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Working paper

WP155: On the primacy of weak public service provision in rural Africa: Malians redefine ‘state breakdown’ amidst 2012 political crisis

Jaimie Bleck and Kristin Michelitch 2 Aug 2015 Mali
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In 2012, Mali faced a dual state breakdown disrupting nearly 20 years of democratization – a coup and a secessionist insurgency. This paper provides the perspectives of rural Malians living on the border of state- and rebel-controlled territory. Our main finding is that villagers defined “the crisis” as one of unmet need for public services and infrastructure. State breakdown matters less where the state is not present in the first place. Rather than the state, villagers were largely reliant on local traditional authorities. The salience of villagers’ concerns about public services and infrastructure, as well as general basic needs insecurity, are echoed in cross-national Afrobarometer data (2012-2013) on public service provision across rural and urban citizens. In nearly all sub-Saharan African countries, the urban-rural gap is large, absolute levels of rural provision are low, and countries are inconsistent in provision across indicators. We conclude by drawing implications of weak state public service and infrastructure provision for citizenship in rural areas.

Jaimie Bleck

Jaimie Bleck is a Ford Family Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame.

Kristin Michelitch

Kristin Michelitch is an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University.