State and non-state institutions in conflict-affected societies: Who do people turn to for human security?

The debate on fragile states has triggered an interest in how people organize for everyday security and for issues of common interest in the absence of a functioning state. With two extensive case studies in Somaliland/Puntland and Afghanistan, Oxfam Novib and its partners study how people in contexts of post-conflict state fragility rely on a range of local institutions and arrangements that are partly home-grown, and partly organized and supported by the central state.

The study explores how state and non-state institutions at the local level are 'put to work' to further human security. It asks how, in contexts of state fragility, state and non-state institutions help people cope with and reduce the multiple insecurities in their lives. Starting point for the study has been the insight that fragile states are not ungoverned spaces but instead feature forms of governance and of local ordering that emerge from within.

Central question

The central question for this study is: How do people interact with local governance institutions (state/non-state, formal/informal) to shape their human security? In order to understand how local institutions matter to human security in fragile settings, this research traced real responses of real institutions to real problems. The field studies start at people’s experienced key threats to their human security and then analyse the responses of different types of institutions to these.

Case studies

The two field studies took place in regions affected by conflict-related state fragility in Somaliland/Puntland (Sanaag region) and Afghanistan (Kunduz and Takhar provinces). These regions have been located, geographically or politically, at the ‘fringes of the state’, where the presence of the central state was historically marginal. In these contexts, local societies have typically developed robust and elaborate institutions and arrangements to cater for local needs of order and public goods. The studies discuss what type of institutions are found at the local level in these regions and what  role they play in people's search for everyday human security. The focus is on drought and violent inter-tribal conflict (in Sanaag), administration of justice (Takhar), and water distribution (Kunduz).