MON 26 - 10 - 2020
Date: Jul 1, 2020
Source: The Daily Star
The complexity and intuition of state-building
Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine
It was extraordinary and quite surprising when my 9-year-old son, Adam, asked me about the meaning of the word “State” or “Al-dawle.” Partly due to the surprise and the purity of the mind asking the question, I could not answer the question at first. But his question opened up a stream of many other questions about whether our generation knew what this word really means.

The state is a complex and multidimensional concept. The culture of the state is the link that unites individuals and groups; a unifying bond that rises above confessional divisions and sub-loyalties in any society. When the state becomes the source of security for its residents on one hand, and the defender of their lives and properties on the second, its institutions become progressively legitimate.

Throughout the years, a number of approaches were taken to comprehend and conceptualize the state and define its functions. Those various approaches are not distinct choices, but rather it is more appropriate to comprehend them as an outflow of the advancement of political science in understanding the relationship between state and society. Among these approaches are the state as a legal concept, the state as a set of interactions and values, the state and society, the globalized state and the network state.

States vary in terms of their power, capacity and ability, and of the level of efficiency of their political and economic institutions. All researchers agree that a differentiated approach taking this diversity into consideration is a fundamental precondition for successful state building approach.

Today, state-building has become a top priority, mainly in fragile and post-conflict settings. It prevails as a key even in relatively typical “normal” developing states.

The concern about the necessity to build more effective states has developed out of the merging of numerous factors in the course of recent decades. From multiple points of view, the state-building agenda has progressed from the governance agenda. However, with its emphasis on “foundational” issues, it is an increasingly comprehensive approach.

State-building is tied to the establishments of the foundations of the government’s organizations within which governance should work. Without the development of this structure, governance intercessions would not have real effect. There is a wide understanding that state-building is about producing legitimacy, controlling violence, and building proficient and responsive institutions in order to cultivate a common feeling of the public domain.

Discussions about state capacities in terms of productivity such as social service delivery, economic management and the conveyance of justice are essential in understanding the outputs of state-building. In addition, the core components of the state include political settlement, state-society relations, civic trust, citizenship and socio-political cohesion, security and essential administrative structures. If these constitutive areas stay frail, states cannot harvest capacities to provide output functions in a sustained and solid manner. One of the critical challenges of state-building include political economy challenges, for example, corruption and neopatrimonialism.

State building is the way toward strengthening the institutions to help long-term economic, social, and political development while controlling legitimate utilization of violence over a given region by developing a strong and supportive administrative, financial, judicial and military apparatus.

While state-building takes diverse “trajectories” over time in different nations, good practices from past experiences are pertinent and might be applicable.

Lebanon is going through the worst economic crisis in decades, with its currency crumbling, businesses closing, costs for essential merchandise soaring and the danger of hunger approaching its least fortunate citizens. The World Bank, and not long before the pandemic hit hard, notified that the portion of Lebanon’s population living in poverty could increase from 30 percent to 50 percent. Today, and due to health and economic crisis, more than 70 percent of the Lebanese families are suffering from a reduced income contrasted to last year as indicated by a recent WFP survey. The circumstances have pushed nearly one out of every three Lebanese into unemployment so far, while one in five saw their salary being reduced. A considerable percentage of respondents reported the incapacity to cope. Additionally, the survey signifies that 50 percent of the Lebanese, felt stressed they would not have enough food to eat over the coming months.

Transforming institutions is consistently intense and especially in fragile circumstances. In countries with a track record of violence and mistrust, making cooperative action is impossible. The transitional phase produce expectations of fast change that cannot be carried by existing institutions. Reform and transition need a strong, long-term vision and efficient institutions. A vision which is reflected in national plans. Transformation is a long process that takes time and requires flexible approaches and determination.

Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine is executive director at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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