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Why Africa's Weak States Persist: The Empirical and the Juridical in Statehood

  • Robert H. Jackson (a1) and Carl G. Rosberg (a2)


State institutions and organizations in Black Africa are less developed than almost anywhere else, and political instability has been prevalent. Yet, these serious empirical weaknesses have not led to enforced jurisdictional change. In order to explain the persistence of some of the weakest states in the world, the authors argue that state jurisdictions in Black Africa have been maintained primarily by the international society of states. Unlike the states that formed in Europe at an earlier period, many Black African states evolved—and survived—in the absence of effective national governments. Whereas state jurisdictions and international society once were consequences of the success and survival of states, today in Black Africa—and perhaps elsewhere, especially in the Third World—they are more likely to be conditions.



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1 Weber, , The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, ed. by Parsons, Talcott (New York: Free Press, 1964), 156.

2 ibid., 155.

3 , Brownlie, Principles of Public International Law, 3d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 7376.

4 ibid., 75.

5 See Sartori, Giovanni, “Guidelines for Concept Analysis,” in , Sartori, ed., Social Science Concepts: A Systematic Analysis (forthcoming).

6 Brownlie (fn. 3), 75.

7 See Eckstein's, Harry brilliant critique, “On the [Science] of the State,” in “The State,” Daedalus, Vol. 108 (Fall 1979), 120.

8 Easton avoids the concept of the “state” in favor of that of the “political system”; see The Political System: An Inquiry into the State of Political Science (New York: Knopf, 1953), 90–124.

9 Brownlie (fn. 3), 75.

10 See Kasfir, Nelson, The Shrinking Political Arena: Participation and Ethnicity in African Politics, with a Case Study of Uganda (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1976).

11 See Geertz, Clifford, “The Judging of Nations: Some Comments on the Assessment of Regimes in the New States,” European Journal of Sociology, XVIII (No. 2, 1977), 249–52.

12 Brownlie (fn. 3), 75; Weber (fn. 1), 156.

13 See Jackson, Robert H. and Rosberg, Carl G., Personal Rule in Black Africa: Prince, Autocrat, Prophet, Tyrant (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1982).

14 See Oakeshott, Michael, “The Vocabulary of a Modern European State,” Political Studies, XXIII (June and September, 1977), 319–41, 409–14.

15 The legitimacy of a government in the eyes of its citizens must be distinguished from its legitimacy in the eyes of other states; it is international legitimacy that is significant in the juridical attribute of statehood. A government may be legitimate internationally but illegitimate domestically, or vice versa. An instance of the former is Uganda during the last years of Idi Amin's regime; of the latter, the Soviet Union in its early years.

16 Geertz (fn. 11), 252.

17 ibid., 253.

18 There is a wealth of literature on military intervention in Africa. Two outstanding accounts are Decalo, Samuel, Coups and Army Rule in Africa: Studies in Military Style (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976), and Welch, Claude E. Jr., ed., Soldier and State in Africa: A Comparative Analysis of Military Intervention and Political Change (Evanston, III.: Northwestern University Press, 1970). Both have excellent bibliographies.

19 Gutteridge, William, “Introduction,” in Richard Booth, “The Armed Forces of African States, 1970,” Adelphi Papers, No. 67 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1970), 4.

20 Moris, Jon R., “The Transferability of Western Management Concepts and Programs, An East African Perspective,” in Stifel, Lawrence D., Coleman, James S., and Black, Joseph E., eds., Education and Training for Public Sector Management in Developing Countries (Special Report from the Rockefeller Foundation, March 1977), 7383. For Ghana, see Price, Robert M., Society and Bureaucracy in Contemporary Ghana (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975); for Kenya, Hyden, Goran, Jackson, Robert, and Okumu, John, eds., Development Administration: The Kenya Experience (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1970).

21 , Myrdal, Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations (New York: Twentieth Century Fund, 1968).

22 , Nyerere, The Arusha Declaration Ten Years After (Dar es Salaam: Government Printer, 1977), esp. chap. 3: “Our Mistakes and Failures,” 27–48.

23 Independence Day Speech of President Mobutu Sese Seko, July 1, 1977, typescript, translated from the French by James S. Coleman.

24 See West Africa, No. 3255 (December 3, 1979), 2224; and Kabwit, Ghislain C., “Zaire: The Roots of the Continuing Crisis,” Journal of Modern African Studies, XVII (NO. 3, 1979), 397–98.

25 Gutteridge (fn. 19), 1.

26 ibid., 3.

27 Africa Contemporary Record, 1979–80, p. C 109.

28 The concept of “international society” is explored in Wight, Martin, Power Politics, ed. by Bull, Hedley and Holbraad, Carsten (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1978), 105–12. Also see Bull, Hedley, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (London: Macmillan, 1977), 2452; and James, Alan, “International Society,” British Journal of International Studies, IV (July 1978), 91106.

29 In considering the issue of human rights in Africa, the O.A.U.'s Assembly of Heads of States stressed the equal importance of “peoples' rights,” and recently recommended that an “African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights” be drafted. Peoples' rights are the rights of a sovereign people and can only be claimed and exercised by state governments. See Africa Contemporary Record, 1979–80, p. C 21.

30 Bull argues that the primary historical goal of international society has been to preserve the society of states itself; but it is difficult to see how this can be accomplished in the long run without first guaranteeing the sovereignty of member states. See The Anarchical Society (fn.28),17.

31 This is essentially the Austinian concept of “sovereignty.” See Austin, John, The Province of Jurisprudence Determined, ed. by Hart, H.L.A. (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1954).

32 Bull (fn. 28), 34.

33 For an argument that at least in some cases “independence” was a “reversion” to sovereignty, see Alexandrowicz, Charles H., “New and Original States: The Issue of Reversion to Sovereignty,” International Affairs, XLVII (July 1969), 465–80. For an opposing view, see Wight, Martin, Systems of States, ed. by Bull, Hedley (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1977), 1628.

34 French West Africa rather than its constituent units—Senegal, Mali, Upper Volta, Ivory Coast, etc.—could have been one state had Africans been able to agree to it; Nigeria could have been more than one.

35 At the time of independence in i960, British-governed Somaliland joined the Italian-administered trust territory to form the Somali Democratic Republic. In October 1961, the Federal Republic of Cameroon came into being, composed of East Cameroon (formerly a French Trust Territory) and West Cameroon (part of a former British Trust Territory). Independent Tanganyika joined with Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania in April 1964.

36 Quoted in Good, Robert C., “Changing Patterns of African International Relations,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 58 (September 1964), 632.

37 Quoted in Mazrui, Ali A., Towards a Pax Africana: A Study of Ideology and Ambition (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1967), 12.

38 According to the United Nations, in 1978 there were 13 African countries (8 on the continent and 5 island countries) with a population of less than one million. Nine of these had populations of 600,000 or fewer. See Africa Contemporary Record, 1979–80, p. c 107.

39 Wight, Martin, “Why is there no International Theory?” in Butterfield, Herbert and Wight, Martin, eds., Diplomatic Investigations (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966), 33.

40 Cervenka, Zdenek, The Organization of African Unity and its Charter (New York and Washington: Praeger, 1969), 232–33.

41 Martin Wight defined “international legitimacy” as “the collective judgement of international society about rightful membership in the family of nations.” See his Systems of States (fn. 33), 153 (emphasis added).

42 Cervenka (fn. 40), 93.

43 Cervenka, Zdenek, The Unfinished Quest for Unity: Africa and the OAU (New York: Africana Publishing Co., 1977), 65.

44 As of March 1982, it was unclear whether the war between Morocco and the Polisario over the former Spanish Sahara could be considered a failure for the O.A.U., since it was uncertain whether the Sahrawi Democratic Republic (SADR) was as yet a legal member of the organization. See “The OAU's Sahara Crisis,” West Africa, March 8, 1982, p. 639.

45 Lyon, Peter, “New States and International Order,” in James, Alan, ed., The Bases of International Order: Essays in Honour of CA.W. Manning (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), 47.

46 Independent Commission on International Development Issues, North-South, a Programme for Survival (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1980); Hansen, Roger, Beyond the North-South Stalemate (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979); Rothstein, Robert L., Global Bargaining: UNCTAD and the Quest for a New Economic Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 1979.

47 Charles H. Mell wain has noted that “Independence de facto was ultimately translated into a sovereignty de jure.” Quoted by Herz, John H., “Rise and Demise of the Territorial State,” in Lubasz, Heinz, ed., The Development of the Modern State (New York: Macmillan, 1964), 133.

48 See Wight (fn. 28), chaps. 1 and 2.

49 Tilly, Charles, ed., The Formation of National States in Western Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), 46. Unfortunately, Tilly tends to neglect the international dimension of European state making. For two excellent essays on this topic, see Wight, Martin, “The Origins of Our States-System: Geographical Limits,” and “The Origins of Our States-System: Chronological Limits” (fn. 33, 110–52).

50 “Political Theory and International Relations,” in , Wolfers, Discord and Collaboration: Essays on International Politics (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965), 239–40.

* We gratefully acknowledge the comments of Leonard Binder, Alan C. Cairns, David Gordon, Ernst B. Haas, F. John Ravenhill, and George von der Muhll on an earlier version of this paper, which was delivered at the 1981 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association in New York City.

Why Africa's Weak States Persist: The Empirical and the Juridical in Statehood

  • Robert H. Jackson (a1) and Carl G. Rosberg (a2)


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