Mar 29 2008

A Master on African governance

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 4:14 PM

Robert Bates, the Harvard scholar on African politics, has a new book out, “When Things Fell Apart,” about state-failure in late 20th century Africa. Bates is justly famous among students of Africa for his seminal book on states and markets in Africa, published some quarter-century ago. His new book aims to describe why African societies — and the governments that serve them — did so poorly even after recognizing the importance of markets. His book, while brief, is studded with great insights and, to my eyes, intended as a counterweight to reductionist arguments by others, notably the Oxford professor Paul Collier and Columbia’s Jeff Sachs, that the African state is essentially powerless in the face of wars over “greed and grievance” or geographic forces that isolate and undermine political actors. In a bid to undercut the ciricularity of these arguments, Bates tries to put politics — as a human activity — back in the center of the African condition. His diagnosis of the problem is familiar, but his suggested remedies are not.
Reading Bates, who writes in his new book that “electoral competition and state failure go together,” is an excellent companion to those trying to make sense out of Zimbabwe’s farcical eletions this weekend — or even the prolonged political stalemate in Kenya, where narrow election results highlights the importance, not of electoral contests, but of the benefits of power-sharing, regional autonomy and the necessity of a new winner-not-take-all electoral structure.

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