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State Building in a Rentier State: How Development Policies Fail to Promote Democracy in Afghanistan


  • Willemijn Verkoren,

  • Bertine Kamphuis

  • The authors are grateful to the three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments which helped to strengthen the article. They would also like to thank Rodrigo Bueno Lacy and Anton van Wijk for their helpful thoughts and assistance.


State building is considered to be the solution to Afghanistan's ills. State-building efforts largely aim to mirror Afghanistan to a market democracy. However, a market democracy is the outcome of specific historical and geo-graphical circumstances, and cannot be replicated easily. This article explores four models of state formation: the Western, developmental, rentier and predatory state. Afghanistan can be characterized as a weak rentier state, subsisting on aid. Generally, the structural consequences of such aid rentierism are underestimated. ‘State building’ in this context cannot be successful. More aid ‘ownership’ and a strengthening of the Afghan bureaucracy will simply consolidate aid rentierism rather than reverse-engineer a market democracy. A greater focus on economic policy is required to direct Afghanistan's rulers towards a more viable path of state formation. In this regard, the ‘developmental state’ offers some insights.