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

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Intro to Comparative Politics

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?

Lei Zhang

Professor Dickson

2/10/2011



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...