This post is part of a series on international interventions in local governance in Jordan and Lebanon. The earlier post is available here -
All political actors must legitimate their rule: become popular or trusted enough that people accepted their power. They may draw on process based legitimacy, ex. elections. They may draw on performance based legitimacy, like providing useful services and making good decisions. They may use similar values, identities or religious beliefs. The states with the weakest, least institutionalized and most unpopular governments aka. fragile states tend to rely heavily on patronage. Patronage is a system of hiring or paying people in exchange for support and loyalty. Patronage tends to decrease the effectiveness of the state.
International donors like USAID, AFD and BMZ try to move states out of fragility. In doing so, they often must change the legitimization strategy of local actors. In order to build stable state-society relations in conflict-affected societies, they committed to studying popular expectations on states, which may differ greatly from international norms like competitive elections and service provision. This change occurred around 2010, partly in response to unsuccessful nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The first blog post explored how donors provided grants to municipalities with large refugee populations. They hoped that hoped that improving service provision capacity of municipalities would increase public trust in town governments. They encountered problems with block voting and patronage, leading them to question the connection between service provision and legitimacy. Most mayors were more interested in appealing to local elites or sectarian identities rather than improving services. The Jordanian mayors in particular dependent on hiring relatives of key supporters, eating up the budget for services.
This post explores donor strategies for changing the legitimacy making of mayors in both Jordan and Lebanon. The following post will look at policies toward non-state actors and the exclusion of certain political parties.
Changing Legitimacy-Making Practices in Jordan
While unconditional municipal grants have continued, they are now accompanied with other strategies to change the legitimacy making practices of municipal leaders, particularly in Jordan. These interventions focus on either moving mayors away from block voting by tirbe toward public-goods-based legitimacy, or encouraging engagement with non-elites and marginalized groups (usually Syrians and women). Some strategies include competitive grants, training in participatory governance or social media, and encouraging “town-hall” meetings. These interventions engage directly with the misaligned incentives of municipal leaders and are tailored to the context.
USAID’s CITIES program trains municipalities to conduct town hall meetings. After staff complete a several day training in participation, they are encouraged to host a town hall. The meetings discuss the municipalities budgets, their services and the capacity and responsibility of levels of government. USAID encourages mayors to livestream the meetings on Facebook as well. USAID’s evaluations hopefully note that the New Ma’adi mayor debriefed 40 other mayors on the success of the communication tool. In interviews, one policymaker acknowledge the resistance to townhalls
“At first many mayors resisted this idea, it was foreign to how they thought legitimacy should be built. Their more traditional practice was to go to weddings and events of elites. However, some of the mayors have started to enjoy the town halls.”
Interestingly, the donors record the demographics of participants to monitor engagement with marginalized groups. One policymaker commented “Realistically, there is a high percentage of middle age educated Jordanians. We want to encourage more vulnerable groups and build the interest of municipalities to reach out to them”.
The World Bank organized MSSRP is using competitive grants to encourage new legitimacy-making strategies, in addition to their refugee-targeting grants. The grants, called the “Innovation Fund”, are worth 7 million USD compared to 14 million USD in other grants in the MSSRP program. The bids are intended to “force (the municipalities) to come up with new roles for themselves, expand out of their older roles of collecting trash. Get them to understand their remit can be broader and help drive the local economy”. Bids are selected for focusing on margnialized population, generating employment, among others.
Additionally, donors have organized a great number of trainings on participatory governance. They were not emphasized in interviews, but are common in monitoring and evaluation documents. For example USAID’s CITIES program called for training municipality communication teams to “use social media to engage their communities” and “link municipalities with existing local radio and other media outlets”.
Changing Legitimacy-Making Practices in Lebanon
In Lebanon the countrywide multi-donor strategies call for similar “participatory programming. The Lebanon Crisis Response Plan from 2017 writes that “builing the confidence of local populations in municipal capacity and responsiveness to their needs” is “more important” than “alleviating pressure and competition of resources at the local level”. However, few programs similar to the above were identified in Lebanon, though the documents collected cover only a small fraction of the total programs. In interviews, donor policymakers in Lebanon often mentioned “community consultations” by implementing partners. Patronage politics was mentioned in both interviews and commissioned studies as a challenge to service-based legitimacy, but was not as emphasized as in Jordan, possibly because sectarian and anti-refugee activity is a larger concern.
Some policymakers expressed frustration that appeals to sectarian identity remain a staple of local Lebanese politics, which may crowd out the legitimacy sources that donors prefer. The RACE II intervention funded by DFID has a partial goal to reform education to increase cross-factional understanding (DFID, 2016). Other than this, we did not see municipal interventions targeted directly at sectarian issues. Possible reasons might be that the voters of most municipalities come from a single sect, that donors prefer to avoid confessional issues on the local level, or that confessional issues are unrelated to host-refugee tension. Directing aid through NGOs instead of municipalities helps to serve multiple confessional communities increases cross-community contact.
A donor in Lebanon discussed new policies from mayors to capitalize on refugee tension. They stated that some mayors were using their municipal police to assist in the destruction of Syrian refugee shelters and businesses. The Associated Press has reported that some parties have intensified anti-refugee rhetoric in 2019, amid increasing tensions (El Deeb, 2019). According to the donor staff member, donors providing aid to such municipalities face a significant challenge; if they threaten to withdraw support, mayors may decide that driving the Syrians out of their community is worth more than the donor money. The donors might then find themselves with no means of reducing tension. One policymaker described the problem as follows
“They [municipal leaders] may try to get the aid and still abuse the refugees. Suppose we are aiding a municipality who are abusing refugees. If we make a stink about it and they withdraw from the program, then we increased the tension and we can’t help the Syrians as much”
None of the material collected in the literature review discussed this phenomenon, possibly because the dynamic is too recent or too controversial. The KI’s did express concern that targeting aid to municipalities with signs of tension creates a perverse incentive on communities to produce those signs.
It is plausible that these issues are not directly addressed in the public documents because the donors are unwilling to address such politically controversial issues. While some key informants possessed a detailed knowledge of the calculations and anti-refugee policies pursued by specific political parties through municipalities, they used coded language to avoid identifying those parties by name. Policies toward the sectarian parties may be limited to those policies that can be written as applying to all parties equally (except Hezbollah). Potentially, an unwillingness to discuss the behaviour of individual parties limits the aid sector’s response to tension-exploiting mayors.
Misalignment between the elites of fragile states who favour the status-quo and donors seeking a more stable and effective government has been discussed in several donor strategies (Norad 2010, OECD 2011). For example, Norad redirected its aid for Kenya through the private sector upon deciding the current government was uninterested in meaningful reform. In fact, currently Lebanon’s national government is receiving reduced aid due to its failures to reform and maintain legitimacy. After our data collection, French President Emmanuelle Macron stated publicly “We will not write a blank check to a government that has no faith from its people” (Macron, 2020). Our finding show that this core dilemma of whether to continue support to state actors with misaligned interest does not occur solely at the national government level. Support to municipal authorities can produces the same conflict.
Lessons for effective altruists
For the problems in Lebanon, the easy solution is to redirect the aid elsewhere. Redirecting the aid increases the incentives for reform and opens aid for more efficient use elsewhere. The donors working in Lebanon have ulterior objectives (protecting refugees), but a utility-hungry donor can redirect to poor democracies where the money will go farther.
The patronage reducing strategies in Jordan are more promising. Firstly, process and performance legitimacy is a stable equilibrium, so moving away from patronage is possible. If the town halls, trainings and competitive grants do cause even a fraction of municipalities to move from patronage to process and performance, the long term benefits would be very large. The unqualified grants per refugee/head need not be included.