CPAID findings

What are the key research findings on the role played by public authority?

"Financial uncertainty is also generated by disorderly foreign aid contracting in an international system which views infrastructure contracting as vital to peace"

Public authority and the aid sector

CPAID researchers found that the aid sector has only a partial understanding of public authorities in fragile and conflict-affected states. At both a local and regional level, the aid sector’s programming frequently neglects to consider the role played by authorities other than state and civil society organisations, such as traditional authorities, faith-based organisations or armed organisations.

  • National staff are much more aware than expat staff of the role played by different public authorities, who often unofficially incorporate them into their work.
  • This understanding is more clearly demonstrated in practice than in documentation, which often focusses exclusively on the state and formal civil society organisations, while downplaying other forms of public authority.
  • Aid organisations such as official donors and INGOs often themselves behave as public authorities, which they fail to acknowledge.

Commodity chains on conflict areas

Analysing commodity chains is a good way to study the different armed public authorities in conflict-affected areas. By looking at how state and non-state actors are involved in various stages of the chain we learn about how these groups both compete and depend on each other, and how everyday livelihoods have become militarised.

  • Research into small-scale fishing in the DRC reveals an entire economy based around the practice with transport and commodification of fish militarised in competition for power.
  • It is important to take into account social and environmental landscapes to grasp how different actors exercise and enforce their authority.

Violent political markets

The logistics economy is Somalia has increased instability and the propensity for violence. In particular, contractors in transport, logistics, and construction in Somalia have retained political and economic power throughout the civil war and during post-war state-building, and by enforcing their authority they have decreased the authority of the state itself.

  • Infrastructure contractors in Somalia have contributed to insecurity, competition between clans, elusive wealth, and financial uncertainty.
  • Financial uncertainty is also generated by disorderly foreign aid contracting in an international system which views infrastructure contracting as vital to peace, stability, and economic development. 

International policymaking and the third United Nations

Recent decades have seen a dramatic increase in the number of private and public sector organisations willing to participate in global governance. Working alongside the United Nations, these non-state actors have on many occasions solved problems and improved lives, acting as sources of public authority in their influence on international policymaking.

  • The interaction of non-state actors (the Third UN) with governments (the First UN) and inter-governmental bureaucracies (the Second UN) help explain shifts in policies, priorities, and practices.
  • Knowledge institutions around the UN are essential yet underappreciated sources of public authority, knowledge, and international norms.
  • These Third UN organisations themselves reflect global disparities in the production of and access to knowledge.

CPAID and epidemics

By investigating how public authority shapes governance in regions affected by epidemics, CPAID better equips policymakers to manage health responses based on knowledge of local power relations and popular social attitudes.

Ebola and public authority

CPAID conducts research into the political, social, and economic circumstances under which outbreaks of Ebola spread and can be contained. Since 2019, our researchers have produced extensive evidence-based research on Ebola outbreaks, ranging from academic papers to action-oriented research briefs and blog posts. In Uganda, our researchers have met with regional public health authorities to discuss critical recommendations based on previous government interventions.

COVID-19 and public authority

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 across the continent in 2020, CPAID researchers have used an extensive network on the ground to monitor the impact of public health responses on citizens’ everyday lives. Through a public authority lens, researchers have investigated the role of religions, charities, local community organisations, and militias in their pandemic response.