Africa: Unity, Sovereignty, and Sorrow

In This Review

Africa: Unity, Sovereignty, and Sorrow
By Pierre Englebert
Lynne Rienner, 2009
310 pp. $26.50
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Africa is home to several states that have either collapsed entirely or become so weak that they are unable to undertake most of the tasks associated with statehood. And yet, rather strikingly, these states endure. This resilience is the puzzle that Englebert tackles with great theoretical verve and erudition. His key insight is that controlling the central state is valuable -- and literally, too -- to political actors, because they can parlay it into the right to regulate and tax. Moreover, the value and legitimacy of this sovereignty are actually heightened in times of chaos, because people view the state and its institutions as the last rampart holding back a Hobbesian hell. Englebert's arguments are perhaps less relevant to the dozen or so African states that are performing reasonably well, but they provide great insight into the others. His impressive command of the empirical material helps, and the book is enlivened by arresting case studies and original data.