Legitimacy and Development in Africa. Pierre Englebert. Boulder:
Lynne Rienner, 2000. 244pp.
In State Legitimacy and Development in Africa, Pierre
Englebert directly links the developmental capacity of African
states to their level of legitimacy. He contends that
Africa’s overall developmental incapacity springs from
states’ illegitimacy, which he sees as endemic throughout
the continent. Similarly, the author accounts for Africa’s
successful nations by pointing to their relative legitimacy.
begins by highlighting the exogenous origin of most African
states and the concomitant disruptions of colonialism that
disconnected African peoples from their political and economic
institutions. The state structures and boundaries created
by colonial powers and post-colonial leaders bore little resemblance
to those that preceded colonialism. The states and their
leaders were therefore illegitimate, according to Englebert.
Consequently, he argues, illegitimate African leaders have
been forced to bolster their power through ineffective policies
such as rent-seeking and neo-patrimonialism.
all African countries, however, have suffered this fate.
Englebert shows that the most economically productive African
states, e.g., Botswana, Mauritius and the Seychelles, are
also the continent’s most legitimate states. Their
leadership and political boundaries, he argues, are embedded
in the history and culture of the country. Therefore,
their leaders do not need to maintain political power at the
expense of development. It is this historical legitimacy
that separates these successes from economic disasters like
the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia. Herein
lies the book’s greatest strength; while most authors
who attempt to explain African economic failure pay little
attention to the continent’s successes, Englebert’s
theory explains both success and failure in Africa as two
sides of the same coin. Legitimacy leads to success
while illegitimacy leads to failure.
comparison of the Congo and Botswana beautifully illustrates
the historical peculiarities that have given these two countries
drastically divergent paths over the last thirty years.
While civil war and a deteriorating economy have engulfed
the Congo since independence, Botswana had the highest economic
growth rate in the world from 1960 to 1985. Englebert
shows that Botswana’s massive diamond reserves alone
did not stimulate the country’s growth. Rather,
good governance and good policies allowed the Botswana government
to utilize their diamond reserves as a springboard for economic
takeoff. The Congo’s richness in diamonds, copper,
cobalt, zinc and gold has not propelled the Congo to wealth
or even stability. “If Botswana’s miracle
is one of natural resource endowment,” Englebert argues,
“then it should have been dwarfed by development in
Congo (p. 106)." Poor policies and governance in
the Congo did not allow that to happen.
what explains these distinct paths? Again, Englebert
argues that legitimacy is the crucial difference. While
Belgian colonial leaders carved out the Congo with no concern
for local political and cultural realities, Botswana’s
limited form of colonial rule did far less damage to its political
and social continuity. This continuity, or legitimacy,
has enabled Botswana to escape the “politics of illegitimacy”
so common throughout Africa (p. 97).
furthers his argument with an impressive, though at times
esoteric, quantitative analysis of the effects of legitimacy
worldwide on development. He uses a variety of statistical
methods to show the correlation between state capacity (i.e.
good governance and good policies) and economic growth.
While Englebert understands that legitimacy is not the only
determinant of development, he clearly believes that it plays
a crucial role.
work fits within the existing literature on the state in Africa
and political economy. Thus, his argument is heavily
grounded in the theories of Crawford Young and Peter Ekeh,
both of whom stress the imported nature of the African state,
and those who have analyzed the ineffective policies of African
leaders, such as Catherine Boone and Robert Bates.
the most unique aspect of this book lies in Englebert’s
conclusion that the sanctity of the African state must be
questioned. If Africa’s intrinsic defect is its
preponderance of illegitimate states, Englebert asks, why
doesn’t the international community reconsider state
boundaries in Africa? Initially, this sounds far-fetched
and radical. Perhaps Englebert does go too far here.
The re-arrangement of state boundaries anywhere, let alone
in as ethnically diverse and politically complex a place as
Africa, would be fraught with myriad problems. Should
the many Tswana-speakers in South Africa become assimilated
into Botswana, for instance, or would this simply undermine
Botswana’s successes? Clearly, the problem is
not simple. But, as Englebert points out, Somalia, Congo
and other African states have already unraveled and others
are bound to follow. Holding fully to the sanctity of
illegitimate borders makes as little sense as carelessly ridding
the continent of those boundaries.
Englebert’s work draws from the political economy literature,
political scientists and development workers will find the
book to be of great interest. Africanist historians will also
see the merit of his work, as it is, fundamentally, a historical
argument of development and underdevelopment. This book’s
combination of rigorous analysis and clear prose make it a
wonderful addition to the present literature on African affairs.