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The State, its Failure and External Intervention in Africa

Dunja Speiser and Paul-Simon Handy

CSGR Working Paper No. 175/05

Accelerated processes of globalisation – in the form of structural adjustment plans and of democratisation processes – have seriously shaken the fragile foundations of African countries. These processes have contributed overall to widening the geographical scope of zones of limited statehood where the traditional monopoly of violence is challenged by multiple oligopolies of violence. During the 90s, this phenomenon was at best considered as a regionally limited problem with less significance for international stability. This however changed dramatically with the terrorist attacks in New York in 2001. The resulting US national security strategy, quickly followed by the EU, considered failed states as a major national security problem due to the fact that the attacks were partly planned in Afghanistan, a then collapsed state.

The present paper is an attempt to shed a clarifying light on the phenomenon of fragile statehood as well as to explore ways of international intervention. Growing on a Weberian conception of the modern state, it identifies three core functions (monopoly of violence, provision of public goods and political order), which should all be fulfilled by well functioning states. The different stages of state fragility in Africa are then defined by the failing capacity of states to fulfil one or all of these functions. Amidst the whole range of arguments about the reasons of this situation, the paper identifies the deeply rooted neopatrimonial understanding of politics as the most salient explaining variable. The paper concludes by pointing to the fact that international attempts to prevent and to stop state failure as well as to rebuild collapsed states are still at an embryonic stage. Given the multidimensional and complex nature of the problem, an integrated approach among the donor countries will be necessary, which comprises coherent analysis and strategies. The concept of structural stability, formulated by the OECD and the EU still needs to be clarified and translated into concrete policy strategies.

Key words

New international peace and security architecture – democratisation process and new wars in Africa – fragile statehood – root causes of state fragility – neopatrimonialism – corruption – international intervention in fragile states – state stabilisation – state reconstruction – state building – structural stability.