Getting beyond the 'every country is unique' mantra – Levy (2011)


This article, and other entries on Brian Levy's World Bank blog, argue for an approach to supporting governance based on 'best fit' to local conditions rather than 'best practice'. However, in insisting on the importance of recognising the specificity of the country context, practitioners need specific guidance on what types of intervention will be suited to different types of state. Levy distinguishes between five conditions that broadly depict a trajectory in state building and political competition:

  • Category 1: The "founding" political settlement. 'Political settlements' – bargains among elites (and sometimes their non-elite allies) that end violent conflict – are key to enabling conflict-affected countries to begin a new chapter in their development histories.
  • Category 2: Early-stage state dominance incorporates countries where dominant political leadership (perhaps military, perhaps civilian; perhaps organized around a political party, or a charismatic individual) has successfully consolidated its grip on power.
  • Category 3: Later-stage state dominance. Countries that successfully traverse the earlier-stages of the 'dominant state' trajectory will over time increasingly confront a new generation of governance-related challenges.
  • Category 4: Early-stage competitive clientelism is likely to be the prevalent pattern in those settings where the initial political settlement centred around a 'founding' election.
  • Category 5: Later-stage competitive polities can emerge from competitive clientelism or typically dominant state polities may become competitive polities.