Stability Journal, 5 January 2015:
Behavioral Patterns among (Violent) Non-State Actors: A Study of Complementary Governance

This article is part of a multi-year study of governance structures in the midst of insecurity and organized crime in fragile sub-state regions, where in the absence of a strong state, non-state actors (like insurgents, traffickers and tribal warlords) engage in political and socioeconomic governance. Building on our prior work on West Africa and the Afghanistan-Pakistan tribal belt, this paper focuses on the Andean borderlands, drawing on recent fieldwork in Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela. We explore patterns of behavior in which competition among violent non-state actors is not the norm. Instead, several instances were found in which violent non-state actors work collaboratively or have tacit non-interference agreements to provide public goods through arrangements we characterize as “complementary governance.” We therefore argue that, to understand how illicit authority emerges, it is not sufficient to consider one armed non-state actor in isolation or in a dichotomy to the state. As we contend, we have to take into account the complex connections and interactions among different (violent) non-state structures. Moving beyond state versus non-state governance to governance that is constitutive of various non-state groups, the perspective put forward in this article thus is aimed to enrich the current debate on governance and security.
I find the concept of ‘complementary governance’ in the context of illicit violent non-state actors as presented in this recent article to be quite interesting. Having spent a bit of time in Libya last year, it is clear to me that ‘complementary governance’, as described by the authors, could be used to characterize what occurred there in the post-Qaddafi evolution – and ultimate devolution – of governance in that country.

The various Libyan militias and other indigenous non-state actors did initially ‘work collaboratively or have tacit non-interference agreements to provide public goods’ as the authors describe their characterization of ‘complementary governance’, but that situation did not hold. Yet the Libyan situation does apply in the context of the article: the case study describes governing actions of non-state actors in ungoverned, or weakly governed, sub-state spaces and since the fall of Qaddafi, Libya has been a weakly governed state; or more accurately a collection of ungoverned and poorly governed regions.

The authors state, “…some forms of complementary governance among non-state actors – even violent ones – can result in higher levels of security than a government can provide.” An SAS paper published last October, “Politics by Other Means: Conflicting Interests in Libya’s Security Sector”, not only describes in detail how that situation of ‘complementary governance’ evolved, but also how it set the stage for the political splintering of the country. Adding depth, the NOREF paper “Stealing the Revolution: Violence and Predation in Libya” is focused more on the exploitation of ‘complementary governance’ by those non-state actors and the cascading negative effects of emerging Libyan formal governing structures failing to effectively integrate those informal structures.

So, perhaps the lesson to be taken is that ‘complementary governance’ among non-state actors is an effect that can only come about if there is no competition or conflict – socio-cultural, political, or economic – in that ungoverned space. The Libya case illustrates a situation where 'complementary governance' simply provided the non-state actors with space and opportunity to build up their strength for further conflict. Given that we rarely see such a lack of competition or conflict between or among non-state actors in the same ungoverned space, then the concept describes, at best, a transient occurrence in the development of control within an ungoverned space by non-state actors. If that is case, then the concept possesses limited analytic value beyond providing a useful concise term for describing that transient situation. Thoughts?