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Friday, January 18, 2013

Notes on Herbst' States and Power in Africa

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Jeffrey Herbst, States and Power in Africa

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 the costs of extending power, the nature of boundaries, and the nature of the state system.  These 3 factors matter in every period.
            He wants to be a thicker structuralistIf 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 extracting goods.
- Nationalist politics in the 50s and 60s were very much urban affairs.
- After independence, independant countries still had projection problems
            -- Peasants desired to maintain their own decisions about their lives
            -- Long economic crisis since late 70s
            -- 69% of population 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 just leave.
- Roads were vital to exercising formal authority; allow troop movement, access, etc.
- More cultural diversity due to constrained broadcasting of power
Detriments of Power
- Often not worth the price of fighting to defend outlying lands.
- 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 to control 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
            - states had few ways of mediating flow of people or money
            - state system permitted hinterlands to break away or govern themselves

Discussion Points:
How and why colonial state is organized the way it is
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 competitive

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 the conquering.
- 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. 
            -- This 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:
            - low densities of population in hinterlands.
            - gov'ts had little incentive due to foreign aid
            - the system 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 countries.
- African gov'ts wasted large amounts of money, possibly reducing nationalism.

Result:  power was expressed post-colonialism as it was pre-colonialism, through concentric circles of authority.  States had to control their political cores with varying reach being that.

Questions / Points to Ponder:
- 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 (139-271)

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 the true parameters of political population control measures that we will be able to do less to interfere with the development of The Continent.


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 and today boundaries define a people.  (REF. POPULATION DISTRO. MAPS)
*Rise of patronage networks puts money further going in the wrong direction
*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.
a)     Five-category classification: areas with population densities distributed in 1/5 percentiles.
b)    Three general categories of countries. 
i)      Difficult geography.
(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 density.
(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 relatively empty. 
(6)  Sudan, Ethiopia, DROC
ii)    Hinterland.
(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). 
iii)   Favorable Geography.
(1)  Highest concentration of power is found in one area, usually around the capital.  Population densities lower as distance from the capital increases.
(a)   Are small. 
(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 hinterland
3)    Consolidation of authority still related to accurate state understanding of the ramifications in the national structural design.
*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 pragmatic compromises.
*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 to function 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

1)    Reform of land tenure difficult with how Africa states artificially evolved.
a)     Requires large administrative presence in rural areas.
i)      Nuanced policies.
ii)    Significant resources.
b)    African states do not have strong networks in rural areas.
i)      Use blunt instruments of power.
ii)    Poor treasury limits.
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 traditional leaders.
i)      Neither treads on the other’s turf.
f)     Conventional wisdom on land tenure favors incremental measures.
i)      States are not capable of doing more.
2)    Ownership and control of the land separated between chiefs and states.
a)     Owns land, local elites control its allocation on a day-to-day basis.
b)    States with tough geographies most problems with the chiefs. 


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 stronger.

1)    After independence:
a)     African state officials corruptly controlled the money supply.
b)    Anglophone countries had disastrous exchange rate 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.
e)     Adoption 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 population movements 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 lost

1)    States did not consolidate their rule over their territory and the populations are migrating toward the centers of political power.
a)     Weak boundaries are hard to prevent outside intervention.
i)      Did not consolidate authority in the outlying areas.
b)    The lax boundaries changed migrant’s calculations regarding the benefits of their exit.
c)     Some countries will benefit from the migration more than others.
d)    Countries 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 makers make (thick sturct) are not directing them toward state building because of high 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 collection of 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?) 


  1. Very lucid distillation of the book, i hope u don't mind me perusing ur other notes, your writing is clear and lovely :)

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