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Book Discussion -- When Things Fell Apart, State failure in late-century Africa

May 13, 2008 // 10:00am11:30am
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In the last decades of twentieth century Africa, the clownish garb of teenage killers in Liberia, the rage of mobs in Mogadishu, and the suffering of refugees in camps throughout the Continent vividly presented the necessity of political order. This was a time in African political history when governments were being overthrown by reformers, decimated by political insurgents and citizens were turning into rebels. The power of these images cried out for humanitarians and policymakers to answer why in the late twentieth-century Africa did states fail and things fall apart?

Robert H. Bates' WHEN THINGS FELL APART: State Failure in Late Century Africa [Paperback / 978-0-521-71525-6 / March, 2008 / $19.99] departs from contemporary treatments and studies on this subject. Instead of probing the motives of rebels or the nature of their organizations, Bates voices concerns such as, why would governments adopt policies that impoverish their citizens? Why would they "overextract" wealth from their domains? Why would they alter the distribution of income so grossly that it would become politically unsustainable? By examining these questions, Bates explores the ways in which incumbent regimes prepared the field for the forces of political disorder. This book covers a wide range of territory by drawing on materials from Rwanda, Sudan, Liberia and Congo. It studies the role of economic forces and offers new perspectives on ethnicity, the resource curse, and democratization, some of the central topics addressed in studies of violence.

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