Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 May 2009
When Things Fell Apart manages to be wonderfully concise but still compelling. The thing Robert Bates seeks to explain is the secular trend in sub-Saharan Africa toward civil war, although he often characterizes this in broader terms, as a trend toward “political conflict” or “political disorder.” He explains the trend as follows: Public revenues fell in the 1970s and 1980s as a result of commodity price declines, effects of the second oil shock, and bad economic policy choices that overtaxed farmers so that politicians could dispense patronage to smaller, politically more important urban constituencies. The decline in public revenues led elites to become more predatory, which caused an increase in political conflict by mobilizing opposition. Popular demands for political reform, along with increased international pressure for the same at the end of the Cold War, heightened elite insecurity and led to more predation. This had the effect of “provoking their citizens to take up arms” (p. 109). Further, state decline and national-level conflicts exacerbated simmering subnational conflicts, typically in the form of land disputes between locals and migrants from other tribes.