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Since the early 1990s, three paradigms on the trajectory of the African state have competed for academic and policy pre-eminence: the liberal convergance paradigm which portrays African states marching inexorably towards a bright future; the ‘failed state’ paradigm which understands African states not in terms of what they are, but what they fail to be; and a third ‘neo-patrimonial’ paradigm which highlights the neo-patrimonial management strategies of elites and the attempted stabilisation of the polity through temporary alliances, ethnic coalition-building and the cynical manipulation of electoral systems and federalism. This paper argues that between the liberal convergence paradigm, the failed state narrative and neopatrimonial seamanship, important experiences that fit none of these remain unexamined. Yet the existence of alternative agendas appearing out of the ashes of war in places like Sudan, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Angola is part of a major emerging mode of illiberal state-building.

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Working paper


Refugee Studies Centre

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