Negotiating Statehood: Dynamics of Power and Domination in Africa


  • Tobias Hagmann,

    1. is a lecturer at the Department of Geography, University of Zürich and a fellow with the Rift Valley Institute (email: He has researched resource conflicts, local and state politics in the Ethio-Somali borderlands and maintains a strong interest in the political sociology of the state, critical conflict research and development studies. He is the co-editor (with Kjetil Tronvoll) of Contested Power: Traditional Authorities and Multi-party Elections in Ethiopia (Brill, forthcoming).
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  • Didier Péclard

    1. is senior researcher at the Swiss Peace Foundation (swisspeace) in Bern and lecturer in political science at the University of Basel (email: He has worked and published extensively on Christian missions and nationalism as well as on the politics of peace and transition in Angola. As a fellow of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North–South, his current main research focus is on the dynamics of statehood in societies after violent conflicts.
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  • The authors have contributed equally to writing this article as well as editing the volume of which it is a part, and should thus both be considered ‘first authors’. We would like to thank Jean-François Bayart, Christine Bichsel, Bettina Engels, Gregor Dobler, Peter Geschiere, Markus V. Hoehne, Urs Müller, Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, Timothy Raeymaekers, Klaus Schlichte, Ulf Terlinden and the anonymous reviewers of Development and Change for helpful comments in refining our argument. We are particularly grateful to Martin Doornbos for his stimulating insights and editorial advice in the preparation of the volume. Earlier versions of this article were presented at a number of academic gatherings, most importantly the AEGIS European Conference on African Studies in Leiden in July 2007. Didier Péclard acknowledges the support of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research North–South (NCCR North–South).


This article, which forms the introduction to a collection of studies, focuses on processes of state construction and deconstruction in contemporary Africa. Its objective is to better understand how local, national and transnational actors forge and remake the state through processes of negotiation, contestation and bricolage. Following a critique of the predominant state failure literature and its normative and analytical shortcomings, the authors identify four key arguments of the scholarly literature on the state in Africa, which concern the historicity of the state in Africa, the embeddedness of bureaucratic organizations in society, the symbolic and material dimensions of statehood and the importance of legitimacy. A heuristic framework entitled ‘negotiating statehood’ is proposed, referring to the dynamic and partly undetermined processes of state formation and failure by a multitude of social actors who compete over the institutionalization of power relations. The article then operationalizes this framework in three sections that partly conceptualize, partly illustrate who negotiates statehood in contemporary Africa (actors, resources and repertoires); where these negotiation processes occur (negotiation arenas and tables); and what these processes are all about (objects of negotiation). Empirical examples drawn from a variety of political contexts across the African continent illustrate these propositions.