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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2006, Vol, 6 No. 1 .

Africa and the International System
Christopher Clapham.

(Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996).
340pp. Index. Bibl. 40.00; ISBN 0-521-57207-X.
Pb.: 14.95; ISBN 0 521 57668 7.

This is comprehensive survey of the life-cycle of the African state. Created by the international system of states and its various agencies, the African states emerged from their colonial shells as juridically sovereign entities into quasi-statehood. Without, for the most part, an overall "idea of state" to inspire and direct prospective state builders, these incipient states rapidly decayed into what Clapham calls "monopoly states": "...the sole viable mechanisms through which African leaders could maintain their power and seek other goals". Unable to nurture a profitable economic base, or to generate domestic legitimacy, these states are seen to be rapidly succumbing to challenges from which a post-Cold War international system is loath to protect them, such as armed insurrection.

Other challenges such as economic and political conditionalities are generated by this very international system, as are internationally sponsored armed intervention. The resulting coping mechanism is for African states to transform into their penultimate form: the "shadow state", where state leaders privatize the state, and run it as a business unit. Clapham sees little prospect in this (final?) survival strategy, and concludes his impressive and authoritative survey with the proposition that the end of the life cycle of the African state-system will be akin to the pre-Westphalian landscape: pockets of effectively ordered public authority is likely to be dispersed with large "zones of statelessness". This landscape will not only challenge conventional international relations theory but also the theory of democracy: in these zones new units of democracy, in lieu of the state will have to be found.

Pierre du Toit, University of Stellenbosch

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