Convergences and divergences of African state-making trajectories

Toon Dirkx (University of Basel)
Politics and International Relations
Room 09
Session slots:
Wednesday 12 June, 10:45 - 12:30

Short abstract:

Generally portrayed as struck by fragility, Africa exhibits much variation in state-making trajectories. Seeking to go beyond individual case studies, this panel seeks to distil those convergences and divergences underpinning state-making and state-breaking processes since independence.

Long abstract:

Allegedly home to 30 out of a total of 49 fragile states in the world (OECD 2015), Africa has summarily been judged to be "undoubtedly plagued by systematic state failure" (Howard 2014). While it is true that the continent has seen many state structures evaporate in large-scale violent conflict, about half of all states in sub-Sahara Africa have neither experienced internal nor intrastate war between 1947 and 2015 (UCDP/PRIO 2015). Consequently, and given that the alleged structural causes of fragility—ranging from arbitrary colonial borders to widespread poverty and inequality—are widely shared among African countries and their respective societies, a major puzzle is how differences in state trajectories in Africa can be explained, and under what conditions it is state-making or state-breaking that prevails? Seeking to address this conundrum, recent academic debates have centred on concepts such as 'hybrid political orders' (HPOs), and 'political settlements', amongst others. While these frameworks do shed important light on state trajectories in sub-Sahara Africa, it remains unclear what accounts for why some states flourish whilst others perish. Does the answer lie with the institutional set-up, the underlying political economy, or issues of social cohesion and (national) identity? What is the role of violent conflict and non-state (armed) actors in governance and state development? And what theories, concepts, and methods lend themselves to better understanding state trajectories across space and time? This panel invites paper presentations that are dedicated to shedding more light on these and related questions.