State Collapse, Post-conflict Peace-building and Sustainable Democracy in Africa

  • Timothy Murithi


At the dawn of decolonization in 1963, Frantz Fanon predicted that ‘this ethnicisation of the central authority, it is certain encourages regionalist ideas and separatism. All the decentralising tendencies spring up again and triumph, and the nation falls to pieces, broken to bits’.1 The target of his observation was the post-colonial African state and his prognosis was to prove insightful. The scenario is not unfamiliar to Africa. Over-centralisation and the consolidation of authoritarian power at the centre has presided over the emergence and growth of sub-national ethnic mobilisation against the state. The self-destructive tendency of the centralised predatory state is increasingly coming to the fore. There has been a decline of constitutionalism in the post-colonial era and the increasing prominence of institutionalised repression in Africa. This in turn instigates the gradual delegitimisation of the state and fuels intense competition to capture the state. The African continent unfortunately is becoming familiar with the phenomenon of disintegrating states. This study will assess this phenomenon and the difficult challenge this poses for post-conflict peace-building with regard to democratisation.


Conflict Resolution Electoral System Proportional Representation Democratic Institution African State 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    Frantz Fanon (1963) The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press), p. 147.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jeffrey Herbst (1997) ‘Responding to State Failure in Africa’, in Michael Brown (ed.), Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press), pp. 347–98.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For a general discussion, see Julius Nyerere (1963) Democracy and the Party System (Dar es Salaam: Tanganyika Standard).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Robert Jackson and Carl Rosberg (1985), ‘Democracy in Tropical Africa’, Journal of International Affairs, vol. 38, no. 2.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    For various debates see Robert Jackson and Carl Rosberg (1982) Personal Rule in Black Africa (Berkeley, California: University of California Press); John Cartwright (1983) Political Leadership in Africa (London: Croom Helm); and Samuel Decalo (1985) ‘African Personal Dictatorships’, Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 23, no. 2, June.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Samuel Decalo (1976) Coups and Army Rule in Africa (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Claude Ake (1995) ‘The Democratization of Disempowerment in Africa’, in Jochen Hippler (ed.) The Democratization of Disempowerment: The Problem of Democracy in the Third World (London: Pluto Press), p. 73.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    I. William Zartman (1995) ‘Introduction’ in I. William Zartman (ed.), Collapsed States: The Disintegration and Restoration of Legitimate Authority (London: Lynne Rienner).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    David Quintal (1970) ‘The Theory of Electoral Systems’, Western Political Quarterly, vol. 73.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    A comprehensive analysis of the detailed characteristics of these electoral systems are beyond the scope of this chapter and will not be discussed here. For a further assessment, see T. Murithi (1998) ‘Electoral Systems and the Management of Ethnic Conflict in Africa’, in Andrew Dobson and Jeff Stanyer (eds), Contemporary Political Studies (Nottingham: Political Studies Association), pp. 14–21; and A. Lijphart and B. Grofman (1984) Choosing an Electoral System: Issues and Alternatives (London: Praeger).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    A more detailed discussion of the impact of these systems on the management of ethnic conflict can be found in Frank Cohen (1997), ‘Proportional Versus Majoritarian Ethnic Conflict Management in Democracies’, Comparative Political Studies, vol. 30, no. 5.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
  13. 13.
    For a more detailed discussion on power-sharing and proportionality in what Lijphart also refers to as ‘consociational democracy’, see Arend Lijphart (1969), ‘Consociational Democracy’, World Politics, vol. 21, no. 4; Arend Lijphart (1977) Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Anthony Pereira (1994) ‘The Neglected Tragedy: The Return to War in Angola, 1992–3’, Journal of Modern African Studies, vol. 32, no. 1.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Cohen, ‘Proportional Versus Majoritarian’.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Proportional representation has been functional in a number of Francophone African states. But with national legislatures ultimately subordinate to a powerful centralised executive presidency, the benefits that could have been accrued through genuine proportionality were negated and ethnicity still determined the political distribution of resources. Thus power-sharing between national and sub-national groups was not effectively in place.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Francis Deng, Sadikiel Kimaro, Terrence Lyons, Donald Rothchild and William Zartman (1996) Sovereignty as Responsibility: Conflict Management in Africa (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Timothy Murithi

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