Institutional and bottom-up accounts have dominated debates on state trajectories in Africa. Seeking to complement respective insights and to bridge the structure-agency divide, this panel discusses the role of elite actors in shaping divergent economic and political developments.
Why do some African countries exhibit a propensity to peace and prosperity, while others are marked by a sustained vulnerability to conflict and fragility? While policymakers have, since the end of the Cold War, increasingly proposed bottom-up approaches to escape war and poverty, prevailing scholarly accounts have primarily honed in on institutional frameworks in order to address this conundrum. Although different strands of scholarship have recurrently pointed to the central role of elites for understanding divergent state trajectories in both economic and political terms, agency-based approaches have largely remained underexplored. Mirroring elements of concepts such as 'growth coalitions' that had emerged in debates on developmental states in the 1990s, the prism of political settlements that has buoyed over the course of the past decade has heralded another opportunity to balance institutional approaches with perspectives of agency. This panel is devoted to bridge the long-standing structure-agency divide in accounts of state trajectories. It invites contributions that hone in on the role of elites, elite alliances, and elite networks in shaping economic and/or political processes lying at the heart of state developments. In addition to theoretical advances, the panel welcomes original empirical and novel methodological contributions that shed light on understanding the communalities and differences of 'growth coalitions' and/or 'political settlements' across the African continent.