• Journal Article

Decentralized local governance in fragile states: Learning from Iraq

Citation

Brinkerhoff, D., & Johnson, R. (2009). Decentralized local governance in fragile states: Learning from Iraq. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 75(4), 585-607. DOI: 10.1177/0020852309349424

Abstract

This article examines the role that local governance plays in creating an effective state and in building constructive state—society relations. Reconstruction efforts in fragile, post-conflict states have focused largely on central government, yet decentralized local authorities offer a number of positive features. Looking at the governance reconstruction experience in Iraq, the analysis explores the extent to which these positive features have characterized Iraqi sub-national government. The article draws lessons for governance reconstruction more generally, addressing decentralization choices, capacity-building, and political factors.

Points for practitioners

In fragile, post-conflict states, good governance reconstruction agendas often aim too high. Targeting good enough governance solutions is more realistic. Decentralized local governance can be integral to such solutions, and offers several advantages to counter problems that central governments face: weak roots beyond the center, poor distribution of services, and weak national integration. Experience shows that local governments can increase speed of service delivery, address ethnic/regional inequities, build democratic and conflict management capacities, mitigate political conflict, experiment to find creative solutions, and enhance legitimacy. We examine governance reconstruction in Iraq in terms of how efforts to build local governance have resulted in these positive outcomes. The Iraq case offers some support for our argument that in fragile, post-conflict states, decentralized local governance is an important feature of good enough governance.