The Redistributive State and Conflicts in Africa

Journal article

Azam, Jean-Paul (2001) The Redistributive State and Conflicts in Africa, Journal of Peace Research 38 (4): 429–444.

This article argues that ethnic problems are only one aspect of political violence in Africa, while violent conflicts must be considered a failure of the state to perform some of its fundamental tasks. State formation in Africa is a transition process starting from an institutional endowment of ethnic division. Ethnic capital in Africa ensures the provision of many of the services that a modern state has taken over in rich countries, e.g. security, education, norms of behaviour. Few African states can deliver all these services adequately, and must go through an initial phase of federation of ethnic groups before they can provide a credible substitute for ethnic capital. The system of redistribution within and among groups is the key to creating the solidarity links between them, and its breakdown is liable to trigger political violence. A formal game-theoretic model is presented which brings out the impact of redistribution on rebellious activity, as well as the crucial role of the ability of the government to commit credibly to its expenditure policy. Without this, there is no redistribution taking place in equilibrium, and large amounts of resources are invested in warring. Civil wars, or other forms of political violence, are thus an integral part of the political economy of Africa.

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