Pasts and Futures: The African State since the 1950s and into the 21st Century

Conveners: Nicholas Githuku (West Virginia University, Morgantown, USA);
e-mail:, Dr. Robert Maxon (West Virginia University, Morgantown, USA; e- mail:

The end of the imperial epoch and the messy process of decolonization inaugurated the creation of African quasi states. The end of European imperialism paved the way for the successor United Nations state system in a new world scarred by international war and polarized along ideological lines. The trajectory of decolonization fundamentally was fundamentally affected by the atmosphere of the Cold War. The Cold War complicated Africa’s integration into the global political economy to which it was a marginal appendage. Notwithstanding the fact that African colonial states were shallow seedbeds that were somewhat prematurely graduated and recognized as “modern states,” some African states among them the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Mozambique, became sites of destabilizing proxy wars. Others yet were, for decades, buttressed by either Washington, DC or Moscow and would soon show signs of weakness after
1989.Whatever international posturing taken during the Cold War by African states, it is an undeniable fact that many failures of state-building in these modern states was hidden by the prevalent ideological bipolar atmosphere. It is undeniable that both sides of the Cold War were involved in not only propping up regimes but, also, the African state in effect by so doing. In the
1980s, while USA and Britain were undertaking major economic policy direction dubbed Reaganomics and Thatcherism, the Bretton Woods institutions were administering Structural Adjustment Policies. Neoliberal economics made the control of resources critical and contributed to the opening up of political space, which was, in some countries, accompanied by instability. To this was added another destabilizing development in the shape of the wave of democratization that swept across the continent in the early 1990s, itself emanating from the end communism regimes in Eastern Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union. It is also important to point out the NGO Revolution that started in the 1990s, its dramatic impact on new states especially with regard to state power. The story of African despite all this has remained more or less the same: endowed with vast mineral resources, Africa still lags behind developed countries. This panel invites papers that examine the continent’s checkered past in the last fifty years or critically analyze its prospects especially in light of China, which is significant player in the continent’s political and economic prospects as the 21st century unfolds.