This political anthropological research project inquires how interactions between citizens and public authorities sustain the everyday legitimacy of the state despite chronic political instability. Extensive fieldwork in two popular neighbourhoods of the capital cities of Guinea Bissau and the Central African Republic will first of all unravel people’s dealings with and expectations of their public authorities, and secondly, offer insights in the kind of everyday services and public goods that public authorities have on offer despite poor administrative, financial and political support. The two cases bring a unique combination of geopolitical marginality, chronic political crises and a relative social stability (which has started to change in the case of CAR after the 2013 crisis). Studying what public authorities do and what people expect and aspire, the project allows for a conceptual evaluation of qualifications of the state beyond normatively loaded terms like fragile or weak, offering new theoretical insights into if and how the everyday legitimacy of the state is largely maintained despite chronic political crises.
The project’s relevance to science and society resides in the unique combination of relatively understudied cases, the societal shifts that have taken place in recent years, and the international responses to those developments. While in the CAR, the international community arrived in great capacity after the 2013 crisis, Guinea-Bissau has not witnessed interventions by NGOs and the UN despite its enduring political instability after the April 2012 coup. In addition to understanding the everydayness of legitimate statehood, this possibly also allows for a comparison of the extent to which external interventions impact on social stability and political instability. Research findings will be translated into short research briefs, which will be sent out to international policymakers, intervening agencies, as well as public authorities in the two countries and beyond with the aim to serve as a starting point for conversations with interested parties outside of academia.