Since the periods of decolonization and the Cold War, Africa has been the site of numerous protracted conflicts. Some countries have experienced repeated cycles of violence and civil war, while other countries have headed off major conflict and maintained relative peace. What factors account for these differences? In a clear, compelling, theoretically innovative study, Philip Roessler argues that civil wars often emerge from power struggles among political elites. In fragile, ethnically divided states, powerholders have greater fear of coups d’état staged by rivals at the core than civil wars waged by excluded minorities on the periphery. As a result, powerholders in weak states are likely to incorporate potential rivals at the center in a system of ethnic power sharing and to exclude regional and ethnic minorities on the margins. While such tactics may work in the short term, ongoing rivalry at the center, compounded by political exclusion elsewhere, may eventually lead to the coup–civil war trap. In such cases, rival power aspirants may mobilize marginalized groups, with civil war as an outcome.
In Constitutions and Conflict Management in Africa, Alan J. Kuperman has assembled a diverse set of international scholars with different backgrounds ranging from Ph.D. candidates, to practitioners, to a distinguished professor emeritus. The book’s purpose is to contribute to a debate over whether “accommodation” or “integration” is the optimal constitutional design for African states (2-3). It is upfront in acknowledging that there are considerable methodological challenges to such a study, which Kuperman lists as “causal variable, outcome variables, endogeneity, omitted variables, selection effects, and degrees of freedom” (9).
International relations scholars have long recognized the importance of status concerns in motivating state behavior. However, surprisingly little work has disentangled status from its association with the distribution of power in the international system to identify clear conditions under which status dissatisfaction will be more or less salient. In this article, Joslyn Barnhart addresses both questions directly, presenting a theory which argues that humiliating events drive states’ efforts to assert their status through competitive behavior. She then supports her argument using evidence from French and German colonial expansion in Africa during the early 1880s. Importantly, these status concerns can occur regardless of the relative power between the state sender and receiver of the humiliation, and regardless of whether the states in question are rising or declining powers. In this way, Barnhart’s article contributes to a growing literature which seeks both to explain and identify the effects of variation in the salience of status insecurity in international relations.