In this sprawling inquiry into why several dozen low-income countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, collapsed and why some of them subsequently recovered, Mills finds more answers in domestic politics than in international factors. In most of these “walking societies”—a term Mills coins to describe places where people walk everywhere, which he sees as an indication of inefficiency—dysfunctional political systems led to crises, and only effective national-level leadership and viable governing coalitions could chart a path back to stability. Mills argues convincingly that although outsiders and foreign aid can help, without local resolve, such assistance is mostly wasted. On the other hand, Mills acknowledges that absent an external force, dysfunctional political systems can persist for decades, at a huge cost to local populations. The book is impressive in its mastery of the histories of so many countries and is clearly based on a significant amount of fieldwork. But Mills says too little about how and why good governance emerges in the first place.
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