Since the 1990s, states that lack the capacity to discharge their normal functions and drive forward development have been referred to as ‘fragile states’. This article focuses on Africa, which not only has the largest concentration of prototypical fragile states, but has been the focus of attention for scholars, international development agencies, and practitioners. The author reviews competing analyses of the post-colonial African state and concludes that its characteristics of weak institutions, poverty, social inequalities, corruption, civil strife, armed conflicts, and civil war are not original conditions, but are rooted in specific historical contexts. It is essential to understand both the external and internal factors of fragility if such states are to get the assistance and empowerment that they need – not only for the benefit of their impoverished citizens, but also for the sake of global peace, prosperity, and security. Ultimately, it is the citizens of the countries concerned who are responsible for determining when states are no longer fragile – not ‘benevolent’ donors and the international community, whose prime motivation for interventions supposedly to strengthen the state is to ensure that fragile states find their ‘rightful’ places in the hegemonic global order.
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