The changing nature of warfare and the absence of state-building in West Africa

William Reno*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

20 Scopus citations


Accounts of war in Africa feature scenes of looting and banditry; greedy, self-interested warlords; and shadowy foreign business agents who profit from disorder. World attention to “conflict diamonds” — gems that warring groups mine and then trade for arms — has brought economic motives of warfare to a broader audience (UN 2000a). Yet mass-based protests of the kind that led to the January 2001 removal of Philippines president Estrada from power are notable in Africa for their relative absence. Even mass protests in October 2000 in Côte d'Ivoire to remove General Robert Guei from power, lauded in the international press as a sequel to the Serbian overthrow of Milosevic, upon closer examination reveal struggles for power and wealth among fairly narrow elite factions. Looting for personal profit during warfare is not unique to contemporary Africa. What is new is the extent to which economic interests appear to predominate among armed groups, the great majority of which forgo ideologically motivated reform or efforts to mobilize mass-based followings. Most wars in Africa constitute a special category of conflict. They are the consequence first of the collapse of state institutions, often several years before the appearance of widespread fighting, then the collapse of centrally organized patronage-based political networks that use armed groups to enforce discipline. This method of rule exhibits a hostility to state institutions and systematically undermines basic public order and security for citizens. This generates substantial domestic criticism and support for systemic change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationIrregular Armed Forces and Their Role in Politics and State Formation
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9780511510038
ISBN (Print)0521812771, 9780521812771
StatePublished - Jan 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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