Daily reading for foreign affairs afficionados with an emphasis on the culture and literature of Africa and poetry in general. Also, a repository of musings from life in the PGON (Pentagon) and as a post-grad student. Most of my book reviews are now over at www.kruzoo.blogspot.com
"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist." -Anne Applebaum
Friday, January 18, 2013
Notes on Herbst' States and Power in Africa
BONUS LINK: My entire (so far) grad school notes collection can be found here.
By the way--legit deal here below for college students--just in time for the holiday season!
Herbst argues that African leaders (pre, during, and
post-colonization) have all faced similar issues when attempting to rule and
have often came to the same conclusions on how to solve their problems. He compares the formation of African states
to Europe. He claims that the
consolidation of power over distance, as the dependent variable, is affected by
thecosts of extending power, the nature
of boundaries, and the nature of the state system. These 3 factors matter in every period.
to be a thicker structuralist. If everyone makes the same choices due to
environment—then what’s the point of examining individuals though. While Herbst says he’s not geographically
deterministic—he kind of is as he goes on.
- Failure of African states to consolidate authority has
resulted in civil wars, refugees, and dysfunctional policies by leaders
- International society still assumes that all African
countries can control all of their territory.
Control = infrastructure + loyalty
Chapter 1 - The Challenge of State-Building in Africa
- It was difficult to project power due to low population
densities in SSA
- Ecological conditions didn't support large
concentrations of people (only 8% of SSA is tropical. Geography
controls population density
- Difficult to project thru highly differentiated
environmental zones (coastal, forest, savannah, near-desert, etc.)
- Costly to project power due to the same reason
above. The wheel was introduced in
northern Africa during ancient times and abandoned because the terrain and
distances could not be supported with the necessary roads.
- While European nations competed for territory, Africans
had plenty of land that did not propagate conflict. Threat of war in Europe allowed leaders to
place emphasis on controlling remote areas and borders -- Africa did not have
this problem or reason to control its territories. Primary object was to capture people and
treasure, not land which was available to all.
Land was the constant—population was the variable.
- Colonizers were not interested in duplicating European
power infrastructure that bound city to hinterland; Colonial capitals located
on the coast to serve logistical and health needs of colonizers.
- Few roads or telephones in hinterland outside of
- Nationalist politics in the 50s and 60s were very much
- After independence, independant countries still had
Peasants desired to maintain their own decisions about their lives
economic crisis since late 70s
-- 69% ofpopulation still live in rural areas
Chapter 2 - Power and Space in Precolonial Africa
**His nuance in his definition of a state is
important—control over a population instead of borders
- Non-territorial nature of power
- African farmers depended on rain-fed agriculture and
invested little in a particular piece of land; Few pieces of land were valuable
or worth a great price to defend.
- People were not controlled by territory claims and could
escape from rulers rather than fight them.
- Pre-colonial Africa societies unbundled ownership and
control of land.
- Political control had to be earned through loyalty,
coercion, and creation of infrastructure because it was too easy for people to
- Roads were vital to exercising formal authority; allow
troop movement, access, etc.
- More cultural diversity due to constrained broadcasting
Detriments of Power
- Often not worth the price of fighting to defend outlying
- Empires were seen as radiating from the capital cities, decreasing as
distance increased. Some power extended
great distance. On the village level, it
may not extend past the individual village.
- Centralization of power stayed in capitals since weapons
could only be accessed by central state trade with Europeans.
- Benefits of state were shared. If not, people would leave.
Buffer mechanisms to keep people in place were not in
place in Africa. No set of norms tocontrol inflows of people were established and no official currency (to
maintain physical presence) existed.
Shared sovereignty and multiple state forms due to:
physical geography was daunting
- stateshad few ways of mediating flow of people or money
- statesystem permitted hinterlands to break away or govern themselves
How and why colonial state is organized the way it
How’s it different and how’s it the same? What are the implications?
He emphasizes borders despite their artificiality. Clearly colonial state is the basis for today
(example of coastal capital cities).
State system that evolved end up being cooperative instead of
Chapter 3 - The Europeans and the African Problem
- System of boundaries and frontiers were created, based
on mines and cash crops. Infrastructure
still determines patterns of trade.
- Some say rule was limited, others say it was heavy. Numbers of colonizers would lead to believe
that their power was limited.
- Overwhelming motivation for colonizers was economic.
- Before 1885, Europeans extended no further than the
coast. Even after colonization, Iliffe
says that Africa was not central to European economies.
- Europeans were quick to partition Africa, but ambivalent
about ruling it. Costs were high and
probability of reward was low.
- Boundaries were created with little information on
geography, people, etc.
- Berlin Conference stressed the minimal obligations of
African colonizers over territories.
- Conference did not mention hinterlands. Hinterland theory was developed that said
that an indefinite amount of interior land was available to the colonizer. This was abandoned and found unworkable.
- Colonization happened on the cheap with little
obligation to control territory. It was
easy to conquer African polities and charter companies were often used to do
- With few white settlers, the security of each state was
slow to expand.
- African colonizers often made their own decisions,
outside the control of France, Britain, etc.
- Neither Direct or Indirect Rule was from a preconceived
theory, but based on the individual political setup of each country. Herbst indicates that indirect rule was more
successful at projecting power by strengthening the existing African mechanism.
- Protest migrations were common in Africa, especially
West Africa. Borders were too weak to
stop the movement of people.
- WWII stopped the expansion of administrative systems and
afterwards, Europeans were reconstructing themselves and didn't have the money
to put into Africa.
- Boundaries were most consequential part of colonial
state. European rulers were free of
competition from other imperial states.
They could establish admin structures at their own pace.
- Lack of war/conflict formed Africa much differently than
the great conflicts that shaped Europe.
Chapter 4 - The
Political Kingdom in Independent Africa
- African decided to retain the colonial map - wars were
too expensive and would diminish the power of the ruler over its people. Also, obtaining land was not a priority as it
was in Europe.
- Nationalists supported nation-states and the United
Nations would only deal with nation-states.
The option of returning to pre-colonial systems were no longer feasible.
- Few attempts to move capitals or to change the political
systems from colonial times (outside of changing the names of organizations)
- OAU respected sovereignty of states and considered the
Biafra War in Nigeria an internal affair.
- Africans had to develop set of rules on who was in charge
of the state. OAU determined that if a
government was at least in control of the capital city, it was sovereign.
allowed governments to concern themselves less with control/power projection into hinterlands.
- The lack of war
affected African states finances. Wars
usually place pressure on leaders to find new and more regular sources of
income, as well as make citizens more likely to allow increased taxation. This did not happen in Africa.
- Direct Taxation, a way of consolidating power, was
difficult due to:
- lowdensities of population in hinterlands.
- gov'tshad little incentive due to foreign aid
- thesystem of direct taxation is expensive
- Indirect taxation through consumable goods were easier
and less transparent for the gov't.
- Nationalism, another way to consolidate power, was not
strong. Wars, like in Europe, were not
present to bind African nations. Also,
the lack of roads and too many languages separated groups within African
- African gov'ts wasted large amounts of money, possibly
Result: power was expressed post-colonialism as it
was pre-colonialism, through concentric circles of authority. States had to control their political coreswith varying reach being that.
Questions / Points
- Herbst admits/explains that African and European nations
evolved much differently and that Africa can be compared to Latin America
easier...but continues to compare Africa and Europe - Why??
- Does the lack of state projection into the entirety of
its territory really influence illegal activities, etc.? Is it really a problem, or just an
inconvenience? Did it / does it happen
the same in the U.S. or abroad...or is it unique to Africa?
- Could the OAUs declaration of 'if the gov't controls the
capital city, it is sovereign' been a contributor to African coups??
* Colonial experience as a prisoner’s dilemma where everyone
ends up cooperating. Borders eliminate
friction points. The fundamental WHY of
colonialism is the BoP in Europe.
They’ve inherited a set of ideas—they know its about
economic development. Nationalism =
anti-colonialism. After that, the public
appeal was based upon benefits. But they
government could deliver on social services without resources (taxes).
“The Geographic and Demographic Challenges
to African States” (Pt. 2)
States and Power in Africa
Herbst focuses on one of the most central issues of modern
African state building, artificial political barriers paralyzing natural (true)
state consolidation and subsequent healthy economic growth. What was thought a good idea at the time, the
Berlin Conference set in motion the largest political stagnation in modern
history. It is only after we understand
thetrue parameters of political population control measures that we will be
able to do less to interfere with the development of The Continent.
DESIGN AND DOMESTIC POLITICS (Cont.)
Ch. 5 - National
Design and the Broadcasting of Power (Longest
and most important Ch.)
Population distribution is a critical challenge for African
state building. Size and shape of
nations impacts power consolidation.
Specific sizes and shape are not important. Population distribution over that space is
most critical. Gottmann stated, “it is the organization of a territory by
its population that counts more than any other feature of it.” Pre-colonial populations decided boundaries
andtoday boundaries define a people.
(REF. POPULATION DISTRO. MAPS)
*Rise of patronage networks puts money further going in the
*Power is grounded in the capital city (physically), and
especially the palace/presidential building.
All you need to maintain power is control on capital. Thus the resources and social services are
centered in the capital.
1)Size and shapes of African countries as
related to political challenges that state-makers confront.
classification: areas with population densities distributed in 1/5 percentiles.
general categories of countries.
(1) Exceptionally difficult to consolidate power.
(2)These countries are, with one exception,
large (among the top fifteen by size) and have areas of high population
(3)Distances and the geographic distinctness
of different groups leads,to the finding that African countries experience
extreme levels of ethnic fragmentation.
(4)African states with difficult geographies
face the continual problem of large numbers of outlying groups that are
spatially distinct and mobile.
(5)Some are “rim-land” country: the major
population concentrations are found in its border regions while its interior is
(6)Sudan, Ethiopia, DROC
(1)High and medium population density (by
national standards) that are in relatively small areas of the country - then
there are vast hinterlands where few people live.
(2)Chad (the fourth largest in Africa), Mali
(sixth), Mauritania (seventh), and Niger (third).
(1)Highest concentration of power is found
in one area, usually around the capital.
Population densities lower as distance from the capital increases.
(b)Ex: Botswana (ranked seventeenth in
size), Burkina Faso (twenty-second), Central African Republic (fifteenth),
Eritrea (twenty-ninth), Gabon (twenty-third).
2)Smaller states have fewer political
challenges consolidating state power.
i)Size not same barrier to state control.
1.Extending authority in some large states
may be easier than their size suggests (depends on population distribution).
ii)Lacking external threat, power will be
broadcast somewhat like pre-colonial period.
(a)Addis rule: Control strong at political
core, radiating out with decreasing authority.
iii)Today territorial boundaries are fixed.
(a)Countries with either very large
territories and/or difficult population distributions find it exceptionally
hard to consolidate authority.
(b)Large country size sufficient reason for
control failure unless the population is not distributed to the
3)Consolidation of authority still related
to accurate state understanding of the ramifications in the national structural
*His population density charts are flawed because they
aren’t anchored to an absolute density—its each country’s density—therefore you
can’t compare the country’s to each other.
*THESIS: What are roads and small airports used for in
Africa today? How is this affected by
mobile technology? How does this affect
the reach of the government? His
argument may be logically but there is no evidence presented.
Ch. 6 - Chiefs, States, and the Land
African states have a
difficulty in projecting power over distance establishes the relationship
between state authority and local leadership.
Local elites’ power is connected to their control of land, separate from
the state. States seek change in
property rights to disempower local elites. The reality of governing in the
hinterlands has had limited success in usurping local control of land without
*Mahmdani book: Citizen…: chiefs were so corrupted by
colonial power of the state that they just became an extension of that state.
*Ability of state tofunction as a state (through laws and taxes and enforcement of those rules) is
undermined by chiefs (or anyone other than state) that control access to land.
*Private land rights (or
state owned) give state power to control people.
State subverts locals
completely when they lease out land
of land tenure difficult with how Africa states artificially evolved.
a)Requires large administrative presence in
b)African states do not have strong
networks in rural areas.
blunt instruments of power.
c)Difficult for African countries to
diminish the power of local authorities
by changing patterns of land allocation.
d)Long-term African countries probably will
develop land markets undermine traditional practices.
e)Politics between the state and
treads on the other’s turf.
f)Conventional wisdom on land tenure favors
are not capable of doing more.
and control of the land separated between chiefs and states.
a)Owns land, local elites controlitsallocation on a day-to-day basis.
b)States with tough geographies most problems
with the chiefs.
PART FOUR: BOUNDARIES
Ch. 7 - The Coin of
the African Realm
West African capitals
established international and regional economies at soon after independence.
But respective currencies did not consolidation state power, Independent
valuation of W. African currency led to a series of disastrous decisions that
severely weakened the states. When states gave up currency control they become
a)African state officials corruptly controlled the
b)Anglophone countries had disastrous exchangerate policies that diminished state authority.
c)Business was a big loser when local authorities
had maximum discretion.
d)Independence changed everything in terms of the
relationship between foreign companies and African governments.
of African currencies in the 1960s was disastrous.
Control of currency was instrumentalized (but not to bring
in rural population) to distribute benefits to urban elite and patronage
networks—instead of state building and economic development. The West African countries didn’t have the
ability to define their country by their currency but they were also (maybe)
more stable. Author doesn’t make these
points very directly though.
Ch. 8 - The Politics
of Migration and Citizenship
There are fundamental
changes in African migration patterns.
People are migrating toward the centers of political power. Simultaneously, the development of
citizenship laws through which people are defined by a geographically polity
resulting in patterns of migration and dynamics of citizenship laws affect and
reflect the states consolidated power.
Citizenship laws project immobile citizen identities on migrant
populations. African boundaries fundamentally changed the nature of populationmovements across the continent.
Surprisingly, citizenship is often greater than ethnic group bonds
separated by borders. African countries
need to exploit this phenomenon to establish strong national bonds. Otherwise, a critical opportunity is
1)States did not consolidate their rule
over their territory and the populations are migrating toward the centers of
boundaries are hard to prevent outside intervention.
i)Did not consolidate authority in the
lax boundaries changed migrant’s calculations regarding the benefits of their exit.
countries will benefit from the migration more than others.
with most difficult political geographies worst border control.
i)Physical and legal infrastructures unable
to match respective changes in migration.
This is beginning to be an issue. Access to land and other benefits becoming
more relatively important. So far this
has just been a political issue (to disqualify competing candidates). Recently a big issue in CI since all the
arable land is used up.
If you accept his argument—the incentives that decision
makersmake (thick sturct) are not directing them towardstate building because
ofhigh cost of projecting power (substitute potential access to money via
foreign AID vs. taxation), borders continue to be recognized (territory not
threatened), internal sovereignty is eroded (much more internal intervention). These are all disincentives to state
building—so we (intl community) need to
change these incentives. Cost of
projecting can’t be directly affected aside from pulling aid and making collectionof taxes more important. One could
create a new international norm that says sovereign states must act like it—if
we decertified Somalia then Somalialand could be recognized.
How do we distribute AID—shift to NGOs—but this hasn’t been
very effective—NGOs have been usurping sovereignty from government. Can AID can be only given to reforming
governments—or given to develop specific institutions like taxation. (Could AID be matched to tax revenues
collected by the government?)