UN Photo_Isaac Billy

The state and statebuilding in the Global South – international and local interactions

This project considers how international actors and states in low-income countries interact across diverse contexts, and how and why state authority, capacity, and legitimacy may change through such interaction.

More than 80 per cent of the world’s poorest people live in fragile states. This project considers how states become more resilient, and the role of international assistance therein. It explores how international actors and states in low-income countries interact across diverse contexts, and how and why state authority, capacity, and legitimacy may change through such interaction.

The project’s work is divided into three main components:

  • Statebuilding and local legitimacy: This component focuses on case studies of externally-supported institution building across diverse countries from the Second World War to the present and considers the mechanisms through which aid works and the conditions under which it has been most and least effective. It explores this topic with a particular emphasis on ‘local ownership’ in the process of building resilience and legitimacy, especially in contexts where who speaks legitimately for the ‘local’ can be unclear.
  • COVID-19 and the state: This component explores the state response to the pandemic in low- and middle-income country cases and the international, national, and subnational aspects of this response. Attention is paid to the relationship between national policies and implementation, subnational variation, state capability, and international policy influence. Research considers how and why such policy measures and their implementation have varied across and within countries, and why some countries have been more effective than others in responding to the global pandemic. A group of studies explores the variation in the COVID-19 response across Indian states.
  • Subnational institutional performance across Ghana’s districts and regions – variation and causes: This initiative develops a new measure of institutional performance in Ghana at the district level, and explores the correlates, causes, and implications of such variation. 

This project builds from previous UNU-WIDER work on institution building in fragile contexts to explore processes of state-building in weak institutional environments, with particular attention to the interaction between international and local institutions.

Key questions

  • How have states become more ‘resilient’ and escaped fragility traps? What has been the role of international assistance therein?
  • How does external intervention interact with local institutions and endogenous processes to influence change in state institutions?
  • What can international development actors do to better support legitimate and effective states in fragile contexts and weak institutional environments? What are the conditions under which international assistance has been most and least effective?
  • How can local ownership be understood in such contexts when there are multiple and conflicting ‘local’ perspectives on core policy issues? How do and should international actors understand and approach ‘local’ ownership and legitimacy in such contexts?
  • Given standard international public health guidance, how and why have countries adopted similar/different responses to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Why have some countries been more effective than others in responding to the global pandemic? Does variation in state authority, capacity, and legitimacy help us to understand variation in response?

Watch this space

All papers, events, briefs, blog posts, and opportunities to engage relating to the project will be available on this webpage.

UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The enhancement of state capability in fragile countries supports the achievement of SDG 16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.