In settings of fragility, an array of coercive actors offers local populations a form of order, especially where the state is absent or deleterious to citizen security. This so-called “plural security provision” – multiple actors operating simultaneously and asserting claims on the use of force – is above all found in cities where populations of the Global South are concentrated.
Empirically, these non-state security providers may at times be more effective and efficient in fulfilling this function; they may also be more proximate and relevant to local populations’ needs, and cheaper than state alternatives. However, human right violations, competitive statebuilding as well as an almost ineluctable tendency towards a net production of insecurity over time are risks associated with plural security provision.
Plural security provision is examined in three urban contexts: Beirut (Lebanon), Nairobi (Kenya), and Tunis (Tunisia). These cities are characterized by differing degrees of plural security provision, unequal levels of human development, distinct historical trajectories of state formation, and diverse patterns of social cleavages. As such, they reflect a range of contextual factors, and a microcosm of a larger global set.
The project produced empirically-based, policy-relevant insights into how structures of local urban governance might interact with a plurality of local security providers in ways that deliver improved security outcomes for citizens. This approach privileged a bottom-up perspective that challenges conventional state-centric security and rule of law assistance, and that urged local policymakers to rethink their engagement with modes of security provision that people view as legitimate and effective.
The initiative, which received a research grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) in 2016, is guided by the following questions:
What incentives effectively compel non-state actors to prioritize positive security outcomes for local citizens? Alternatively, what motivations are likely to dissuade them from working toward such positive outcomes for citizens?
What factors effectively encourage local public officials to engage non-state actors in constructive dialogue? Alternatively, what considerations appear to encourage antagonistic local governance responses to non-state security providers?
How can public resources be leveraged to enable marginalized communities to advocate for and realize their collective security interests within plural security governance contexts?