Governance without the State

In areas without law governance still exists. The purpose of this post is to explain some of these processes involved in order without law. The argument will be made that even in areas without the state often still rely on some articulation of state power in order to allow governance in these areas to continue. This trend can be seen in the unusual relationship between favelas and political actors in Brazil. It appears in the Colombian government’s indirect acceptance of ‘peace communities’ and it can be identified in certain forms of mediated governance that occur in the horn of Africa in regions of Somalia and Ethiopia.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The first area that this discussion will concern itself with are the favelas or slums in Rio. Enrique Desmond Arias, in his article ‘The Dynamics of Criminal Governance: Networks and Social order in Rio de Janeiro’, relates his views on three favelas in Rio. His experiences in the favelas of Santa Ana, Tubarao and Vigario Geral support the notion that ‘often times it is not in fact a simple case of the state not reaching an area but in fact a particular articulation of the state’s power which sustains the type of governance in these areas.’

Enrique Desmond Arias, ‘The Dynamics of Criminal Governance: Networks and Social order in Rio de Janeiro’, (2006) Journal of Latin American Studies 38(2) 293,

The political operations of traffickers and their allies go well beyond indirect links with politicians. He argues that politicians have ‘laboured to establish clientelist networks to gain votes from the communities.’ In the Santa Ana favela he talks about the relations, mediated by lawyers, that traffickers maintain with politicians who obtain additional resources for the community and reinforce traffickers’ legitimacy as local leader.

In Santa Ana politicians made a deal with the leadership of the Resident’s Association to provide them with monopoly access to the community and votes. Bernardo, the president of the Resident’s Association in the Turbaro Favela, indicated to a campaign manager that he had an association with a trafficker and could provide him with exclusive access to the community. Enrique Desmond Arias concludes that the result is that, more than filling space left by the government, illegal networks appropriate existing state and societal resources and power and use them to establish protected spaces in which traffickers can engage in illegal activities. More than parallel ‘states’ or ‘polities’ drug trafficking in Rio represents an expression of transformed state and social power at local level.

Elizabeth Leeds, ‘ Cocaine and the parallel polities in the Brazilian Urban Periphery: Constraints on Local-Level Democratization’, Vol 31(3)  Latin American Research review 47

There is further discussion of this concept by Elizabeth Leeds article, ‘Cocaine and the parallel polities in the Brazilian Urban Periphery: Constraints on Local-Level Democratization’, she talks about the essentially conservative tenor of criminal governance as an adaptation rather than resistance of the State’s power. She suggests that the favelas are but one type of community ‘among an array of comparative examples of the emergence of parallel polities resulting from the perceived absence of the state. She also raises Joan Moore’s discussion of Chicago gangs in 1977 study of Chicago gangs. She says that ‘the real challenge, especially for older gang members, was to make it in the Anglo world and gain a certain respectability.’ The use of excessive force and discriminatory policies by the state has caused a change in the way in which state power is articulated in the Favela. In the Rocinha Favela residents talk about feeling safe with their children walking around in the early hours of the morning. The perception by favela residents – indeed, by most of the working class- that the formal justice system does not work for them has led a portion of that population to accept an alternative justice systems.

In a sense then the state’s unwillingness to address the needs of the residents has led to a situation where the state indirectly mediates the provision of services through networks involving traffickers. 1987 study carried out by the Rio branch of the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil concluded that the sense of alienation from formal institutional channels felt by favela populations fosters an autonomous sense of maintaining order. Compound authority structures can be found in most domestic systems. Some openly, and even violently, vie with the state in cases of polities with diverse ethno-national or ideological groups with competing claims.


Columbia presents us with further examples that support the notion that the governance in these areas with limited state involvement actually still represents some sort of indirect expression of the state’s power. Here as in the example of the favelas of Rio one finds a marked distrust of formal institutions. Ann C Mason, in her article ‘Constructing authority on the periphery: Vignettes from Columbia’, discusses the murder of six citizens in a rural elementary school of Las Palmeras in Mocoa, Putumayo on January 23rd 1991 during a joint operation by the army and the national police.

The state endeavoured to cover up what happened and it was the finding of the Inter-American Court that the deaths were extralegal and several of the judicial guarantee and protections contained the American Convention of Human Rights had been violated. It is against this backdrop and the resulting distrust of state institutions that another form of governance has thrived in these remote communities. The governance of the Indigenous or peace communities, however, still represents and indirect manifestation of the state’s power.

Although the government is emphatic that it never formally agreed to the rules of the peace communities, informal practises by public officials in fact constitute de facto approval of their autonomy and independent authority.In the Columbian scenarios, individuals and communities, as well as the state, engaged in behaviour that constitutes recognition of the social power exercised by these non-state actors. In the case of the Palmeras, the plaintiffs publicly recognized the Inter-American system’s legal and institutional and normative authority through the presentation of its claim and their willingness to be bound by the court’s final ruling.

The governance of indigenous community and the acceptance of more broader international norms appearing in these indigenous communities could be viewed as a form of mediated state power. The state recognising the failure of its institutions and its lack of competence de facto devolves or delegates some of its functions.

Somalia and Ethiopia

Menkhaus says of Somalia that it is not, however, merely a repository of lessons learned on how not to pursue state building. In some respects it is at the forefront of a poorly understood trend – the rise of informal systems of adaptation, security and governance in response to the prolonged absence of a central government.

In Ethiopia’s Somalia region and in Southern Sudan this relationship between state and non-state realms of authority can be seen again. The relationship here again is often highly ambiguous. In Kenya there is another example of this unconventional relationship between State and non-State authorities in Kenya where it borders Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. Recently, in these areas, the Kenyan government has elected to deal with coalitions of local non-governmental organizations, traditional leaders and other civic groups to manage and prevent armed conflict. In some areas these Peace and Development committee have made dramatic improvements in what is a positive example of the mediated state approach.

The descriptive account of the situation of non-state authority (that is actually a version of state authority or an adaptation to it) is what this post has been concerned with. The normative situation would differ depending on the specific context. Whether these armed non-state actors are normatively wrong or right they exist as a force or presence that needs to be factored into the governance equation. It is also often/ mostly the case that these areas of limited statehood speak to some serious institutional problems in the Countries that have allowed the creation of these areas of limited statehood. What has been interesting though, across the three sort of case studies here, has been the notion (without any value judgment) that non-state authority often turns out or be some indirect articulation of a troubled state’s power in a difficult to govern area.


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