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African states were successors in a double sense. First, they were built on a set of institutions – bureaucracies, militaries, post offices, and (initially) legislatures – set up by colonial regimes, as well as on a principle of state sovereignty sanctified by a community of already existing states. In this sense, African states have proven highly durable: borders have remained largely unchanged, and virtually every piece of Africa is recognized from outside as a territorial entity, regardless of the effective power of the actual government within that space. Even failed states – those unable to provide order and services for their citizens – are still states and derive resources from outside for that reason.
Second, African states took up a particular, and more recent, form of the state project of colonialism: development. African political parties in the 1950s and 1960s generally insisted that only an African government could insure that development would serve the interests of “their” people. Here, continuity is less striking. By the 1970s in most African states, the development slogan had become either tragedy or farce, and people now viewed such claims with either bitterness at the politicians who developed their own wealth at the people's expense, or a continued yearning for development in the form of schools, hospitals, marketing facilities, and a chance to earn money and respect.
The early governments thus aspired both to define their authority over territory which, however arbitrary its borders, was now theirs, and to build something on that territory.
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