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March 16th, 2017

Contemporary African Politics

  • Why are state structures seemlingly weak in African countries when compared to elsewhere in the world?
  • What accounts for African's comparatively slow economic growth?
  • Why do some countries in Africa suffer from high level of political violence, while some are spared?

Strength of States

When we think about states in Africa, there are several questions that comes to mind:

  • What is the nature of the state?
  • How is it that the nature of the state has an impact on how states deal with its own people and other states?

What is a "state" then? (Max Weber) Provided the most common definition, an organized political community under one government that has legitimate rule or control within a defined territory. States are more than governments, the idea is that (in theory) governments may change, but states endure - a mean of rule over sovereign territory. For a state to rule, there must be executive, legislative, and judicial branches... In order to enforce the rule, there must be civil survants and state violent organizations (army, and police).

And this rises the question that... Do Africans actually have states? The creation of independent African countries has a pretext that these branches and institutions never existed in their localized form - and some still doesn't.

African Union (Organization for African Union)

First initiated in 1963 in an effort to represent African's interest as counterparts to other organizations, and to solve complex issues in the continent.

One of their first decision is to keep the European-defined borderlines, although not suitable or appropriate to many, it was decided to keep out of further territorial conflicts.

Hybrid States

In the context of Africa, there is a mix of traditional infrastructures and rules, and rational (bureaucratic) and legal institutions.

Let's say we have a village in Liberia, and there was a dispute in farming land. While people could travel to the capital and gain a deed for the land, people could alternatively go for traditional methods - using time and history, and the consensus built with it - to decide on land ownership.

Questions of Legitimacy

For rulers to maintain their power, they could rely on patronage and corruption. States had limited legitimacy for its traditional form of governing and rule - patronage and pre-colonial segments - contributions were paid to the leaders back then, and it continued to this day. Often times political services were provided with a price tag - or a return favour - a sense of "helping each other", while could be interpreted as simply corruption and bribery.

Civil Society

A third sector of a modern society, other than the governmental bodies and business sectors... Civil society consists of churches and other institutions, and of course, families themselves. Civil society serves as a balance among its counterparts. There are tensions built among these three sectors. Groups in civil society may lack certain resources, and that they may clash with government's interest...

Limited Capacity

It's limited or lack of capacity to develop long-term development plans, state capacity involves in finance, human resources, and hardware access. And these factors were seemingly declining since the wave of independence.

  • Lack of trained personnel.
  • Lack of oversight bodies.
  • Lack of modern political knowledge.

Thus, laws passed under these circumstances or situations weren't likely to be applied or verified for its correctness and appropriateness.

International Involvement

African countries remained largely in inferior positions - and thus unable to interact or engage in negotiations with the international society. Africans of their own countries may be exploited by international business interests for the lack of ability to negotiate or make changes to international deals and agreements.

The generally lacking economic capacity, and lack of transparency in state governments left African countries little freedom in gaining help, or negotiating trades with other countries in the world.

Democratic Transitions

Given the short time since African states' independence and establishment, there are little possibility for democratisation and stabilisation. Incidents and retreats may happen in new democracies, even in the United States.

1950 - 1960s

Kenyatta, Senghor, Boigny, Nkrumah, Nyerere... First generation leaders largely aligned with Liberal Democracy - where states are interested in giving and protecting freedom to individuals of the state (responsibility to give rights).

Many leaders, when established new nations, changed their minds. Single-party, or party-government-unity were implemented - as "African" democracy, so to speak. These implementations that retreated from full liberal democracy were reflected from the continuation of traditional African values from the pre-colonial era, where there were little competition, and people valued consensus... Many states effectively became authoritarian states, within a relatively short amount of time.

It is also important to note that these changes could be a product of Soviet interventionism... However, this retreat endured into the 70s, and early 80s. Also significant from this four decades are the large amount of "unscheduled" political changes - coups, violent take-overs, military governments... And these changes may be related to lack of growth or inequality (which arguably was less visible in Africa in this period).

1970 - 1980s, "Liberalised Autocracy"

Minimal representation of people's demands and rights, and limited loosening of the press and speech. However, one-party states retained, and practices of authoritarianism retained (which limited the opneing of political freedom) - and this signified "liberalised autocracy".

End of Cold War, and International Demands

As mentioned above, as a tactic to retain power, government looked to change for survival.

  • Examples of countries and democratic trends.
  • Some newer tactics of attempting to control election outcomes.
  • Some newer tactics of ensuring free and fair elections (on the other hand).