In 2014, the Ebola virus broke out in Monrovia, Liberia. The task of organizing an effective response largely fell to local government. Under the leadership of Mayor Clara Doe Mvogo, municipal authorities reached out to community leaders it worked with on a daily basis, spreading information about correct methods to contain the virus’ spread—even as national health officials struggled against public distrust to convey the same messages.
Monrovia’s response to the Ebola outbreak is a stark example of the utility of local government in fragile and conflict-affected states, where a key driver of insecurity and instability is the weak relationship between state and citizens. There is growing international recognition that sub-national actors like local governments can perform a practical role in building inclusive dialogue and collaboration between state institutions and the public, as in Monrovia during the Ebola crisis; or providing concrete conflict mitigation and dispute settlement mechanisms that prevent or reduce violence.
With that potential in mind, on November 4 the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding (CCDP) and PAX co-hosted an event with the Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law, exploring ways in which sub-national actors can contribute to peacebuilding and statebuilding. With support from the Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law, the event brought together local government, policymakers, and practitioners to share insights on how donors can support sub-national institutions to strengthen citizen trust and state legitimacy in fragile contexts. Invited participants included practitioners with perspectives from the field, like Dion van den Berg of PAX; scholars like RTI International’s Dr Derick Brinkerhoff and CCDP’s Dr Oliver Jütersonke; and local government leaders like Monrovia’s own Mayor Mvogo. Keith Krause, Director of CCDP, moderated the discussion.
During the substantive closed-door roundtable, participants critically assessed the cross-national contributions of sub-national actors to citizen trust and state legitimacy, drawing on diverse evidence from Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Côte d'Ivoire, Libya, and elsewhere. Participants grappled with how more inclusive political governance at the local level might strengthen state-citizen relations even in the context of deeply exclusive national-level governance; and whether donors should prioritize support to improving local service delivery or local government accountability mechanisms to deliver the biggest gains in trust and legitimacy.
The unique event concluded that international policymakers must develop a more nuanced understanding of the advantages and limitations of supporting sub-national governments as actors in peacebuilding and statebuilding, including by building the mechanisms for inclusive political governance from the local level up. Later this month, PAX and CCDP will co-publish an outcome report capturing key points of agreement and contention from the event intended to inform more effective policy frameworks.