Fragility refers mainly to the weak capacities of the state. In post-conflict settings – or in some cases, after a period of authoritarian regime – government capacities and the state apparatus have been eroded and are extremely weak, causing people to become used to dealing with parallel, non-state forms of governance. Fragile settings are characterized by low social cohesion, and a lack of consensus on what organizing principles should determine the contest for state power and how that power should be implemented.
Commonly, state institutions in fragile settings have low capacity or political will to fulfill their functions, a low degree of public legitimacy and high vulnerability to external political and economic forces. The weak capacities of fragile states contribute to instability and insecurity within these settings.
Conflict-affectedness refers to settings with a history of violent conflict, often involving identity related factors and grievances with strong historical roots. Sometimes this may reflect an actual, ongoing armed conflict, while in other instances the conflict has ended but its immediate effects are still widely present. Also, the effects of authoritarian and violent repressive regimes sometimes only become clear after the regime has been removed from power and power struggles between groups in society surface.
Social divisions within such settings are deep and histories of violence, exclusion and repression lead to a large sense of distrust between different groups in society.
The state often does not have an effective monopoly on violence, because of the role of other armed actors. Furthermore, the danger of conflict re-emerging or becoming worse lingers as a distinct possibility in the minds of the inhabitants, impacting on social, political and economic behaviour.