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In “War and the State in Africa,” Jeffrey Herbst states that “

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In “War and the State in Africa,” Jeffrey Herbst states that “…it should be recognized that there is very little evidence that African countries, or many others in the Third World, will be able to find peaceful ways to strengthen the state and develop national identities.”

Do you agree with Herbst’s argument? Why?

Although African countries are facing many severe problems including weak national identities and limited governmental capabilities, war might not be the only way to strengthen the state and develop national identities. When we consider the intense globalization undertaken by the world, collaboration by African unification provides another choice to reinforce the state and to progress a national identity.

There is no doubt that African countries are facing many severe problems, including poverty, shortage of trained manpower and limited social capital. The most pressing of these problems is a weak national identity resulting from the absence of a nation-state form. A nation-state is “a sovereign state encompassing one dominant nation that it claims to embody and represent”. Colonialism is the main cause of the absence of the nation state structure: “80 percent of the borders in Africa were drawn according to longitude and latitude, not ethnic or geographic distinction. Even after empires collapsed or withdrew, these borders remained.” One state often incorporates a multitude of ethnic groups. When different ethnic groups within a state struggle to achieve certain political or economic power at each other’s expense; ethnic conflicts break out. Because of the immense ethnic diversity, people within a state seldom share common political aspirations and institutions.

Many African weak or failed states lack the ability to collect enough revenue. “Elites can come to power but, given the precariousness of control in countries where rules governing leadership and succession have not been institutionalized, they may be displaced.” The political instability presented in the above situation, has potential to break down the basic governmental capabilities; consequently resulting in formation of states that do not have an organized monopoly of legitimate use of force, therefore creating numerous failed states in Africa. For instance, four out of five of the most failed states in the world are in Africa. Among those basic governmental capabilities is tax collection, a fundamental criterion for being a strong state. As Herbst stated in his article, it is important because “the process of development requires large expenditures on infrastructure to promote economic activity throughout the country and to handle the ramifications of development, especially the large expenses incurred by urbanizing”. However, some African states fail to collect revenue due to weak governmental abilities.

As Herbst concluded in his article, war is the only way to solve problems in African states. As he discussed, European history has demonstrated that war increases states’ ability to collect significantly more revenue with greater efficiency and at the same time have a major impact on the development of national identity. The lack of warfare will result in African states inability to resolve two distinct major issues and therefore African states will continue to be weak for the foreseeable future.

Herbst sees competition as the only way to build a strong state, but collaboration by unification can also strengthen states, and today’s globalization makes this collaboration possible. Today’s world is very different from European continent centuries ago. As the world becomes more connected through travel, communication, business, and education, the world is “flat”, as Thomas Friedman argues. Animosity, grievances and potential for conflict can be dissolved peacefully by this flat and intensively connected web. War is no longer the only way to solve disputes. Instead, collaboration between states becomes the world’s new motif. For instance, instead of competition through war, European countries, different from centuries ago, choose collaboration by unification and create European Union in order to share a larger part of the cake.

Weak national identity in African states is one of the problems discussed by Herbst. If Africa is united as a whole and becomes strong over time, national identities, or even ethnic identities attached to each individual state or ethnic group will gradually erode, and “Africanness” will become the new identity. The definition of national identity is “a group of people bound together by a common set of political aspiration”. Since Africans share similar colonial history and face equally impoverished situations, why can’t African states collaborate and unite as a whole, like the European Union has since 1952 and the existing African Union since 2002. This “Africanness” can be the new “national identity” which holds Africans together. For example in the history of the United States, during the early period after independence, citizens traveling abroad didn’t recognize themselves as the citizens of the U.S. as a whole, but rather identified themselves with the individual state they originally resided from. As the country became stronger over time, the state identity was replaced with the real national identity.

Someone may argue the fact that “some confronting societies that are often fragmented and have little orientation to the state as a whole”. Therefore, how is each state and ethnic group willing to unite with the whole Africa? From the view of the political culture, there is an explanation. According to the research done by Ronald Inglehard and his colleagues, African countries tend to share traditional values and survival values, which implies a greater possibility of being united as a whole. “Traditional values emphasize such things as religion, family, and nation. Survival values focus on economic and physical security and emphasize group conformity to that end.” If collaboration by unification can provide security and African states advocate “Africanness” as a whole, people will tend to follow the group conformity.

Ability to collect enough revenue is another topic in Herbst’s article. In a globalized world, revenue will not be a serious problem as it posed to be centuries ago, due to additional means today’s government can use in a large scale. For example, governments can collect revenue from large international trades. For instance, several East Asian countries adopted the export-oriented industrialization policy following World War II and through this way accumulated a large amount of capital. Governments of East Asian countries also benefited from collecting revenues that were at a constant rise, because of outstanding economic expansion. African countries can collaborate with each other by unification and then learn from East Asian countries’ experiences.

Through teamwork, Africa will avail itself to many comparative advantages including a cheap labor force and an abundance of natural resources. Geopolitically, Africa, different from Latin America, is less influenced by America. As the capital market keeps searching for the cheapest labor force, the world will eventually look at Africa. Adopting the export-oriented industrialization policy and utilizing joined advantages listed above will develop African economy. Consequently, African governments can collect revenue from this new approach; resorting to traditional European means is not the only way.

In conclusion, war is not the only way to strengthen states and develop national identities. Inability to collect enough revenue and weak national identities, two major problems discussed in Herbst’s article, could be dissolved by peaceful collaboration by African unification; given the condition that today’s world is intensively globalized. Regional national identities can be displaced by a new African identity. Governmental revenue can be collected from additional means which cannot be used in a large scale centuries ago. However, undeniably, this collaboration is challenged by various problems like extreme poverty, political instability and low-level education, etc. Therefore, as same as the process European countries took several centuries to build strong modern states, the way to achieve the strong “African Union” is time-consuming.


 O’Neil,H. Patrick.. Essential Readings In Comparative Politics (New York: W.W.Norton&Company, 2010) Pp,55

 O’Neil,H. Patrick.. Essential Readings In Comparative Politics (New York: W.W.Norton&Company, 2010) Pp,57

 O’Neil,H. Patrick.. Essential Readings In Comparative Politics (New York: W.W.Norton&Company, 2010) Pp,56

 Jeffrey Herbst, “War and the State in Africa,” International Security, vol. 14, no. 4 (Spring 1990)

 Bruce Dickson, “The concept of the state” (Presentation, Intro to comparative politics, Washington D.C. Jan 18th 2011)

 ‘Neil,H. Patrick.. Essential Readings In Comparative Politics (New York: W.W.Norton&Company, 2010) Pp,41

 Jeffrey Herbst, “War and the State in Africa,” International Security, vol. 14, no. 4 (Spring 1990)

 Thomas Friedman, “It’s a Flat World after All,” New York Times Magazine (April 3, 2005).

 ‘Neil,H. Patrick.. Essential Readings In Comparative Politics (New York: W.W.Norton&Company, 2010) Pp,50

 Steven Pendly, “The early periods of the U.S.A”. (Presentation, American History, Knox School, St. James, NY, March 2010)

 Jeffrey Herbst, “War and the State in Africa,” International Security, vol. 14, no. 4 (Spring 1990)

 ‘Neil,H. Patrick.. Essential Readings In Comparative Politics (New York: W.W.Norton&Company, 2010) Pp,73

 ‘Neil,H. Patrick.. Essential Readings In Comparative Politics (New York: W.W.Norton&Company, 2010) Pp,72

 ‘Neil,H. Patrick.. Essential Readings In Comparative Politics (New York: W.W.Norton&Company, 2010) Pp,251

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