The debates of state failure are essentially concerned with the relationships with patterns of authority, political control, and institutional building. The conception of a state failure or collapse must begin with an understanding of what constitutes an independent state, and what constitutes a failed or collapsed state. Therefore, an analysis of state failure in the independent African states requires a thorough sense of configurations of the changing political power in the continent and beyond. In case of independent African states, the most theoretical explanation of the collapse and failure is attributed to unfavorable governance. Unfavorable governance relates to the use of power for interests of the persons at positions of authority at the expense of the citizens. What is less well-known is that following this aspect of unfavorable governance,  Africa's prospects have slowly changed over the past decade or so. Most of the independent African governments have failed with their economies and politics lagging behind.

In the African context, failure is invoked in the following senses. These are the failure to control the available resources so that optimal production can be realized and the failure of citizens to flourish. In the first sense of control, the failure of a state is understood in terms of the inability of the state institutions to control actors and processes within the territory of a nation. Therefore, the government of a failed state cannot be able to control its territorial regions; however, the extent of this kind of failure can be measured by the extent of the geographical expanse, which is controlled by the government. Technically, this implies that without these institutional controls being solidified, the bigger the nation is, the higher the likelihood of failure of the state because resources will not be fully utilized. The other meaning of a failed state is its failure to promote well-being of citizens. This form of failure is applied to highlight the ways in which states fail because of lack of capacity or political will, as well as failure to provide public goods to the citizens. They favor other segments instead. An example of other segments is the emphasis on the investment into sectors and industries that favour the leaders themselves.

Understood in the two senses, state failure in African sovereign countries is a widespread phenomenon based on the conception of statehood. Boahen states that Africa was exceedingly modernizing just as other regions of the world before the empowerment of the colonial rule in the 19th century (2). In addition, Boahen argues that Africans would have followed Japanese model of independence and modernization. Nevertheless, since 1985, historians became more aware of the difficult situations that the African regimes faced in the late 19th century when they made an attempt of self-strengthening on their own (99).

Causes of State Failure in Independent Africa

There is  no easy way of understanding the causes of state failure of independent African countries. However, there are certain relevant distinctions that can be made. The first distinction is concerned with the failed states and lack of relevant capacities. Such countries failed to promote the interests of all their inhabitants through political choice with the intention of benefiting the current governance (Ba, 12). The second distinction points at the differences between structural and contingent causes of state failure. In the structural category, there are three main arguments. For instance, the idea of statehood has been observed not to have taken roots across all African states as a result of the local conditions. Some of those conditions include the illiteracy levels that were very high among the locals as well as their reluctance to change their culture to embrace the new culture of statehood. The next is the structural argument that revolves around the challenges posed by the political geography, especially resources and environmental factors.

The third structural argument pertains to the concept of the human dilemma that is used to explain how security dilemma elucidates the fear of an ungoverned future. Human dilemma implies that humans in these nations do not know which way to follow, whether to stick to the old traditional forms of governance or embrace the spirit of statehood. It can propel the actors within states to quicken the collapse of central governments once the public order begins to erode and a condition of domestic anarchy seems likely to emerge. However, historians have identified various contingent causes of states failure in Africa. The most cited factors refer to the impact of unfavorable leadership, predatory actors of warlords, unsuitable economic policies, unfavorable environments, and poor neighbors.

Failed states have raised many challenges for the parties concerned about the implications of the threats, and the impacts on the citizens who have to endure life within. Although state failure does not only concern Africa, the issue is more rampant in the continent. African states experience numerous issues, such as transnational security problems, emergence of weapons of mass destruction, crimes, diseases, hunger, illiteracy, energy crisis, and regional instability. Historians should have a closer look at the colonialism period in order to understand the history of the failed states in the independent Africa. In this period, the Europeans did not bestow much on Africa, but their kind of leadership could remain. However, after the colonialism, incompetent leadership destroyed the states. Cooper (2) asserts that in the early 19th century the colonial rule choked Africa for the narrowness of the pathways it created.

The Best Time for Historians to Study Failed African States

For many years, the leaders have considered only external factors, such as the colonial legacies, the unjust international economic system, and the predatory practices of international corporations to provide an explanation of the reasons of the state’s failure, as well as miserable performance of the economic system of the African continent. Historians should make a close analysis of all factors, both external and internal, to arrive at a tentative solution to the effects of failure of the states, and to provide viable remedies suitable to combat the situation. Today, the main hindrance to economic growth and development in Africa is the tendency to blame the outside forces for the failures and shortcomings.

During the 1960’s, the future of independent African states looked bright. During the first half of the 19th century, Africa achieved a considerable improvement in terms of political, cultural, and economic development. In the early 1950’s, there were uncertainties of political transition, and during 1960’s Africa was entirely free from colonialism and the governments had the potential of being  more responsive in order to deal with the client’s needs. Between the 1960 and 1973, African countries recorded more rapid growth than the first half of the century. During this epoch, the growth and composition of the African states could be distinguished from other regions as there were geographically different circumstances in South Asia. African nations recorded political and economic self-determination, which seemed to be reciprocally increasing. However, the situation reverted during 1970’s characterized with political and economic deterioration. Historians understand that times from the 1970’s to 1990’s were a disaster for the independent African states. The period was characterized by poor living standards, nearly all Africans lived under dictatorship, and many more lived and survived during brutal wars (Fanon, 23).

It should be taken into consideration that the prospects of the independent African states have changed radically over the past decade (Kenyatta, 23). Across Africa, economic growth rates have been positive since the late 1990’s. It should be understood that there was an improvement not only in the economy but also in politics because a majority of independent countries held multiparty elections for the first time since the post-independence period in 1960’s. Even though economic growth rates of the independent African states still fall beyond Asian economic growth levels, steady economic growth that most African countries experienced has been received as good news despite the previous decades of despair. Therefore, historians should provide answers for the strategies that should be employed by the African states to improve the economies of their countries, as well as the economic well-being of their citizens.


Boahen (62) claims that African states should accept the European system of government in order to improve the economies and become veritable sovereign countries. The main reason for this decision is that most of the tribes, which accepted the European rule as a part of an irresistible order, brought many benefits. This supports the thesis statement of this essay that African countries will continue to fail and become racked with conflicts unless the leaders agree on the best way to govern their territories. This will enhance ethnic justice and democracy, which are the cornerstones of any government to succeed economically.

Order now

Related essays