Development Issues

Critical Thinking about the World’s Development

Conflictive Governance


Cordeiro, Rui Mesquita. (2013).  “Conflictive Governance: The disappearing boundaries of local and global governance for development and the case of Mexico and EZLN“. São Paulo: Revista Pensamento e Realidade (PUC-SP), v.28 (2).


The Hague, 24/Apr/2006 | By Rui Mesquita Cordeiro |



In a first look, the link between governance and conflict may be a little bit diffuse, once that, in the strict sense of its Greek root, governance is understood as the way people govern themselves[1], and by conflict it is meant a state of hostility between two parties for perceived or real incompatible interests[2]; however, they have an umbilical connection, in the sense that governance may be defined as conflict management itself. A deeper comprehension of both concepts is essential to better understand their conceptual linkages and their practical implications. So be it and let us explore some ideas on governance, on conflict and on governance as conflict management.


Governance and Conflict


More than simply about how people govern themselves, governance today is a “fashionable” (Weiss 2000) but very important concept, that is usually being used to assure power control by some who historically have accumulated such power. In relation to governance and power, the World Bank and the Commission of the European Communities define:


“Governance is the way power is exercised in managing a country’s economic and social resources for development”.

(World Bank 1994)


“The use of political authority and exercise of control over a society and the management of its resources for social and economical development”.

(World Bank 1992)(Landell-Mills and Serageldin 1991)


“Rules, processes and behaviours that affect the way in which powers are exercised, particularly as regards openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness and coherence”.

(Commission of the European Communities 2001)


The World Bank uses a good and clear definition, but restricted to economical power and to national politics, missing other kinds of powers, specially the international powers of inter-state relations. The Commission of the European Communities adds more open aspects, like processes and behaviours, and opens space for civil society participation, broadening its meaning[3].


In another perspective, governance is a “continuum of both state and societal governance (government and civil society nexus)”[4]. Other definitions go from local to global spheres of governance, not only limited to economics and politics. Thomas Weiss (Weiss 2000), highlight some of them:


For James Rosenau, “whether at the grassroots or global levels, it encompasses the activities of governments, but it also includes the many other channels through which “commands” flow in the form of goals framed, directives issued, and policies pursued”.



For the Commission on Global Governance, “it is the sum of the many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, manage their common affairs”.



One of the most recent uses of governance is to define what is called Good Governance, a term defined by the World Bank and today vastly used as a way to combat corruption in developing countries’ governments. In sum, good governance is an accountable, efficient, lawful, representative and transparent governance. According to the World Bank, a country with good governance observes:

·         The universal protection of human rights.

·         The rule of law, where laws are implemented in a non-discriminatory manner.

·         Freedom of information and expression.

·         An efficient, impartial, and effective judicial system.

·         Transparent public agencies and official decision making.

·         Accountability for decisions made about public issues and resources by public officials.

·         Devolution of resources and decision-making power.

·         Participation and inclusion of all citizens in debating public policies and choices.

·         Fostering competitive markets and service delivery mechanisms.


In my perception, governance’s practice, rather then being about how people govern themselves, is being about how some people govern other people in order to defend their self-interests. These interests, as seen at the explanation on good governance, are usually economical, but not only restricted to it. In this sense, its practice has been a distortion of its original Greek root. For such, it is very important to understand what people mean by governance, in order to not loosing the track of its original meaning.



What about conflict, more then just a state of hostility between two parties for perceived or real incompatible interests? A wide range of definitions for conflict is discussed in the literature. On the one hand, more economical explanations point to greed and grievance as the main root causes for conflicts (Murshed 2002)(Collier and Hoeffler 2004), while on the other hand, more sociological explanations point to a variety of context specific social and economical factors. David Moore (Moore 2004), for instance, defines conflict as associated with strongly negative feelings that may be experienced within a person, within a group or between groups; therefore, a conflict may even happen within an individual, and not only between parties. Furthermore, Moore proposes three different approaches to analyse and deal with conflicts: maximising conflict, minimising conflict and acknowledging and transforming conflict. The first one due for adversarial dispute resolution, while the second one for non-adversarial dispute resolution, assuming the use of mediation. His third approach, acknowledging and transforming a conflict, is for him the optimal approach, where specific disputes are merely symptoms of more general conflict or when there is conflict but no dispute.


For a deeper understanding of the conflict paradigms within social sciences, I come up with this summary matrix, based on the analysis of Mohamed Salih (Salih 1993)[5]:


Social Sciences’ Schools

Main characteristics related to Conflict

Structural Functionalism

·    From what by what (Habermas 1972) called structure of interests.

·    Related to the structures which make up society and allows it to function as a system (macro-level theory).

·    The causal agent is the social system and the causal mechanism is the “needs” or “functional requisites” of that system.

·    Evolutionary rather than revolutionary change is the order of social structures.


·    Conflict is produced by contradictions inherent in social structures (relations of production).

·    Historical materialism:

Conflict origin at the alienation from one’s own product due to exploitation.

Conflict is essential for change to happen.

In favour of class struggle and social revolution.

·    Neo-Marxism:

Conflict origin at inequitable access to scarce goods and services.

Conflicts arise not only from material reasons, but also from religion, culture, ethnicity, values and so forth.

Mass-culture and the media with a new important role for ideas and values influence.

Sceptical about radical and revolutionary change – institutionalised politics rather than revolutionary methods.

Rational Choice Theory

·    Conflict starts at the self-interested individuals.

·    Rational individuals are purposive and goal-oriented actors (micro-level theory).

·    Individuals evaluate behavioural options in light of their costs and benefits.

·    Quantitative methods of analysis are commonly used to understand conflicts.



The matrix gives us a visual explanation of the different social sciences schools, but further an analytical framework is necessary for a complete analysis on conflict and governance. For that, let us explore Kriesberg’s and Schlee’s observations.


For Louis Kriesberg (Kriesberg 2002), conflict analysis takes into account three main principal elements: the involved parties, the incompatible goals and the means of dispute. On his first element, the parties (or the adversaries), it is important to look at their degree of organisation, institutional structure and access to resources; applicable to all kinds of social structures, like governments, unions, social movements, classes and so forth. The second element of analysis, the goals, is very important to understand and solve conflicts. A careful analysis of the adversaries’ goals is very important to find out whether the perceived incompatible goals are really incompatible; therefore, some conflicts tend to be more consensual, while others more dissensual. An analysis of the goals may expose the significance of the conflict. The third element of analysis is the means on which the conflict is addressed. In this sense, the author describes the means as: violent conflicts, non-violent conflicts and conflicts under rules, like elections, for instance; the last one is not considered as a social conflict, due to its ruled nature. More then a simple definition, Kriesberg gives us an important analytical model toward conflicts analysis.


Guenther Schlee (Schlee 2004) looks forward understanding the identities involved in conflicts that make people to take their own side in the disputes. He differ at least two main reasons for taking sides: self or group identification with each other in the one hand, and advantages one could gain on the other. Identity in relation to social structures and their cognitive representations is decisive for taking side, together with process of inclusion and exclusion and economical circumstances limiting group sizes. His anthropological analysis challenges the rational choice theory and is a very useful to understand who is involved and why, in each part of the conflict, complementing Kriesberg’s analytical framework.


Both Kriesberg and Schlee models, when combined, may be of great importance of analysis. Later on this paper, I will analyse a Mexican case study in the light of Kriesberg’s and Schlee’s models.


Governance as conflict management

For Willian Zartman (Zartman 1997), governance is conflict management. Moreover, he highlights that governing a country is not only about protecting it against external threats; it is also a continual effort the handle the ordinary conflict among groups and their demands within the political life of a nation. Managing society’s demands is government’s job, but it is very hard for the government alone to manage conflicts; therefore, Zartman says there a need for national consensus on values that foster both development and conflict management, just like there is also a need for normative codes for conflict management. Regime failure or government inability to manage conflicts on sustained basis may lead a country to obdurate repression or a re-institutionalisation and regime restructuring.


Carlos Sojo (Sojo 2003) adds to Zartman while reflecting on governance as the relationship between rulers and people, between citizens and institutions, especially in democracies, because in authoritarian governance rules are clearer and control is exerted by violence or the threat of it. Conflicts between the state and the citizens may generate social conflict, revolutions, and the creation of liberation movements. Furthermore, it may generate a situation of state failure or even state collapse, as a result of society suffering from exclusion, injustices and inequity.


The importance of the linkage, by both Zartman and Sojo is due to the fact that within a state, especially democratic states with freedom of association and expression, the population is usually, if not always, very diverse and heterogeneous, in terms of social, political and economical interests and conditions. Therefore, it is important to realise that the government should operate for everyone, taking into account the diversity and the power share among the various people and institutions. The seeking for national consensus is usually very hard, what may generate internal conflicts of different types. One of the government’s main roles is undoubtedly the mediation role to accommodate the interests of all, taking into account possible situation of exclusion, injustices and inequity that should be addressed. Here I would like to bring about the issue of decentralisation and autonomy, especially for big countries, as a possible powerful mean of bringing efficiency to such kind of conflict management by the state, in more local than national instances of government. Context specifically, decentralisation and autonomy (local governance), together with national and international cooperation and solidarity (global governance) may facilitate a lot this whole process of governance as conflict management.


The Role of Local and Global Governance


The linkage between local and global governance should be observed very carefully. Many strands there are in this field, some tend to privilege more the need for global governance, while other the need to for local governance. I defend the idea of some balance between both, to foster, as said before, decentralisation, autonomy, cooperation and solidarity, but before arguing deeper the reasons behind my position, let us explore a little bit more of these ideas, and see the arguments for both sides of this dialog.


A need for global governance

The main arguments behind the need for more global governance come especially, but not only, from the today’s developed countries thinking. Scholars like Sebastian Mallaby (Mallaby 2002) and Thomas Weiss (Weiss 2000) argue that due to a certain governance deficit and authoritarianism in some developing countries, global governance institutions are needed to assure development to the whole planet. On the one hand, Mallaby refers to the eminent position of the United States as a benevolent world power and the failure of multilateral policies to avoid state failure, like foreign aid and nation-building efforts, for instance. On the other hand, Weiss says that democratisation in the developing countries was meant to build democratic institutions to manage conflicts; however, democracy opened the door wide for new types of conflicts, most of them intra-state ones, caused by nationalism, ethnicity, religion and resources. He continues arguing on the proliferation of non-state actors challenge the state monopoly over governing its territory and people, like the UN system, the international economical institutions (defending free-markets and trade as a way to avoid inter-state conflicts), international NGOs, and even trans-national corporations and the global media.


Still in the field of global governance, Francis Fukuyama (Fukuyama 2004) makes some conservative links between global and national governance, saying that global governance can only be built on what happens at the national level, and that the failed state has become the Achilles heel of the emerging international community. Moreover, he proposes that governance and conflict management link is prerequisite for state building in today’s world, where the only serious source of legitimacy is democracy. In conclusion he highlights that to be accountable and strong, the national level must intersect with the efforts ordinary people make in their own communities. Fukuyama also defends the idea of the USA as benevolent power to help democratise and develop the world, being more sceptical about multi-lateral efforts for global governance.


In the end, the discourse of the need for global governance is very vast and even contradictory. Apart of that, it is factual that globalisation (economical and non-economical) came to stay, and that each day more there is a need for organising the world through some basic rules, like human rights, for instance. This need helps to evidence all economical inequalities and cultural differences between countries, generating some new kind of conflicts, therefore. Unfortunately, since the 1940s the United Nations tries to address the issue of peace, development and global governance through multilateral ways, but it has always been very much constrained by the international power structure architecture, firstly of the Cold War, lately of unilateralism tendencies. But there are still attempt to discuss ideas on global governance based in more equality of power and cooperation among nations for a united and peaceful world[6].


A need for local governance

(Cordeiro 2006):04


It is on the local space where people are born, live and die; therefore, it is important to keep as much as possible power decision on decentralised local bases, closer and more accessible to the people. Unfortunately, this is not the current world picture. In this sense, there is a risk in developing global governance without developing and empowering local governance. Under the name of modernity, local cultures and local power is getting weaker everyday. Dilip Gaonkar (Gaonkar 2001) defends the idea that there is no single modernity, but many; that modernity is not new, but old and familiar; and that it is incomplete and necessary. He opens space to think on alternative local modernities, because depending on how one interprets the world, different and alternative modernities can emerge, making local-global flow at least at the same influence level of the global-local flow, making the global a little bit local, just like to local a little bit global.


Most scholars here come from the developing countries, defending more autonomy and more south-south cooperation. Since the 1970s, with Andre Gunder Frank and his formulations on the dependency theory, other more recent scholars are researching about the issue in various parts of the worls, like Raquel Rolnik and Renato Cymbalista (Rolnik and Cymbalista 2004) about Brazil, Jaap W. de Visser (Visser 2005) about South Africa and Reema Nanavaty (Nanavaty 2005) about India. Furthermore, many policy analyses are also being elaborated, like the ones by Boaventura de Souza Santos (Santos 2003, 2006) and many others.


Altogether, local governance has to do with decentralisation of social, political and economical power. The linkage among the local and the global governance will be very challenging from now onwards, because one can have different approaches to them. An important concept to differentiate these approaches is the concept of inclusiveness. From one standpoint, of those who defend stronger global governance in detriment of the local one, local realities need to adapt to the global reality in order to be included in the new global order. From another perspective, of those more favour of local empowerment, certainly the global reality is the one which should adapt to the diversity of the local realities; organicity is an important characteristic for the global governance in this view. The lack of organicity by global governance institutions will much probably provoke some new kinds of conflicts from the local to the global level. But where does finish the local and start the global?


The disappearing boundaries

With a growing global world claming for local empowerment and autonomy, it is each day more complex to realise the boundaries between local and global conflicts. For Kumar Rupersinghe (Rupersinghe 1992) history and wars are not ending after the end of the Cold War; otherwise, they are changing. A series of arguments is present by him to justify his claim, like, for instance, the new international division of labour and inequality, internal problems within the transition to capitalism, capitalism not guaranteeing democracy, the western modernisation model cannot easily be replicated in some countries, consumerism creates expectations which cannot be fulfilled, and free market changing property relations in many countries and communities. In today’s complex world, single categorisation of conflicts in East/West, North/South, intra-state or inter-state is no longer enough. Ideology, governance, ethnicity, environment and identity play today a much stronger role than in the Cold War period. It is impossible to attribute one conflict one single cause or one single categorisation. Many local conflicts, like the two recent youth riots in Paris in 2005 and 2006, were based in local fields, but due to much broader sceneries and reasons, like international migration and ethnicity (the 2005 one), or employment and free labour markets (the 2006 one). Rupersinghe still highlights the role of states and international institutions about conflict management, but he lacks further analysis on the role of local governments to prevent and manage conflicts. His main claim is that history goes on, together with new conflicts, in blurred boundaries and full of new paradigms. His final question is on how we are going to deal with conflict prevention and transformation. He foresees to paths, an increasing military action, or the promotion of non-violent action; the first one is unfortunately prevailing.


My analysis points to the fact that the more power is concentrated in global government institutions or in very powerful countries, the more use of military action will happen. The reason behind is simple because they concentrate military power and therefore in complex situation, it is the easiest way to quickly try to solve some localised conflicts. On the contrary, the more power is decentralised, the less military power will be at the hands of few, therefore, it may imply in more mediation and prevention, rather than intervention or resolution.


Here comes the necessary need to balance the equation of power share between global and local institutions, meaning here by local institutions municipalities, local governments, civil society, small business, and so forth. On the one hand, local governance can be able to best understand the local realities, and give more context specific solution to the possible conflicts. On the other hand, global governance can foster cooperation and solidarity among the local realities, and it can also act in case of local governance abuse. In my own view, there is a role for both local and global governance, but the local one is not as fashionable as the global one, at this situation of terrorism toward the developed countries and of poverty and inequality toward the developing countries.


Chiapas, Mexico, a Case Study


To illustrate this essay, let us have a close look to the case of the Mexican province of Chiapas, where the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (or just EZLN[7]) has been fighting for more autonomy and power share with the Mexican national government from 1994 to the date. For a qualitative analysis, we will use here an analytical framework developed especially for this case study, using a mix of Kriesberg’s, Schlee’s and Rupersinghe’s models of analysis. The main points of analysis are:

·         The involved parties

·         The incompatible goals

·         The means of dispute

·         The identity of Mexican people with the conflict

·         The characterisation of the conflict


The main source of reference to this case study is James F. Rochlin (Rochlin 2003a, 2003b), plus some web sources, like the official Zapatista website[8].


Chiapas is one of the poorest Mexican states. In the extreme south of the country, bordering Guatemala, it was historically excluded from Mexico progress since independence from Spain between 1810 and 1827. Many reasons are attributed to this fact, three of them, according to Rochlin (2003a) are: the distance to the USA boarder; the lack of railway integration with other parts of Mexico, a country well served by railways serving its productive industry; and the hacienda farming model in the countryside, a feudal-like mean of production and land concentration. Another important fact is the reminiscent indigenous population, bigger in the south, where Chiapas is; making the indigenous southern states more discriminated than the Spanish northern ones. The whole context led the Mexican Revolution of 1910, led by Emiliamo Zapata, against the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. Zapata was the general of an army that formed in Morelos, the Liberation Army of the South[9]. After the 1910 Revolution, Zapata’s ideas concerning to land reforms became real polices through the hands of the consecutive elected governments, what made him a national hero.


Poster of Zapata, saying the two first lines:

“My land and liberty; Civil War”[10]

Map of Mexico. The number 5 stands for the state of Chiapas.



In the Mexico of the 1990s, government was rolling back many of the conquests of Emiliano Zapata and the Mexican Revolution, following the pro free-markets structural adjustments of the negotiated with Mexico by the international financial institutions, due to the huge debt that the government accumulated in the previous decades, hurling Mexico in a deep economical crisis, the Tequila Crisis. As a solution for the crisis, the government signed with the USA and Canada the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), opening Mexican boarder for American and Canadian investment searching cheap labour force.


The EZLN bolted onto the international stage on the 1 January 1994, in the same day NAFTA commenced. It was a clear response to the neoliberal government polices, which were affecting the life of many people in the local southern communities. The EZLN was not a Marxist guerrilla group, as others already in place in Mexico, like the Popular Revolutionary Army (or simple EPR[11]), based in the states of Guerrero, but operating in also in Oaxaca, Chiapas and others. The EZLN initially aimed to overthrown the government, but it was much more focused in guaranteeing the indigenous rights and autonomy in Chiapas.


The flag of the EZLN

Translation from Spanish:


“You are in Zapatista rebel territory. Here the people give the orders and the government obeys.”



“North zone

Good Govern Directive

It’s forbidden: guns, drugs, alcohol, and illegal wood trade

No to the destruction of nature”












Note: Both images retrieved from:







Under this context, let us apply our analytical model to understand the situation and the conflict. The involved parties are the EZLN and the Mexican government. In terms of organisation, the Mexican government is by far much more organised, once it controls the army, the application of the laws and it has the legitimacy to the popular vote to be in power. The EZLN, otherwise, is not as institutionalised as its adversary, but still has some level degree of organisation, especially in terms of communication capacity and intellectual background. In terms of institutional structure and access to resources, the Mexican government again win the conflict by itself. In a first look, the Mexican government would have no problem to solve the problem. From February 1995 and August 1996 a strong loss by the EZLN happened, due to armed conflicts with the army. That increased EZLN’s popular support in Chiapas, especially among the indigenous population. Rapidly, this popular support spread out not only around Mexico, but around the world; therefore, the government lost flexibility due to the visibility the conflict obtained nationally and internationally.


The goals of each party were perceived as incompatible, but soon they were aim of a consensual agreement. The EZLN main objective was to guarantee some autonomy for the indigenous population in Chiapas, through the formation of several autonomous municipalities, independent of the Mexican government, called “Juntas”, implementing communitarian food-producing programs, health and school systems, supported in part by NGOs (Wikipedia 2006). The government’s main goal was basically to maintain the control of its territory and population, and to fight the guerrilla groups, as the EZLN was declared by the government. They constitute pretty incompatible interests if we think in terms of lack of local empowerment, but they could be at least less incompatible if we think in terms of fostering decentralisation and autonomy, without loosing cooperation and solidarity. In 1994President Carlos Salinas de Gortari offered a cease-fire agreement and opened dialog with the EZLN, which three years latter culminated with the San Andrés agreement, modifying the national constitution in order to grant special rights, including autonomy, to indigenous people; however it was not carried out by President Ernesto Zedillo (ibid.), bringing the conflict to rise again. In 2001, with President Vicente Fox, new achievements were done, through dialogue between the EZLN and the Mexican National Congress, according to Rochlin, with the government using the finest art of cooptation. According to the Zapatistas communications, it seems that from dissensual, the conflictive goals slowly turn into consensual:


(Wikipedia 2006)


The means of dispute of this conflict had very different moments. At the beginning the use of violent repression by the government and a declaration of war against the Mexican Federal Army by the EZLN marked a bloody and violent start of conflict. However, right after the government opened for dialog, moments of dialog, mixed with brick of new conflicts were present for almost seven years. A visible characteristic is that the more political achievement by the EZLN the less conflict there was; while the more prone to negotiation and dialogue the government was, the less conflict happened; a direct effect of governance as conflict management.


In terms of popular identity to the cause, the EZLN was always ahead of the government. The use of Zapata, a national hero, in its own name helped considerably, due to its cognitive representation. But also the all the communication strategy and the agenda of local empowerment and local power share was always very much accepted by the local populations. For Rochlin, the EZLN communication strategy trough the internet was fundamental to set international support to the movement, including financial support by some NGOs. The EZLN’s website is still on the air at The Mexican political party PRI was in power since the beginning of the 1930s, until the year 2000, when the candidate Vicente Fox (from PAN political Party) promised to support the EZLN is elected, and he became the first oppositional president in Mexico after almost seventy years of PRI in power. That shows a little of the side population took in the conflict.


Finally, in relation to the characterisation of the conflict it is very clear the multidimensionality of it, confirming Rupersinghe. The conflict very much a fight for local autonomy and governance, but remarkably inserted in a global context of fight against globalisation and neoliberalism. The begun of the EZLN, in the same day of the NAFTA came into enforcement, the use of internet for the movement communiqués, and the international support and visibility it achieved makes it something that started at the local level, with a global agenda. It is a clear prove that the local can exercise influence at the global by seeking for autonomy and decentralisation of power. The ideology of the 1910 Mexican Revolution, the local governance seek, the ethnicity issue of the indigenous population, the respect for the environment are all other features that make this conflict a modern one, impossible to fit in a single category and with multiple roots and consequences.


Altogether, the case study of Chiapas shows us the new complexity of the new conflicts and the role a government may play to better manage a conflict within its boarder, which in truth has international roots and implications. Openness to the external world and knowledge of the internal history and purpose seems to be fundamental for both parties of this conflict. The EZLN was at the beginning much more aware of it internal and external situation, and fought a battle knowing exactly what, how and why to do it; by, with and against whom; with very clear objectives and aware of what kind of power share they needed for their own meaning.




The linkages between governance and conflict management become cleared after the ups and downs of the Chiapas case for more autonomy and decentralisation. In my understanding the glue to the linkage lies on power structures and the way power is shared and exercised in a given society. The more horizontal, the less prone to violent conflict the society may become. That reflects not only in terms of a sociological analysis, but even in more economical approaches as well, where the less greed, the less grievance there is. Local alternatives should be more listened and more addressed. This could cause a new kind of revolution, different but complementary to the current globalization process, a localisation revolution, where the local is given the necessary power to the exercise influence to the global. The hope in this conclusion goes to the realisation that diversity should be respected by governments all around the world and less violent means of dealing to conflict should be prioritised. But whether this is realist enough or not is a question for history to answer.

[1] 4117 ISS course’s class notes and Oxford Genie Dictionary: “governance: the activity of governing a country or controlling a company or an organization; the way in which a country is governed or a company or institution is controlled”.

[2] 4117 ISS course’s class notes and Salih (1993).

[3] See Good Governance, explained below.

[4] 4117 ISS course’s class notes.

[5] Both Salih (1993), as referenced, and Salih’s class notes in ISS 4217 course.

[7] In Spanish: Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN).

[8] Official EZLN’s website:

[9] In Spanish: Ejército Libertador del Sur.

[11] In Spanish: Ejército Popular Revolucionario.



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24 April, 2006 - Posted by | Governance

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