Fragile States & Good Governance: What Urbanization Can Teach Us

images-1Cities are where state building projects fall apart rather than come together as Tom Goodfellow, Dennis Rodgers and Jo Beall point out in a new study.  Typically this is because of violent conflict is related to the states failure to provide growth, welfare and security in urban areas.  Furthermore, civil conflicts tend to drive urbanization and then greater civic conflict is a common response to that rapid urbanization.

Groups competing for control of natural resources and political power marks the landscape of most fragile states taking the form of gangs in Central America, criminal activity in West Africa and riots in the Arab World.  Often these clashes are the result of the state failing to manifest institutions that build political inclusion.

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Half of the developing world’s population now lives in cities and this is projected to grow to two-thirds within a few decades.  As the population of cities in fragile states continues to rise, the best way to improve these people’s lives is to improve the metropolises in which they live.

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Despite having many obstacles cities are much easier to fix than states for a number of reasons:

1. Elections work differently and more effectively.  National elections can pit ethnic/religious groups against each other in competition for natural resources or political power.  However these identities can be blurred in the more compact city.  Also there are more ways to hold official accountable in a city than in a large and non-cohesive city.

2. Powerful and wealthy individuals who may influence government are more likely to live in urban areas.  Since they have a vested interest in the outcome of good governance and development projects where they live a focus on cities also means a pragmatic approach concerned with the interest of  elites.

3. Taxes are necessary for development and increasing the accountability of officials.  National governments may rely heavily on natural resources and foreign aid municipalities get the majority of their income from local taxes.  The more they depend on taxes from their citizens the more than can be accountable for the delivery of goods and services.  Too illustrate, oil rich Nigeria earns one-fifth of its revenue from taxes, however if this were to increase the accountability of its government officials would increase as well.

4. Lastly, improving public services in a city is easier than it is in a large country. Building  development  projects in rural areas where there are no roads can siphon funds away from projects that could vastly improve the lives of citizens in easy to reach areas.

This is not to say that development should only focus on cities. Only that by following trends of urbanization and looking at ways to best help the most people moving forward development and good governance should shift its focus towards the metropolis.

 

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