Since the mid-1990s the UN, in tandem with major western powers, has embarked upon an ambitious effort of peace support operations in Africa. The results of what we may call the ‘Annan experiment’ are not yet in. But there are good reasons to fear that, in many African countries, such peace operations have defend normative outcomes that are beyond realistic expectation, so that they can never hope to ‘succeed’. This article examines the political and economic functioning of fragile African states using the lens of a ‘political marketplace’ in which local elites seek to obtain the highest reward for their loyalty, over short time horizons, within patrimonial systems. In such systems, political institutions are incapable of managing confect, which means that standard peacemaking efforts and peacekeeping operations do not align with domestic possibilities for settlement. To the contrary, external engagements can so distort domestic political markets that they obstruct national political bargaining and result in an open-ended commitment to peacekeeping in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan.
United Nations Security Council, ‘No exit without strategy: Security Council decision-making and the closure or transition of United Nations peacekeeping operations’, Report of the Secretary General, UN S/2001/391, New York, 20 April 2001, p. 2.
Victoria K. Holt and Tobias C. Berkman, The impossible mandate? Military preparedness, the responsibility to protect and modern peace operations (Washington DC: Henry L. Stimson Center, 2006).
World Bank Independent Evaluation Group, Engaging with fragile states: an IEG review of World Bank support to low-income countries under stress (Washington DC: World Bank, 2006).
Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart, Fixing failed states: a framework for rebuilding a fractured world (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
Simon Chesterman, Michael Ignatieff and Ramesh Thakur, ‘Conclusion: the future of state-building’, in Simon Chesterman, Michael Ignatieff and Ramesh Thakur, eds, Making states work: state failure and the crisis of governance (Tokyo: UN University Press, 2005), p. 384.
Samuel Huntington, Political order in changing societies (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968), p. 1.
Joshua Forrest, Lineages of state fragility: rural civil society in Guinea-Bissau (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2003).
Michael Schatzberg, Political legitimacy in Middle Africa: father, family, food (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001).
Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz, Africa works: disorder as political instrument (London: James Currey, 1999).
Mary Kaldor, New and old wars: organized violence in a global era (Cambridge: Polity, 1999).
Virginia Page Fortna, Does peacekeeping work? Shaping belligerents' choices after civil war (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).
The state failure and state fragility model is now coming under critique for precisely this reason. See Failures of the state failure debate: evidence from the Somali territories’, Journal of International Development 20: 7, 2008, available at www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/109866190issue, accessed 4 December 2008.and , ‘
Alex de Waal, ‘Sudan: the turbulent state’, in Alex de Waal, ed., War in Darfur and the search for peace (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).
Robert Bates, When things fell apart: state failure in late century Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
Cf. Frederic Schaffer, Democracy in translation: understanding politics in an unfamiliar culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998).
Jean-François Bayart, The state in Africa: the politics of the belly, new edn (London: Wiley, forthcoming 2009).
Achille Mbembe, On the postcolony (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).
This analysis suggests that the model developed by Kalyvas for violence in civil war is applicable to cases of institutionalized adversaries and needs revision when applied to violence in a patrimonial marketplace: see Stathis Kalyvas, The logic of violence in civil war (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
Alex de Waal, ‘The politics of destabilization in the Horn, 1989–2001′, in Alex de Waal, ed., Islamism and its enemies in the Horn of Africa (London: Hurst, 2004).
David Keen, Conflict and collusion in Sierra Leone (Oxford: James Currey, 2005).
We can note in passing that humanitarians also become drawn in to the localizing process. Because humanitarian operations and outcomes are so closely linked to the nature of violence in the political bargaining process, very senior aid officials also become experts at the minutiae of community politics in DRC and Darfur.
UN Security Council, ‘No exit without strategy’, p. 4.
International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, The responsibility to protect (Ottawa: International Development Research Centre, 2001).