Do cross-border comparisons affect our understanding of how delivering basic services contributes to state legitimacy?

“How are people’s attitudes towards government are affected when they are accessing services in two countries simultaneously?”

We (Bishnu Upreti, SLRC Nepal Leader and Rachel Slater, SLRC Research Director) were in Ilam District in the far east of Nepal last month, learning from enumerators about their experiences of implementing the SLRC’s quantitative survey.  SLRC is carrying out survey work in all seven focus countries (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, DRC, Uganda and South Sudan) to explore how people’s livelihoods recover after conflict and how delivery of basic services and social protection might affect state legitimacy.

One of the issues that came up was new to the whole enumerator team and unique to one of the wards covered so far in the district.  In that ward, the lack of local health services meant that people were crossing the border (ten minutes away by car or motorbike) to go to clinics and hospitals in India.  It is not a scenario that the Nepal survey team has faced before and the team were not sure whether, if someone was accessing health or education services across the border, it made sense to ask about satisfaction with those services.  We had to find a way of differentiating between people’s satisfaction with local and international services when recording their responses.  Thankfully, we have only encountered a very small number of cases so are now able to make a clear differentiation.  But it does raise a broader question for us about how people’s attitudes towards government are affected when they have clear comparators because they are accessing services in two countries simultaneously.

We’ve heard about similar issues before [^].  The Justice and Security Research Programme [^], which is running alongside SLRC in DRC, Uganda and South Sudan, is focusing on looking at and analysing justice and security in cross-border regions.  For them, hybrid political orders do not follow official borders and are not constrained by the territory of a sovereign state.  At a recent  conference [^] on health systems strengthening in fragile states held by Medicus Mundi International and CordAid, Elies van Belle of Memisa, described how refugees in Uganda, who had fled from violence in eastern DRC, were crossing Lake Albert [^] back to DRC  back to DRC in order to access health services in 2006. Although it was still too violent and insecure for refugees to return to DRC to live, they were somehow able (and wanted) to go there to access health services.  The Uganda / DRC case is movement in the opposite direction to that found in eastern Nepal  – in Uganda / DRC people are returning home temporarily to access services whilst in Nepal they are going away from home temporarily to access services.

So far, we’ve not encountered this anywhere else in the SLRC survey countries (though we are still in the field in some places so we may hear more on this from our other country survey teams!).  Until the Nepal survey is complete we will not know the frequency with which cross-border service access occurs in our SLRC Nepal sample of 3175 households.  However, it has already got us thinking about how to tackle this additional layer of comparison in our analysis.  The longitudinal element of our survey means that we will be comparing access to services and the quality of those services in 2012/13 with 2015/2016.  But what do we need to do to if people are not just comparing services over time but also between different countries?  Do border citizens have different expectations of their governments, based on what they are able to receive across the border?  Please post your experiences and if you have the answer let us know!