Political Insecurity and State Failure in Contemporary Africa

CID Faculty Working Paper No. 115

Robert H. Bates
January 2005


Noting data that suggests that Africa oversupplies state failure, the paper probes the sources of political insecurity in the continent. It explores the logic that underlies an equilibrium in which governments employ force to protect rather than to predate and in which citizens engage in productive activity and refrain from military activity. It isolates the variables that define the region in which this conduct is in equilibrium values that lie outside that region define the conditions under which states fail. The analysis illuminates the impact of political and economic forces in contemporary Africa: political reform, economic collapse, and the increased relative importance of “loot-able” resources. In an effort to evaluate the arguments of the paper, it provides as well a series of statistical tests of its arguments.

Keywords: development, Africa, political economy, institutions, conflict

JEL subject codes: O19, P48, P51, E66