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Failed states and the spread of terrorism in Sub-Saharan Africa


This paper evaluates the relationship between state failure in sub-Saharan Africa and the growing presence of terrorist and insurgent groups in these states. Its concentration on this region is due to the high number of failed or weak states in it. The concentration of failed/weak states in this region is due, the author says, to the absence of nation-states (as commonly conceived) prior to the imposition of colonial boundaries and the failure of colonial and post-colonial governments to properly extend administrative authority beyond urban centres.

Whilst accepting the well-argued view that failed states are breeding grounds for political violence due to an absence of law and security infrastructure, the main hypothesis of the article is that the conditions in these states have the potential to drive individuals to resort to violent activities. This hypothesis is broken down into five hypotheses based on indicators of failed states:

(1) Where individuals feel the state does not provide adequate personal security they are more likely to hold support for the use of violence.

(2) The greater the presence of the state, the less likely an individual will participate in and hold support for political violence.

(3) The greater the authority and legitimacy of the state, the less likely an individual will participate in and hold support for political violence.

(4) When citizens are provided with tangible public goods, they are less likely to participate in and hold support for political violence.

(5) When citizens are provided with adequate protection of their private property, they are less likely to participate in and hold support for political violence.

Based on data from the Afrobarometer Survey, the research findings pointed to the absence of the public good of security, a corrupt and illegitimate state authority, lack of provision of essential public goods and the inability to protect private property as the main components of state failure that were likely to lead to support for political violence. Hypothesis (2) was not proven, as the data suggested that the opposite was the case. This finding surprised the author, who suggested that other studies have proven that ungoverned territories (places with an absence of state government) are regions with greater political violence.

The author compares these findings with an analysis of data from the (Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism) Global Terrorism Database, which demonstrated spikes in political violence around the times when post-independence governments and subsequently post-civil war peace agreements failed.

The study is important because while terrorist activity in that region was traditionally low, it predicted that this would not always be the case, as support would be growing for political violence because of the failure of states. While some of the article's opening discussion contains unsupported statements, the study and conclusions (of the support for violence, not just the absence of security apparatus, being a significant factor) are an important contribution to academic research into the causes of terrorism in failed states. In light of the 2012 attacks by Boku Haram in Nigeria - one of the countries which provided data for this study - this research will be of increased interest to those seeking to understand these potential causes.

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