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UNDP (2007) Local Government in Post-Conflict Environments

What role does local government (LG) play in post-conflict reconstruction? What are the key issues for LG in post-conflict contexts? This paper, published by the United Nations Development Programme, argues that further research is required on the role of LG in conflict prevention, particularly on the contextual factors that enable LG to mitigate conflict. Donors should recognise the significance of LG and undertake political economy analysis to ensure that they engage with LG appropriately.

 LG has the potential to play either a positive or a negative role in both post-conflict reconstruction and preventing conflict. LGs can help to re-establish the presence of the state in the regions and respond more effectively to local conditions. LG is particularly important in PC contexts, since peace often comes to different regions of a country at different times. LG can help to prevent conflict by managing inter-group tensions, increasing representation and participation and improving service delivery. However, it can also exacerbate conflict, since ineffective, corrupt and partisan local political institutions cause frustration, resentment and feelings of exclusion.

 Key issues for LG in PC environments include:

  • Political context. LG reform is a highly political issue and requires an understanding of the political context. PC environments often have strong informal institutions, including patronage networks, which can hinder effective LG.
  • Central-local relations. Central-local government relations often experience tensions, which are heightened in PC environments and can contribute to conflict.
  • Building legitimacy. Increasing participation, reducing inequality, creating accountability, tackling corruption, providing services and developing civil society all contribute to building legitimacy. LG has an important role to play in these activities.
  • Institutional structure. The literature raises questions on appropriate and effective design of LG structures. These include whether to reform LG structures or build new ones and how to incorporate different interests in LG.
  • Sequencing. There is little consensus around the sequencing of LG reforms or appropriate entry points. The literature suggests that entry points should be determined by local context.
  • Decentralisation. The literature suggests that decentralisation can bring benefits, but can also bring significant problems. Politically sensitive design of decentralisation reforms is crucial.

Donors should not focus exclusively on central government in PC contexts. While working with LG presents additional challenges, the strength of the central is dependent on the strength of the local, and vice versa. Other policy implications include the following:

  • ‘One-size-fits-all’ policies do not work and PC environments do not provide a ‘clean slate’. Interventions must take account of economic, social, cultural and political circumstances and both formal and informal institutions.
  • LG reform in PC contexts is not just a technical exercise. LG reform is concerned with the location of power: it is highly political and controversial and can exacerbate conflict.
  • Short time horizons are inappropriate for donor interventions in PC states. They increase the risks of relying on inappropriate existing power structures to gain quick results. Donors should not rush to introduce democratic reforms in PC contexts.
  • Donors must consider local ownership and build the legitimacy of their interventions to ensure their effectiveness and sustainability.

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Document uploaded by

Jorge Rodriguez Bilbao
19 July 2011

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