Academic journal article African Studies Review

Africa's New Territorial Politics: Regionalism and the Open Economy in Côte d'Ivoire

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Africa's New Territorial Politics: Regionalism and the Open Economy in Côte d'Ivoire

Article excerpt


This paper considers implications of the neoliberal shift for forms of national integration that were achieved during the era of state-led development. These national integration strategies (1960s-1980s) helped define and manage regional competition within the juridical boundaries of the territorial state. In today's "open economy" settings, old strategies of national integration are difficult to sustain. What has emerged is a new territorial politics, which revolves around attempts to consolidate power within subunits of the state and reorder relations among them, to enforce political control within communities, and to reorder rural property rights. Côte d'Ivoire provides a case in point.


Most analysts of the worldwide economic and political liberalizations of the 1980s and 1990s assumed that the countries they studied possessed integrated national economies, spatially uniform systems of territorial administration, and systems of law and property rights that were projected evenly across the national space. When it came to questions of national integration, Netti's 1968 injunction to take the state itself as a variable was rarely heeded in literature on the political economy of economic reform. This is even true in African studies, where large literatures underscore the spatially uneven reach of both states and markets across much of the continent. In Africa and beyond, the full implications of national integration problems for the course of neoliberal economic reform, and vice versa, have yet to be fully explored.1

In Africa, market-oriented economic reform, which is taking place in a context of fiscal crisis and declining state capacity, has been associated with a series of unintended and unexpected territorial effects. The most dramatic manifestation at the national level is the resurgence of regional conflict, both inside and outside the electoral arena, and often with a heavily ethnic cast.2 At the micropolitical level, territorial conflict finds expression as land-related conflict, also ethnicized, which has emerged as a dangerous reality in regions and localities across a wide array of African countries.3 At the extreme, centrifugal forces threaten to tear territorial states into warring subnational entities or warlord-controlled fiefdoms. Côte d'Ivoire is, unfortunately, a case in point. Long taken as an exemplar of political stability and successful national integration in Africa, Côte d'Ivoire has been paralyzed since about 2001 by a standoff between virulently ethnicized, locally rooted, partisan-cum-regional divisions. The question here is why moves toward "open-economy" policies, which scale back interventionist state policies and increase the country's exposure to the world economy, have been associated with such dramatic spatial or territorial effects in Côte d'Ivoire and so many other sub-Saharan countries.4

Upsurges in regional conflict, ethnoregional conflict, and land-related conflict all challenge the territorial cohesion of African states and political systems. Explanations for these phenomena that have been proposed in the African studies literature are not fully satisfying. One basic argument is that with the dwindling of central state revenues and spending, governments can no longer dispense the patronage that once served as the glue for nation-building. This explanation is largely correct, but it is underdetermining: it does not account for the geopolitical contours of the disintegration processes, or the territorial nature of the struggles that have emerged. Other analysts have suggested that market forces are inherently centrifugal, or that retreat of the state has unleashed previously repressed tribalisms and localisms. These analyses are also unsatisfying, because they can suggest that today's regionalisme and localisms are developing in institutional and historical voids, or that they spring up where state authority is erased or where it never really penetrated in the first place. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.