At the urging of Oz of Mootbox
, some months ago, I downloaded a podcast
from the Cato Institute
. While listening to the podcast I was almost screaming out at the suggestion of one of the panelists. Military strategist and historian Edward N. Luttwak
suggested that African governments should be left to fail instead of being propped up by aid from developed countries. His argument, the substance of which is not exactly original, is that African states did not evolve like modern states did in Europe, and so the relationship between the people and the state in Africa
is not the same as one would find, for instance, in Western Europe and Northern America.
Peter Ekeh and the two publics
Anybody who is familiar with the literature on state and civil society in Africa would be aware of a similar analysis. Prof Ekeh wrote, in a now much-quoted article, that an average African has two publics, one was the civil public of the nation-state, while the other is the more relevant immediate group. The immediate group could be the age-grade, the hometown association or even the larger ethnic group. He argues that it is morally acceptable – and maybe even expected – that one robs the civil public of the nation-state to feed the more immediate public. Conversely, it is more of a moral hazard, and therefore more frowned upon, for one to steal from the hometown association or the age-grade association. (For more about Professor Peter Ekeh see here. To get the 1975 paper you would need a subscription, so if you would really like to have a copy leave me a message and I could try to arrange that.)
Back to Edward N. Luttwak
Mr Luttwak suggests that western governments leave failing African states to fail, arguing that that failure would lead to the growth of a more organic structure that is closer to the reality of African societies. Mr Luttwak’s mistake is that the African people of his imagining are long dead and gone; the Africans of today live in a world where there is a state, and where the state has its functions, and they are oh so well aware of that. Go to any village in western Nigeria and you would find how much of a reference point the state is, even if that reference is more about its absence and inefficiency. Ask them what they want and they would likely tell you that they would like the government to remember them, shortly after telling you that ‘ijoba o ranti wa’ (Yoruba for ‘the government does not remember us’). I might be economically liberal in many ways, but I understand the importance of a state. Just ask the directors of Lehman Brothers, or even the private-jet owning bosses of the big car-manufacturing companies in the US. The state is important, and perhaps even more so in less developed countries.
Probably the most vivid case for the importance of the state is that of the most (in)famously failed of all African states: Somalia. The problem that is the failed state of Somalia is most highlighted by piracy along its coasts. Most recently, the pirates have become much bolder and their attacks have become more frequent. For instance, the Sirius Star, one of the world’s largest oil tankers, was recently hijacked. The Economist reports:
As if to underline the point, the tanker’s capture on November 15th, with $110m of crude oil bound for America, was followed by several other hijackings by Somali pirates, including a Thai tuna boat, a Turkish chemical tanker, an Iranian freighter loaded with wheat and a Greek bulk carrier.
Still think there is no need for the state?
There is a great need to police the Somali waters, and one of the ways to do that is to strengthen the capacity of the state to police its own waters. Just so this is not taken as a call to simply equip the state with the latest warships, I hurry to add that increasing the capacity of the state should be a comprehensive approach. That approach has to include incentives to not become pirates. Job creation and the provision of basic infrastructure should be part of these incentives. While there is a need to link the two publics of Professor Ekeh, there is no over-flogging the importance of that civil public.
Hat tip to Mootbox