Small Wars Journal

Reconceptualizing State Building in Africa (II)

Sun, 01/23/2011 - 11:57am
Reconceptualizing State Building in Africa (II):

The Unbearable Lightness of Governing: Over-Centralized and Decentralized Governance

by Mark Massey, Jr.

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The first article in this series, "Begin by Rethinking State Collapse," argued that traditional theories of state collapse perpetuate errors that hinder our state building missions. Their state-centric dogmas and great power bias distort our understanding of state collapse, over-simplifying it as merely a technical/administrative problem and narrowly locating blame within the country at issue. One should not equate governmental collapse with societal collapse, lest one overlook the "non-state systems" that often emerge to replace the state. But what does this reconsideration of state collapse imply for state building?

Given the numerous cases of weak, failed and collapsed governments in Africa, one must consider that the modern, nation-state model may not fit much of Africa. This does not necessarily conclude that the state must be done away with, but it does mean that statehood must be "refounded" in a more legitimate, stable form that better fits African societies. In this pursuit, I offer a reconceptualization of state building. The traditional top-down, centralized approach is counter-productive. Instead, a bottom-up approach must be fostered, one that incorporates existing traditional and non-state systems through decentralization programs to create more authentic, legitimate African states. State builders perpetrate two fundamental mistakes that impede developing better governments: 1) (re)constructing over-centralized states; and 2) ignoring non-state systems that often de facto supersede state systems. This article focuses on the first mistake, while the third article in this series will focus on the second.

Download The Full Article: Reconceptualizing State Building in Africa (II)

Mark Massey, Jr. works for The Louis Berger Group, Inc., an engineering and economic development firm focusing on stabilization and reconstruction programs in conflict countries. He holds an MA in International Conflict Studies from the University of London's King's College and a BA in Political Science and History from McGill University.

Editor's Note: This essay is the second of a four part series.

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