A mathematical exploration of fractal complexity among the axioms on the African state in the Journal of Third World Studies: from John Mukum Mbaku to Pade Badru.

Author:Bangura, Abdul Karim
Position:P. 11-41 - Critical essay


This essay is a follow-up to my chapter, "The African State: An Ubuntu/Communal Paradigm," in the book titled Primer on African Studies (2011) edited by Ishmael Munene and published by Lexington Books. (1) The impetus for the book chapter and the current essay emerged from my disappointment during a meeting in Dakar, Senegal on the Pan-African State when I found scholars presenting on the African State panel to be ignorant of the works by Africans on the topic. In the book chapter, the only Association of Third World Studies (ATWS) member whose work has been developed into a full theory and I therefore included is Mueni wa Muiu--that is, her Fundi wa Afrika. (2) In the current essay, I seek to demonstrate how ATWS scholars/essays have offered substantive axioms on the African state. But I go beyond just stating what they have written. I scientifically test their axioms on the two contending positions on the African state--that is, disorder versus order (see, for example, Ayittey, 1998; South Africa Department of Foreign Affairs, 2003) (3)--using Fractal Mathematics, which is the most systematic methodology for testing for disorder and order, undergirded by Pluridisciplianry Methodology and Linguistic Presupposition as the unit of analysis. In this essay, I employ the mathematical concept of fractal dimension and Complexity Theory to explore the idea of spectrum progressing from more orderly to less orderly or to pure disorder in the texts of the authors who have written essays on the African state in the Journal of Third World Studies (JTWS). The works analyzed include from the first one on the topic written by John Mukum Mbaku (4) in the spring 1986 volume of the journal to the most recent one written by Pade Badru (5) in the fall 2010 volume. An attempt is made to determine disorder and aggregate self-organization because it appears that the combination of negative and positive feedback loops, which form the basis of several African knowledge systems, also form a key mechanism of general self-organizing systems discussed in the essays studied. But before doing all this. a synopsis on the nature of the African state is in order.

The following sobering observation by Costa Hofisi is a poignant point to begin the discussion on the nature of the African state:

Without being "pessimistic in diagnosis" and "optimistic in prescription," the African state has failed to develop despite its declared commitment and preoccupation with development. The prospects of meeting the millennium development goals (MDGs)--one of which is poverty alleviation--get dim as the year 2015 draws near, consequently making the United Nations to summon an emergency summit. The number of poor in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to rise from 314 million in 2001 to 366 million in 2015. (6) Given this grim assessment of the African state, which is a common theme among the many observers of the continent, it is only appropriate to start with the problem of defining the term state, even if the reader may feel frightened at the thought of another definition of a clearly over-defined phenomenon. The intention, however, is not to suggest a new definition, but to stress an important point: i.e., there seems to be no final definition of state, only suggestions of what it should imply.

Consequently, the concept of state should be an open one which will continue to be redefined as our knowledge of the phenomenon increases and as new problems emerge to be solved by the state. The intellectual preoccupation with the phenomenon of the state, to give it a new content and to come up with suggestions about how to promote it, is therefore part of the research process in the social sciences. When definitions of state are talked about, the effort is geared toward research orientations or foci of interests. To avoid the concept altogether would create more havoc than it solves.

To begin with, while the term state often encompasses all institutions of government or rule, ancient and modern, the modern state system reflects many characteristics that were first consolidated in Western Europe beginning in the 15th Century when the concept state also inherited its contemporary meaning. As a result, the term is often used strictly to refer to modern political systems.

In casual parlance, the words country, nation, and state are often used interchangeably. But more strictly, however, the terms can be denotatively distinguished as follows: (a) country refers to a geographical area; (b) nation refers to a people who share common customs, origins, and history, albeit the adjectives national and international also refer to matters dealing strictly with states, as in national elections, international relations; (c) state refers to a set of governing institutions with sovereignty over a definite territory.

In terms of its etymology, according to historian Douglas Harper, the term state and its cognates in other European languages--etat in French, staat in German, stato in Italian--were derived from the Latin word status, which means "condition" or "status." (7) And, as Quentin Skinner points out, the revival of the Roman law in 14th-century Europe saw the Latin term status employed to refer to the legal standing of persons such as various "estates of the realm" (noble, common, and clerical) and particularly the special status ascribed to the king. The term was also used to refer to certain Roman notions that date back to the days of Cicero (106-43 BC) dealing with the "condition of the republic" as in status rei publicae. Over time, the term continued to lose its reference to particular social groups and was applied to the legal order of the entire society with its enforcement apparatus. (8)

Another rendering of the word state is that it originated from the medieval state or regal chair upon which the monarch or the head of state would sit. Metonymically, the term state became used to refer to both the head of state and the power entity s/he represented. The two frequently quoted references of these different meanings commonly attributed to King Louis XIV of France are (1) L'Etat, c'est moi, meaning "I am the State," and (2) Je m'en vais. mais l'Etat demeurera toujours, meaning "I am going away, but the State will always remain." One can find a similar association of terms being used in referring to government as having authority: for example, as a September 17, 2008 Inter Press Service news headline written by Najum Mushtaq reads, "Kenya Parliament May Soon Consider New Abortion Rights Law." (9)

Also, according to Robert H. Jackson and Carl G. Rosberg, the term state has both an empirical (de facto) and juridical (de jure) connotation. In the empirical sense, an entity is a state if it is an organization that has a "monopoly of legitimate violence" over a specific territory, a la Max Weber (more on him and his ideas later). An often-cited example in Africa is the Somali region of Somaliland, which is an entity that imposes its own legal order over a territory even though it is not legally recognized as a state by the international community. In the juridical sense, an entity is a state in international law if it is recognized as such by the international community, even if it does not actually have a monopoly on the use of force over a territory. An example of this type of state in Africa is the Democratic Republic of Congo as it is right now. (10)

Furthermore, the concept of the state has been distinguished by Norberto Bobbio (1989) from two related concepts with which it is oftentimes conflated. One is the notion of the state as a form of government or regime such as a democracy or dictatorship that identifies a single aspect of the state: i.e., the way the highest political offices are filled and their relationships to one another. It is absent of the other aspects of the state such as the effectiveness and efficiency of the bureaucracy that may be paramount to its everyday functioning. The other notion of the state is as a form of political system which refers to the instruments of political power. (11)

Still, some scholars such as David Easton have argued that the concept state is too imprecise and loaded to be employed productively by political scientists and sociologists and, therefore, should be substituted by the more comprehensive term political system. And, according to Easton. a political system refers to a collectivity of all social structures that work together to yield biding decisions in a society. Connoting a broader concept, apolitical system would encompass the political regime, the political parties, and various other similar political bodies. (12)

In light of the preceding discussion and the focus of this essay, the following major research questions are probed: (a) What axioms of the African state are propounded by the authors of the JTWS essays? (b) Is disorder or order dominant among the axioms put forward by the authors? But before probing these questions, it behooves me to first describe the competing theories/paradigms on the state and the research methodologies that guide this essay, Thus, the essence of this paper hinges upon the fact that it is grounded on sound theoretical and methodological approaches.


In this section, I review and synthesize the many competing theories/paradigms that have been used to study the pre- and post-colonial African state in order to delineate their differences, similarities, and overlaps. This treatise regards the state from a political standpoint only, not from the juristic--sociology, as I understand the concept, being both a philosophy of history and a theory of economics. Thus, at least a synopsis should be presented about the general nature of the political theories on the state, the relationship between the state, on the one hand, and factions and fractions, and the ruling class as a whole.

As Colin Flint and Peter Taylor point out, most...

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