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Civil Wars and State-Building in Africa and Eurasia

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Woodrow Wilson Center Press, in "Beyond State Crisis: Postcolonial Africa and Post-Soviet Eurasia in Comparative Perspective"


This book compares sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union, two regions beset by the breakdown of states suffering from extreme official corruption, organized crime extending into warlordism, and the disintegration of economic institutions and public institutions for human services. The contributors not only study state breakdown but also compare the consequences of post-communism with those of post-colonialism.

This chapter looks at the processes of state formation in postcolonial Africa and the former Soviet Union and asks whether those processes make African and Eurasian states especially vulnerable to civil war. In particular, we ask whether the experience of Africa's postcolonial states suggests a similar historical trajectory for the new states that emerged in Eurasia at the beginning of the 1990s. We argue that, despite important differences between the two historical experiences, conditions surrounding state formation in Africa and post-Soviet Eurasia have inhibited the formation of stable and legitimate states and have made war more likely.

The chapter beings by outlining three broad explanatory factors that scholars have used in trying to explain civil wars since 1945: ethnicity, nationalism, and globalization. We argue that these explanations neglect what Klaus Gantzel referred to as "the historicity of war," by which he means "the structural dynamics which condition the emergence and behaviour of actors" in any given period (Gantzel 1997, 139). We then suggest that a focus on state formation is helpful in providing the historical context for understanding civil wars. After surveying the experience of state-building in postcolonial Africa and in Eurasia, we conclude with comparisons and contrasts between the regions.

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