions of the functioning of States in relation to other governance actors. This volume proposes the following concepts: the Heterogeneous State, Interactive State, Multinational State, Parallel governance, the Mediated State, Hybrid political orders; and Institutional multiplicity. These concepts are proposed in order to help to ‘rethink the State’.

The tendency to define States by what they are not rises from comparison with one particular model of the State, the Weberian or Nation-State. In many cases, one or several of the following components - rule of law, the monopoly of violence, strong institutions, a shared identity, or a strong tax base- is absent. A bottom-up approach leads us to the observation that even in the absence of a strong institutional presence, politics continues.

In previous chapters we have seen that there are many sub-national actors that are important players in governance, such as customary leaders in the area of natural resource management and conflict resolution in East Timor, and barangay captains as actors of local government in the case of the Philippines. They have various links with national government and sometimes skip the national level to link directly with international actors. Additionally, we will look in this part at the example of the Guurti and community based police systems in Somaliland, the Zapatista and indigenous communities in Mexico as well as the role of NGOs as actors in development in Kyrgyzstan.

In looking at the role of these actors in State transformation, we are interested in the following questions: What roles and functions do different actors fulfil? What is the local actor’s link to national government and international actors? On what do they base their legitimacy? And finally, what do they teach us about State (trans)formation?

In the first chapter of part II Menkhaus contradicts the idea that areas where formal State presence is absent are “ungoverned spaces”, and creates the awareness that order and systems of governance can exist outside of the State. He proposes a distinction between two types of relationships between weak States and the local security systems that are currently present in Somali East Africa. One is the hybrid State of Somaliland, in which traditional authorities have been formally grafted into the State structure and the second is the mediated State, most in evidence in northern Kenya. The idea of the mediated State is a concept that applies to a particular kind of relationship between the State and areas where its presence is minimal or fragile. According to Menkaus, “the mediated State exists in zones where ideas of State sovereignty and control do not match up to the realities of governance on the ground and it is a way that the relationship between these areas and the State can be managed. The key feature of a mediated State is that it lacks the capacity to project authority into peripheral areas of its realm, but possesses the desire to at least indirectly promote stability and rule of law (and, eventually, taxation) to these areas” (1). In practice this is carried out where there is successful local level of governance with which the central State can negotiate and which it can use as a vector for its relations with the population. In mediating its authority through that of the local level the State ensures that local allegiances are not exclusive of loyalty to the State. Current evidence from Eastern Ethiopia suggests that Somali relations with the State are a mix of mediated and hybrid State forms, with the State both grafting elders into its administrative arm and having to periodically negotiate access to the Somali polity via the elders (2).

Chapter eight explores how processes of mutual accommodation between State institutions and traditional leadership in Somaliland impact the basis of power and legitimacy of both. Louise Wiuff Moe builds on the discussion of the concepts of mediated State and hybrid institutional arrangements through two concrete cases, the Council of elders, Guurti and instances where customary authorities fulfil the functions of justice and community based policing.

She observes that the incorporation of a highly respected source of ‘local’ authority, the Guurti, into the State arrangements in Somaliland increased the trust of the population in the State and decreased competition for political power along clan-lines. But, “while the institutionalisation of traditional authorities has added legitimacy to the structure of State, it has over time also compromised the legitimacy of these authorities since downward consultation and accountability have been partly replaced by upward political loyalties” (3). According to her, this “reduces the extent to which the Guurti-members can contribute constructively to governance on the national level since their key capacities as consensus-builders derive from their relative popular legitimacy”. Thus, the ‘experiment’ of an Upper House of Elders in Somaliland illustrates that institutionalisation of traditional leadership within the State structure is linked to processes of redefining and transforming both the structures of the State and the notions of traditional authority.

In addition to the situation in Northern Kenya, as described by Menkhaus, Wiuff Moe argues that examples of mediation between State and non-State authorities are also to be found in Somaliland. She discusses two examples where customary authorities perform functions that are perceived as part of the State’s responsibilities: justice and community based policing. With regard to these activities the boundary between ‘official’ State recognition of traditional leadership and ‘unofficial’ State acceptance of traditional authorities (fairly autonomously) undertaking core-governance functions is blurred. What is their impact on the legitimacy of the State? While certain traditional practices override State-authority and thereby compromise its basis for legitimacy (in the domain of justice), community-policing in Burao and Hargeisa contributes to enhance the legitimacy of State actors as it leads to an improvement of the relationship between the society and the police.

This way of enhancing security and the rule of law illustrates how different levels of authority and interests can be mutually accommodated through consultative processes – provided that the interest in such accommodation exists on both local and national level. It also lends credence to Boege et al.’s (4) argument that while a State that accepts and builds on non-State providers of security and stability may appear weak, institutionally as well as in terms of its enforcement capacities, “this very weakness may become a strength as the State gains legitimacy in the eyes of people because it does not attempt to impose its authority on local institutions (5)”.

To better understand processes of State transformation it is important to study what happens at the fringes of the State and of State-building projects. In chapter nine van der Haar claims that local governments - the lowest tier of State-endorsed structures - are one such fringe area where the presence, capacity and symbolic meaning of the State is negotiated in the midst of multiple and possibly competing claims to governance. Van der Haar does not refer to Menkhaus’ concept of ‘mediated State’ but the aspect of negotiation is very present in her conceptualisation of the interaction between different levels of governance. She proposes that local governments should not be seen as extension of the State apparatus that can be modelled to serve higher goals, but as arenas, as spaces of interaction, negotiation and contestation within wider conflict and post-conflict dynamics of change (6). In chapter nine van der Haar analyses the Zapatista parallel structures and then the wider indigenous mobilisations around municipal government in the Eastern Chiapas as a means to better understand the attempt of the State to (re-)assert itself in post-conflict situations and popular responses to this strategy. Three concepts that are key to her analysis are “everyday forms of State formation” introduced by Gilbert and Nugent (7), institutional multiplicity (8) and parallel governance. This last refers to rebel groups or political movements fulfilling State functions as part of a strategy of resistance to the State government. The latter is different from “alternative governance” as described by Delfeld with regard to the Philippines, where alternative governance structures are the result of government ineffectiveness but cannot be interpreted as resistance.

In line with Helen Delfeld’s observations in the Philippines, van der Haar notes that NGO involvement plays an important role in cases of alternative governance. The “autonomous municipalities” that were set up by the Zapatista implied not accepting any State-organised public services or development projects. Instead, they relied on the support of sympathisers and NGOs from across the globe. In this case, NGOs provide the backbone of governance, not as a result of the ineffectiveness of the State as in the case of the Philippines, but in order to contest the State. Van der Haar explains that “the Zapatista project reflects a critical engagement with the idea of the State and the nature of governance and citizenship. In that sense, the Zapatista project can be seen as a kind of State formation ‘from below’”. With this term she means that it is the subjects of the State that seek to redefine the relation with the State, rather than the other way around, and it is also they who seek to condition and transform the symbolic and material presence of the State.

For several reasons that are explained in detail in chapter nine, there is an increasing overlap after 1997 between the autonomous and State governed municipalities, which leads to a different dynamic in State transformation, one that focuses on integrating with the State rather than the creation of parallel institutions. Indigenous mobilisation around municipal government has engaged with the idea of the State and transformed it. Although this does not mean that everything will change, it does mean that any State representative is aware of concerns of the indigenous populations and can no longer rely on institutionalised racism in the exercise of power.

Wiuff Moe’s question whether mutual accommodation between State institutions and traditional leadership in Somaliland impact the basis of power and legitimacy is also relevant for the situation in Eastern Chiapas. Van der Haar suggests further research into the question of how the electoral process changes the indigenous leaders in Chiapas, by socialising them into the existing political system, including its ‘vices’ of corruption and patronage and how indigenous politics works when it moves closer to the centres of power.

In chapter ten, Tanya Mamatova poses the question whether NGO’s in Kyrgyzstan function as a substitute for the State. She states that NGOs became a very significant force in Kyrgyzstan, demonstrated by the ‘tulip revolution’ in March 2005. They participated in people’s mobilization and provided international support to opposition parties through providing NGOs with the necessary financial resources. These NGOs today form a core group of the so called “watchdog” organizations ». The growing authority and importance of NGOs became possible through the deterioration of State functions. Among important conditions that contribute to NGO development is the fact that the individuals who started working in the NGO sector in its early stage were highly educated. Paradoxically the existence of a vibrant and independent civil society in Kyrgyzstan is also eased by the lack of hydro-carbon resources. While the expansion of civil society was significantly supported by international donors, it cannot be concluded that this sector is fully pro-western or serves foreign interests.

NGOs as new actors of State formation appear as the only mechanism to negotiate with the political elite in power and to facilitate the inclusion of the population in the governing process. Their contribution in this process has been: joint creation of the legal core of a country state system; stabilisation and conflict prevention; partial replacement of the state in the area of delivering certain public services, particularly, in remote regions and provincial centers.

Is it possible for NGOs to completely replace the ineffective State structure? The answer is no.

  • Firstly, because to completely fulfill the State’s functions one needs a centralised, stable, and fixed system. The complex structure of Kyrgyz NGOs is absolutely opposite to this system: it is decentralized, unstable and flexible.

  • Secondly, NGOs did not aspire replacement. They were forced by circumstances and weakness of the State to perform those functions, rather than just help or complement State. However, NGOs could provide a kind of structure or system that helps to prevent and correct shortcomings resulting from the activity of the State and international financial institutions.

In chapter eleven Anastassiya Zagainova provides an innovative look on business groups as new political players in Kazakhstan. She argues that a neo patrimonial State could progress towards democratisation. The main feature of patrimonialism - a concept developed by Max Weber (1971) is the private appropriation of a governmental sphere by those who carry political power, and also the indivisibility of the public and private spheres of society. Neo-patrimonial State has institutions and structures of a modern Western-type State (government, parliament, judiciary, etc.), but it operates in accordance with a local logic from ancestral heritage and is based on the personal power of the head of clan or tribe, winner of a putsch or an election. Clientelism, -which refers to a political person or party that increases its power which is based on its relationship with clients through the attribution of favours-, is an integral part of neo-patrimonialism. On the basis of an institutional approach of clientelist structures in transition countries, the author shows how the competition between clientelist units is transformed into electoral clientelism and political competition.

The author analyses the different post-soviet trajectories toward neo patrimonial systems, from the post-communist legacy to oligarchic States in the former USSR. Her focus is on clan-based oligarchies in Central Asia that found their roots in the pre-communist period, with its customary organisation. In Kazakhstan the majority of the economy remains in the hands of the State, but the country is very open to foreign investments. The transition halted as a result of the oligarchs’ influence the reform process, but also because they were able to prevent the entry of potential competitors. Evolution scenarios go through progressive diversification of commodity oligarchy towards modern sectors (finance, banking) and an opening to international integration.

Zagainova sees in the new business elites the most promising source of pressure for meaningful systemic reform toward democratisation and market economy. In Kazakhstan, unlike in large business, where relationships with segments of the political elite are tight, the smaller businesses face bribes and government corruption but at the same time operate more or less independently from politics. Usually the ties between business and politicians are the mix of property and protection relationships, but some important companies don’t have any distinct patron or affiliation with any political clan. They have various contacts that can be mobilised to defend the business interests of these companies, as a form of extensive and sophisticated lobbying.

Decentralisation of networks and development of competition (horizontal clientelism) between financially independent units was crucial for the development of political cleavages. General conditions for success of the construction of rule of law from neo-patrimonial structure is the availability of useful resources, the reciprocity (or how many citizens get back from these habits and relationships) and the fact that clientelist relationships are based on cooperation and not on conflict.


  • (1) : Menkhaus, K. Chapter 7 in paragraph on mediated States.

  • (2) : Hagmann, T. «Bringing the Sultan Back In: Elders as Peacemakers in Ethiopia’s Somali Region», in , Recognition and Democratisation: “New Roles” for Traditional Leaders, L. Buur and H.M. Kyed (eds). 2008.

  • (3) : Wiuff Moe, L. Chapter 8.

  • (4) : Boege, V., Brown, A. Clements, K. P. & Nolan, A. “On Hybrid Political Orders and Emerging States: What is Failing – States in the Global South or Research and Politics in the West?” In Martina Fischer and Beatrix Schmelzle (eds.) Building Peace in the Absence of States: Challenging the Discourse on State Failure. Berghof Handbook Dialogue Series, No.8., 2009.

  • (5) : Wiuff Moe, L. Chapter 8.

  • (6) : Van der Haar, G., Van den Berg, D. Langen, E. « Local government and the politics of peace-building and reconstruction: preliminary findings », Working paper VNG International, Network Peace, Security and development, 2009, p.24.

  • (7) : Joseph, G.M. and D. Nugent (eds) (1994), Everyday forms of State formation: revolution and the negotiation of rule in modern Mexico, Durham & London: Duke University Press. London.

  • (8) : Di John, J. (2008), “Conceptualising the Causes and Consequences of Failed States: A Critical Review of the Literature”, Working Paper no. 25, London: Crisis States Research Centre.