The role of informal service providers in post-conflict reconstruction and state building

Jeremy Allouche


This chapter argues that current debates on state building are flawed because they employ a European and Weberian conception of state building premised on the conception of the state as a legal personality, an ordering power, and a set of formal arrangements that institutionalise power. This conception is not well adapted to service delivery and state building in most contemporary post-conflict situations, because it does not account for informal governance and service provision.

This chapter is divided into two parts. The first focuses on donors’ conceptions of the state and argues that the predominant discourse on state building focuses on creating the security and stability needed to control the territory and to lay the basis for international and regional trade. This often leads to a very centralised state, and causes state-building policies to deal with reconstruction and service delivery in a way that views informal institutions and providers as resisting state authority and the formalization of its institutional power.

The second part of the chapter explores the nexus between service delivery and state building through the specific example of water services. It examines the extent to which service delivery can strengthen the legitimacy of the state and highlights the limits of the dominant discourse, which links service delivery to state legitimacy. Lastly, it looks at alternative models of state building that focus on post-conflict reconstruction, the informal sector and regulatory governance (Brinkerhoff 2005; Schwartz, Hahn, and Bannon 2004), and at the important role of non-state providers in the delivery of services.

Key Findings:

  • Both post-conflict state building and reconstruction agendas are now dominated by a discourse that emphasizes authority, legitimacy and formality. State-building and reconstruction practices use service delivery as a tool for strengthening the legitimacy and authority of state institutions.
  • The European concept of state building is perhaps not as relevant in post-conflict countries in which informal governance plays a strong role. Current state-building discourses and practices have not addressed the major issues of change from informal governance to state empowerment and are often inadequate to explain the current realities of water provision in peri-urban and rural areas.
  • A reconstruction agenda that gives priority to service delivery and regulatory governance will enhance the state’s legitimacy over the long term and give it greater authority over the management of public affairs.
  • Regulatory governance emerges as a way to deal with the formal and informal sectors as two complementary realms rather than antagonists.
  • The major challenge in terms of state building and service delivery lies in recognising the importance of the informal sector and the tensions between formalisation, state control, and success or failure in providing services to the people who need them the most.

Document summary from page 31-32.


Allouche, J. (2014). The role of informal service providers in post-conflict reconstruction and state-building. In E. Weinthal, J. Troell & M. Nakayama (Eds.), Water and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding. London: Earthscan.