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When Things Fell Apart: State Failure in Late-Century Africa (Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics) Paperback – February 18, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0521715256 ISBN-10: 0521715253 Edition: 1st
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Editorial Reviews


"Bates has laid bare the reasons that violence has been so prevalent in Africa in the late 20th century. It was not ethnic divisions, nor simply available resource wealth, though both are implicated. Rather, African states, buffeted by adverse impacts of globalization, lacked the revenues to administer their fractious societies. When predation and corruption seemed to offer greater rewards than providing stable administration, state leaders undermined their own economies, eventually provoking conflict and rebellions. Bates's compact account is rich in examples and insights, and supported by the data. He leaves us with a powerful message -- order depends on providing state leaders with the incentives to provide good governance."
-Jack Goldstone, George Mason University

"An economist who has done development work for several governments and organizations, and much field work in Africa, Bates...constructs a theory of what happened in Africa in the twilight of the 20th century, drawing on the theory of games. Rwanda, Sudan, Liberia, and Congo are his case studies as he looks at the depth of the tragedy, the logic of political order, and the foundations of the state."
Book News, Inc.

"What accounts for the economic and political collapse of so many African states since independence?...Bates argues that small government revenues in what are relatively poor states, and their heightened volatility after the mid-1970s, shortened the time horizons of politicians and lessened their incentives to act for the public good....Bates concludes that the wave of democratization of the last two decades is unlikely to promote political stability since incumbents will react to this new threat to their hold on power with more corruption and violence."
Foreign Affairs

Book Description

In When Things Fell Apart, Robert H. Bates addresses the origins of state failure in Africa in the late decades of the twentieth century. Bates plumbs the depths of the continent's late-century tragedy, the logic of political order, and the foundations of the state for explanations for these tragedies.

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Product Details

  • Series: Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics
  • Paperback: 218 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (February 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521715253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521715256
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #305,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By David Evans VINE VOICE on August 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
In this short book (174 pages of text; 139 if you skip the quantitative appendix), Bates argues that state failure stems from predation on the part of the central government. His model, to put it briefly (and inadequately), is that governments can either take revenues from the people (1) in the form of taxes while providing services (such as security) or (2) in the form of predation. As long as the benefits of the former outweigh the latter (for example, when a government is assured of staying in power for a long time), the government will maintain security. However, if the long run is less certain, the government may sacrifice steady long-term gains in favor of larger short-term gains from predation.

Bates starts with an extended, insightful exposition of this metaphor (Chapter Two). Then he characterizes the conditions that prevailed prior to collapse in many African countries in chapters three (political trends), four (bad economic policies), and five (tensions between groups in the countries). In Chapter Six he describes the state failures. The conclusion sums it up, and the appendix gives some statistical evidence (the rest of the evidence is anecdotal or - Bates's preferred term - narrative).

Overall I found the book slow reading (despite its brevity) and not as coherent as I'd have liked. The basic model is useful but I often found it unclear in the succeeding chapters how the many pieces of narrative evidence fit into the model. The clearest example of this was in Chapter Five, where three models of subnational tensions were presented followed by several examples that did not clearly fit the models.
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When Things Fell Apart: State Failure in Late-Century Africa (Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics)
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