Monthly Archives: December 2016

Reading Post: The Rise of the State System in Africa by Carolyn Warner

Reading Journal

Carolyn Warner, The Rise of the State System in Africa

Carolyn Warner displays a rare eagerness to engage with massive questions about the structure of human society and how it applies in Africa. Many of the systems of societal organization she examines probe deeply into the origins and utility of an institution modern thinkers often take as a given: the state. The concept of the nation-state, popularized in sixteenth century Europe and globalized by colonization, is a relatively new one, which explains some of its shortcomings outside of Europe.

While scholars certainly debate precisely what a nation-state is, its general definition is perhaps best provided by the European examples that spawned it. Colonial era France, Britain, and Germany may appear anything but similar at first, but at their hearts each possessed a fairly uniform culture, racial populous, territorial boundary and agreement that they were one people. There was an understanding and agreement that the structure of society would work towards benefitting this (generally) unified citizenry’s best interests and that it would provide security against any and all external physical threats. This very broad concept of a nation-state seems to have a fairly universal application to any human society, and this is reflected in Europeans’ attempts to project it upon those they conquered. Many of the qualities this nation model is built on however take very different forms in African societies.

Unity is critical to a nation-state, as all those governed have to generally agree on common interests to work towards and must, at a fundamental level, think together. This level of cohesion is essentially a necessity in the geographically cramped conditions of Europe, but for a vast variety of reasons does not appear as commonly in African societies. North African Islamic states did not have the same degree of centralization the Catholic church afforded some European states. Indeed, the multiplicity of cultures that follow Muslim teachings complicates just what qualities a Muslim state needs to succeed.

The nature of Islam and its teachings on how to govern draw no significant lines between the ruler of the society and the head of the religion. Merging the roles of political and religious leadership into one (often referred to as a Caliph) has a multitude of implications that made pre-colonial North African societies largely unfit to meet the definition of a “nation.” The separation of church and state was integral to the European concept of the nation and typically came in the form of the Pope/Church’s authority vs that of the King. The duality of a Caliph’s role put them in charge of not just a state, but of an entire religion. Islam’s interpretation of this role was that this authority meant the Caliph ruled all Muslims, not just those within the physical territory he controlled. This view subverted the European idea that a state was defined by its physical borders. More importantly however, this world perspective made the head of Islam responsible for a vast and diverse array of cultures, local political systems, and concepts of governance.

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“Le Franc CFA est un Outil de la Servitude Volontaire”/”The CFA Franc is a Tool of Voluntary Servitude”

I don’t know if many people in the course speak or understand French, but I came accross this interesting interview from France 24. It features the co-author of a book titled Le Franc CFA est un Outil de la Servitude Volontaire (The CFA Franc is a Tool of Voluntary Servitude). His main argument is that the 14 African states who are still under the CFA Franc zone are voluntarily “serving” France and purposely putting themselves under this neo-colonialist ruling system because they have not changed their currency unlike other countries like Mauritania, Algeria, Morrocco etc… I don’t personally agree with it, but I found it interesting.

Have a great break!

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Journal 6

Money matters, and in this realm, size really matters when it comes to the influence and importance of foreign countries to Egypt. Home to the worlds’ largest Arab population, which has been relentlessly expanding for decades, Egypt has few sources of revenues to grow its economy. Running a 35% budget deficit for 2015, with an unemployment rate of 13%, and struggling to revive tourism, one of its major sources of income which has been devastated by terrorist attacks, Egypt has had to increasingly rely on outside sources of aid and loans. Traditionally, the United States has been the country’s major source of external aid, dating back to the 1979 Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty that the U.S. brokered. As part of the negotiations, the U.S. pledged $1.3 billion in military aid yearly plus a variable amount of economic aid.  That sum has remained remarkably unchanged across multiple U.S. administrations. Even through the populous Arab Spring overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, the election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Morsi and the subsequent the military coup that deposed him, and the eventual rise of military leader Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, U.S. aid has continued to flow, interrupted only temporarily as the Obama administration raised transient and symbolic gestures of opposition over the fall of democratic rule.

The often waffling political support offered by the Obama administration angered and frustrated the Sissi government who perceived their own actions as saving the country from a leader, while elected democratically, began to transform his government into an increasingly autocratic government that progressively began to oppress all opposition in a many similar to prior autocrats, curbing fundamental rights. These conditions set the stage for a change in the monetary power dynamics to occur. In March 2015, the Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates pledged $12 billion to help stabilize Egypt’s economy, which was on top of over $20 billion already committed by the Gulf States since the coup that empowered Sisi.  This move was objected to by Washington.  Many see the Gulf states actions as nothing less than part of a Saudi led counter-revolution, designed to halt the spread of the Arab Spring / Awakening to the Gulf monarchies and a way to stabilize the Sunni heartland against further destabilization by either Islamic radicalism or Shia intrusion (both of which have plagued Iraq and Syria).

The new player in the foreign aid power dynamic is China. In March 2016, China announced it would design and construct a new capital for Egypt and has pledged an astonishing $45 billion in financing to date. It will be a completely new city, built east of Cairo. China’s entry brings a new economic superpower into the equation, turning Egypt’s vision eastward and eclipsing the historical support provided by Washington. It also gives Egypt its own “China card” to play if it feels too beholden to its Gulf neighbors.

Egypt is evolving, if not democratically, perhaps economically. The current major foreign influences can be roughly divided into three major powers; the United States representing Egypt’s traditional supporter over the past four decades, the Gulf monarchies (led by Saudi Arabia) representing a core Arab Sunni power block hoping to preserve some vestige of regional status quo in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, and China who has regional economic interests driving it foray into this shifting paradigm. In the balance is Egypt’s tenuous economic base desperately trying to support an expanding and restless population.



Central Intelligence Agency. “Egypt.” The World Factbook. November 22, 2016. (accessed November 30, 2016).

Kamrava, Mehran. “The Arab Spring and the Saudi-led Counterrevolution.” Orbis (Foreign Policy research Institute), 2012: 96-104.

Monks, Kieron. “Egypt is getting a new capital – coutesy of China.” CNN. October 10, 2016. (accessed November 4, 2016).

Parasie, Nicolas, and Jay Solomon. “Gulf States Pledge Aid to Egypt, U.S. Balks.” The Wall Street Journal. March 13, 2015.



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Rwanda – Reconciliation with Its Past

Rwanda has made great strides in the past two decades, since the genocide.  Hutus and Tutsis live in harmony with one another and many Hutus participate in the government. The cycle of violence that for so long plagued, the nation seems to have come to end. Kigali, Rwanda’s capital is often held up as a model for a clean, sustainable city and was even host of major climate change agreements recently.  Today many regional NGOs are based in Rwanda and it has shown early signs of success in nascent textile and IT sectors.  Still Rwanda has a ways to go.

It remains to be seen whether civil society of Rwanda can endure after Kagame steps down.  He has already expressed his intent to violate the constitutional limit to his term. If Kagame fails to implement Democracy during his lifetime,  Rwandan society may be prone to more violent outbreaks upon his death.  Kagame should make steps to build democratic institutions in his country.

Economic development should not come at the expense of Rwanda’s neighbors.  Rwanda has incurred on the sovereignty of the DRC for the last two decades.  This has rendered the DRC prone to violent outbreaks.  If Rwanda is to succeed it must be part of peaceful region.  To this end, I believe that Rwanda should work with the African Union to move towards continental integration.  Pan Africanism has been a buzzword since the post-colonial period, but if Rwanda and Africa as a whole is to be competitive on the global stage, then unity is essential.  Just as Europe healed its previous wounds by moving towards continental political integration, so to can the peoples of Africa move past its violent pass and realize a better future through unity.  This past summer I was in kigali when they were holding the annual African Union summit.  In the immaculate city,  I couldnt help but feel a tangible sense of optimism for a country that has been through some of the most violent times in modern memory.


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In the News: DRC and Social Media

I found this article fascinating on a number of fronts.  It is clear from our most recent election that online news and social media, while forces capable of mobilizing citizens to action, can also obfuscate truth and lead to undemocratic outcomes.  For the past decade, dictatorial regimes have already been using social media and the online press to advance their own interests at the expense of democratic values.  In Equatorial Guinea, Obiang employs a Washington based Public Relations firm to clean his image both online and in front of the American government.  Rwanda similarly hires Western PR firms, noticeably using Racepoint to brandish its image EU policymakers.

Kabila’s move mirrors those of Arab dictators during the Arab spring who sought to reverse the tide of revolution by controlling online media. In Egypt, twitter was blocked.  China noticeably as well extensively monitors its internet and blocks most western social media sites. Earlier this fall, mass protests swept across Kinshasa as Kabila moved to delay elections. It is clear that the government anticipates further protests to take place and is moving to mitigate such threats by undermining online organization. However violence will likely though since Kinshasa doesn’t have a central square like Cairo’s Tahrir square it will be easier for the government to manage the demonstrations.



DR Congo plans to shut down social media ahead of next week’s political protests


DR Congo plans to shut down social media ahead of next week’s political protests

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Nigeria’s Room for Improvement

Nigeria needs to focus on its own domestic issues if there will be any more successful engagement with the world. With Nigeria’s abundance in wealth from its vast oil deposits and being known as one of the richest countries in Africa, Nigeria has had plenty of foreign partners and has an enormous amount of potential to not only revamp its own currently weak infrastructures but the ones of neighboring countries around it as well. However, some major debilitating issues such as corruption, poverty, and terrorism are not addressed over the coming years, Nigeria will prevent itself from any reaching its maximum potential and seeing any noticeable improvements within their society.

Over the last five decades, Nigeria has been susceptible to disgusting amounts of corruption and bribery, through government officials siphoning off millions and sometimes billions of dollars to themselves and a small minority of Nigerian elites and military officials. Such corruption has caused there to be an enormous amount of disparity between the upper and lower classes, the creation of poor infrastructures and school systems that do not receive proper attention and maintenance, and large amounts of Nigerian citizens becoming unemployed or citizens not being able to obtain a job at all due to such poor infrastructures and school systems. However, the most unfortunate part about the corruption that has taken place in Nigeria is that most of its citizens have increasingly grown aware of what is going on within their government and are growing strong feelings of resentment and lack of any trust in their current government system. Naturally, when a nation’s government is unable to carry out basic societal responsibilities and provide for its citizens, it eventually loses its legitimacy and respect from its own citizens, causing them to naturally pledge their allegiance to a more responsive authority, which, in some cases, has taken the form of Boko Haram leaders, allowing the Boko Haram to gain membership and violently reign terror within the entire West African region. Furthermore, not only are Nigerian citizens lacking trust in the government, but foreign investors and foreign aid organizations are beginning to have this same lack of trust as well, feeling that their money is not being allocated properly. And, with the Boko Haram violently making its presence known in Nigeria and its other neighboring countries in the Lake Chad region, Nigeria needs this foreign aid more than ever.

In order for Nigeria to see any noticeable amounts of growth and reach its full potential, there needs to be leadership in Nigeria that will take the responsibility and initiative to properly allocate the large amounts of oil money earned annually into its infrastructures and citizens to create an environment that sees less impoverished and unemployed Nigerians and a flourishing private market that will allow for more foreign countries to want to invest in Nigeria. However, if Nigeria does not make the necessary changes to its society, government, and economy, it will remain a country full of “what if’s” and continue to head in the wrong direction.

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Herbst and Mills Article Review

After reading the Jeffery Herbst and Greg Mills piece “Africa in 2020: Three Scenarios for the Future,” I found the article to be both insightful yet contradictory. In this piece, Herbst and Mills go in depth about three potential outcomes that could take place in Africa over the next fourteen years by outlining the specific policies and procedures that could take place in Africa that could lead to these three potential outcomes. Although I found the three outcomes that Herbst and Mills portray in their article to be clear, I felt that some of the necessary steps that Africa needed to take in order to reach some of the outcomes that they proposed to be unrealistic, especially within the case of the “Africa takes charge” outcome.

In the “Africa takes charge outcome” that Herbst and Mills portray, they suggest that Africa could have success by taking development and politics into its own hands and that reform taking place across Africa on the domestic, regional, and international levels could happen if Africa’s big states lead as “exemplars of success.” However, not only does Africa contain some of the poorest countries in the world, who do not have the financial or political resources to take on development by itself, but also almost all of the large countries that exist within Africa, with the exception of South Africa, have not shown any signs of leadership as they deal with their own problems. I find this to be quite contradictory because although it is true that as countries start to develop, they are better able to help themselves as well as their neighbors, I find it inherently strange that in the outcome of Africa taking charge on its responsibilities, Herbst and Mills neglect the importance of outside foreign investment and presence in Africa. Because not every country in Africa has profitable natural resources that can help spur growth domestically, regionally, and internationally, outside investment and influence should be seen as a major factor in the development of most of Africa’s countries, whether it be through other countries or NGOs. This allows for the necessary infrastructures at the domestic level of these countries to be built up enough so that societal aspects such as the presence of private sectors and a private market, as well as the diminishing of corruption and mismanagement of foreign aid can take place to allow for African countries to not have to rely on nearly as much or any foreign aid.

Looking at Herbst and Mills outcomes today, even with the development of some large African countries, particularly Nigeria, Rwanda, and Ghana, it is unrealistic for these countries to be able to promote development across the continent that would create a stable and productive Africa by 2020, largely due to acts of current terrorism that are hindering the lesser developed countries from gaining any regional or foreign investment into potential private markets that could economically stabilize the countries.



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Investment in Tanzania

I found this article interesting given some of the discussions we had at the end of class on Thursday, regarding aid vs. investment. Barclay’s Africa Group recently invested 32 billion as new capital into its branch in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The bank stated that it has confidence in the Tanzanian market and opportunities for growth. Barclay’s Africa asserts that it is committed to its “pan-African strategy and to supporting businesses in Tanzania.” Specifically, the natural resources sector and gas development are opportunities that the bank hopes to invest in and have growth.

We frequently discussed the downsides of foreign aid for the continent (e.g. mismanagement and corruption) in class, and began to touch on the potential value of investments as African countries’ economies grow. This investment is an example of confidence in Tanzania’s economy and opportunities for growth, which could serve as another positive step forward for economic development. Since Tanzania’s government is relatively stable, the country presents a good investment opportunity for foreign companies, and Tanzanian businesses will hopefully get on board too.

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An Africa-driven Future, Max Fisher Response

Africa has the largest river in the world, the largest desert in the world, an abundance of natural resources and is the second largest continent. Since mankind’s inception, Africa has rooted itself in the evolution of various countries. In The Amazing, surprising, Africa-driven demographic future of the Earth, in 9 charts, Max Fisher examines how rich countries shrink and age over time while poorer countries expand rapidly especially Africa with an unprecedented explosion. My immediate reaction to Fisher’s point was first trying to figure out how the United States could possible have a negative trend in the future. Even after the 2016 presidential election, it would take historic changes and cemented laws to stop the United States from continuing its global development. I did not agree with Fisher’s point about China not ruling the world. With all of the recent investments in Africa and other countries I could see China competing for global dominance with the United States in a bipolar system. My opinion changed slightly after considering China’s law about one child per family. While trying to fix a short term issue China could have created a long-term problem where they will be dependent on a demographically smaller working class to provide for the young and elderly.

Africa is supposed to quadruple in size and North America is one country that is also reported to continue to increase. If the population of Africa is going to increase who is coming? I can understand if climate change forces people by the coast to evacuate their land, but Africa is a huge continent. One of Africa’s biggest concerns is the official corruption. When all of the expected emigrants make their way to Africa there should be someone to keep order as more aliens make their way into the foreign native societies? Nigeria has some of the worst corruption of the continent along with poverty and religious conflict. However, Fisher argues that Nigeria will reach the level of China even at the size of Texas. One reason I believe China succeeds is because of their political composure. If Nigeria can’t figure out a solution to their domestic problems then I can’t see Nigeria reaching their projections in Fisher’s graphs.

As people from different regions start to gather and coexist, they bring illnesses. Those illnesses have historically wiped out communities of people. In order for an African driven world to survive then I assume public health will have to be superb. Fisher argues that life expectancy will increase by fifty percent in Africa. I would be amazed to see part of that development. In North America the expected life span will be 89. Technology and medicine will have advanced beyond my imagination by that point. Fisher’s most interesting point was about the “youth bulge” created that results in instability and conflict. If the world does not commit to being more generous and open to the needs of others then the future leaders of the world could be its downfall. Millennials haven’t done so badly and we are the future leaders of the world.


Fisher, Max. The amazing, surprising, Africa-driven demographic future of the Earth, in 9 charts. Washington Post, July 16, 2013.

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Addressing Domestic Issues before Venturing Internationally

Le Gabon Emergent que je vous propose sera un pays bien gouverné, respectueux des droits de tous: un pays pleinement inséré dans les réseaux mondiaux d’échanges d’idées, des biens et des capitaux…” Président Ali Bongo Ondimba

Ali Bongo Ondimba’s presidential campaign in both 2009 and 2016 focused on his goals to make Gabon an emerging power on the continent. The quote above is taken from the beginning of his strategic plans to mold Gabon into an emerging power in the region, but also outside of the continent. After reading his vision and strategies, many of them are important and if realize would help Gabon move forward. Among the most important goals Bongo Ondimba has set for Gabon in the international arena include, but are not limited to Gabon becoming “un acteur important de la paix, ainsi qu’un pionnier et un modèle de l’économie verte, assumant un role primordial dans la lutte contre le changement climatique et la promotion de l’economie verte.” These goals are valid and desirable. However, Gabon is not able to successfully accomplish these goals, nor to maintain them in the future if they were ever to occur. I would advise the leaders of Gabon, primarily the president, to put their international relations dreams on hold, and focus their energy and resources to address domestic issues such as education and combating corruption among others for Gabon to even have the chance to be consider as an emerging power house on the continent and globally.

Corruption in Gabon is not mainly defined by ethnic divisions nor simply a neo-patrimonial state. It can best be defined as a dynasty. Whether it is in government offices, businesses, and even as seen with the president of the country itself, familial ties determine the position that one will hold and their success in the country. As the recent political unrest after the first and second election of Ali Bongo Ondimba showed, the Gabonese people are tired of being ruled by a system that has privileged family ties over the well-being of its citizens. Gabonese citizens do not trust the government nor the other institutions that are supposed to help them because it is assumed that they will be most helpful only if they have a family member in the government or in these institutions. As William Sumner hypothesizes in his in-group or out-group theory, a state will not be successful internationally and citizens will not have allegiance to their government if there exist distress within the in-group. Similarly, Gabon cannot be successful internationally because of the political conflicts and high distrust of the government. Furthermore, a divided country makes Ali Bongo Ondimba less credible in the international arena because he will not be taken seriously diplomatically by other leaders since he does not have stable institutions to keep him publically accountably to his words. It is important that before Ali Bongo Ondimba even attempt to adventure Gabon into the international arena, that he first stabilize the country and actively take steps towards eradicating corruption – starting with his own family.

Gabon should prioritize paying its instructors from elementary school to the university level. When the words “Année Blanche” are put into google, Gabon is the second country that appears. An “Année Blanche” occurs when the school year is rendered void because there have not been enough classes for students to successfully finish the semester. It is a term that is often heard in Gabon because instructors strike every school year and often several times during the year because sometimes they are not paid and others they are not paid adequately. Given the corrupt system of the country, it can be predicted that among the students who have not received an adequate education, many of them will still hold high position in business companies or even in the government because of their familial ties. In the long run, the entire system will collapse because of the lack of experience diplomatically and the lack of knowledge or experience to address internal problems as well. Furthermore, each year students do not go to school nor have been employed exacerbate the countries resources because crime rates rise since there are no older alternative, but also an uneducated population cannot adequately hold the government accountable nor help the country move forward socially and economically.

In these conditions, I would advise Ali Bongo Ondimba to cultivate the positive relationships that he has harness with other countries worldwide, but to focus his strategic interests into addressing the problems of corruption and of the lack of proper education in the country, as well as diversifying natural resources for trade long term.  Without addressing these issues, Gabon will not be successful in emerging internationally, but to also grow and function as a country.

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