chapter  10
The state system and Africa’s permanent instability
ByIan S. Spears
Pages 9

Africa’s tendency toward instability is well documented. Recent scholarship has argued that African societies have “an inbuilt bias in favor of greater disorder” (Chabal and Daloz 1999: 162). But Africa’s political instability was predicted decades ago. In 1966 Aristide Zolberg reflected on the fractured nature of countries in West Africa, and the one-party states created to counter this tendency (Zolberg 1966). Then in 1967, in an essay entitled “The Inevitability of Instability”, James O’Connell argued that the combination of artificial colonial borders, economic uncertainty, and inexperienced politicians prevented incipient African states from consolidating their authority into viable and secure territories for their people to inhabit (O’Connell 1967: 181-191). Africans, of course, have proven to be capable of adapting to the circumstances in which they find themselves. But many countries have been unable to avoid instability and conflict. Unless the African state system is reconfigured in some way, states cannot be consolidated and instability will remain a permanent feature of the continent’s political life. By examining briefly colonial and post-colonial eras, this chapter will explain why stability and peace in Africa will remain elusive.