State-Society Relations: The prospects for the New Deal Engagement in addressing an enabling environment in conflict-affected and fragile states
This chapter looks at the relationship between the state and groupings in society that oppose it in conflict-affected and fragile countries and how state-building and infrastructures for peace can play a role in strengthening or weakening the enabling environment of CSOs. It takes a human rights approach to fragility, with a case study on the implementation of the New Deal, which was agreed in 2012.A key question is how this has impacted on relationships between donors, governments and civil society in the 18 member countries of the g7+ group of fragile states under the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding (IDPS). While there have been great successes that are directly attributed to the New Deal commitment, there is still significant challenges as well as opportunities that are open to CSOs. Six recommendations are made for improving the civil society enabling environment in conflict-affected and fragile countries.
The context for a civil society enabling environment in conflict-affected and fragile states
Currently, an estimated 60states face some form of active conflict related to a breakdown in relations between the state and a section of its society; and while a conflict in itself does not immediately affect the stability and ability of a state to effectively deliver services to its citizens, prolonged conflicts may lead to a gradual weakening of the state and compromise its ability and legitimacy. Of the countries facing conflicts, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) classifies 47 as fragile.
Fragility, conflict and violence are not identical, but they can exist concurrently, with each shaping and being shaped by the others.
Not all states experiencing conflict are fragile, but most of them are; and not all fragile states have experienced conflict, but almost all of them are or recently have.
From a human rights and civil society perspective, fragile states can be defined by three inter-related failures – a failure of authority, service delivery failure and a legitimacy failure.The World Bank reports that while conflicts between states have dropped significantly over the past 30 years, intra-country conflicts-conflicts between different groups in the same state have increased dramatically, signalling an improved relationship between countries, but a breakdown in state-society relations. It is therefore not surprising that by 2013, there were more than 382 state-society related conflicts underway in nearly 60 countries around the world.
Conflict-state fragility and state-society relations
Fragile and conflict-affected states face a breakdown in the relationship between the state and society, and in many cases between different communities in the same state. The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has identified three aspects that constitute state-society relations. These are political formations and settlements (also known as inclusiveness or legitimacy politics), state responsiveness to meeting societal expectations and state capacity to deliver services. These three factors, while within the control of the state, are often influenced by global policy environments as well as other drivers of good and bad governance. When they are absent civil society finds it difficult to function effectively, and in some cases CSOs are unable to function at all.
But it is not just the state and external responses that weaken civil society capacity and ability to function freely. Conflict-affected and fragile states are characterised by a lack of confidence and distrust in the ruling or winning government, weak social cohesion and the destruction of norms and values.
All these challenges put together mean that the state and policy-makers in these countries do not derive their legitimacy solely from winning the popular vote in democratic elections or by coming out as victors in a peace negotiation. Citizens must also have the right to voice their political views between elections and in the construction of peace agreements. Where these conditions exist, there is increased state legitimacy and citizen confidence in the organs of the state. In order to build stable states, it is therefore essential to strengthen civil society in fragile and conflict-affected countries, to enable CSOs to better fulfil their role as critical but constructive watchdogs and development actors in their own right. This is even more important in such states where a breakdown in service delivery and peace-building work means both state and civil society sometimes play the same roles.
Defining an enabling environment in conflict-affected and fragile states
The 2011 CSO consensus for an International Framework on CSO Development effectiveness defines the enabling environment as the political and policy context created by governments, official donors and other development actors that affect the ways CSOs may carry out their work. The Framework goes on to lay out a set of enabling standards, defined as a set of interrelated good practices by donors and governments – in the legal, regulatory, fiscal, informational, political and cultural areas – that support the capacity of CSO development actors to engage in development processes in a sustained and effective manner. In conflict-affected and fragile states, the enabling environment can be complex and in many cases related to how citizens in the society relate with one another.
State-building and creating a CSO enabling environment in these environments cannot therefore be viewed as purely technical issues or issues of legality and policy environment. In other words, we cannot rely on the presence or absence of laws and traditional state policies to measure an enabling environment for CSOs in these countries. Rather state-building issues, institutions, structures and systems that strengthen the capacity of the state to deliver services and win the trust of society are inherently political processes, the fundamental purpose of which is the reconstruction of legitimate relationships between government, state institutions and citizens. State-building should aim to recognise and strengthen society’s role in a well-functioning state.
Laws and codes in support of citizens’ rights are important – but not sufficient – building blocks of a civil society enabling environment in conflict-affected and fragile countries. Societies coming out of conflict are often polarised along ethnic, religious, ideological or class lines. In some cases they are polarised along the “winners” and “losers” in a conflict. These societies can become dislocated from – and ambivalent towards – the state. So, addressing a lack of citizen engagement and participation is increasingly being viewed as a key strategy for rebuilding fragile and conflict-affected societies.
Conflict and fragility produce fear and intimidation in the population, destroying social fabric and curtailing the possibilities for autonomous and voluntary organising. When the public sphere is not safe enough for people to express critique and challenge, it can result in a paralysis of collective social initiatives. In addition the emergence of uncivil, violent forms of association that attempt to instrumentalise and co-opt CSOs ultimately leads to the ‘de-civilisation of society’, making it difficult to use laws and codes to support an enabling environment for legitimate civil society. But this is not all. One of the greatest challenges for all stakeholders in a fragile and conflict context is the breakdown of trust, whether it is trust between members of the same family who are separated as a result of conflict or who have taken opposite sides, or trust in establishing a government amongst opposition, including former rebel groups and militias. An enabling environment for CSOs in these countries is therefore linked to re-establishing trust and state legitimacy – the building blocks for long-term state-society relations, which are then anchored in the core areas of consolidating the rule of law, state-building and democratic space. These buildings blocks also address the key challenge to creating an enabling environment for civil society.
Studies by UK-based CSO INTRAC reveal that in many instances the role of local CSOs in fragile states has been largely relegated to humanitarian assistance, where despite evidence of these needs, concerns related to the building blocks outlined above are hardly addressed. As seen in South Sudan and East Timor, the situation is not helped by the tendency by larger humanitarian agencies to use local CSOs as sub-contractees for their service delivery. However, these agencies have taken deliberate steps to build the capacity of local organisations both to deliver services and exercise their watchdog role in Liberia, Nepal and Afghanistan.
The lack of support and trust in civil society by government in many conflict-affected and fragile states has led many governments to take advantage of the situation and label CSOs as a threat to their ‘national security’. This attitude has frequently provided the rationale for harassment of social activists and CSOs, particularly those advocating for the advancement of citizens’ rights.