Beyond the Nation-State: Thinking Strategically about Sovereignty Issues in Africa

On Tuesday, February 2, the Africa Center and the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security hosted a strategy session with Dr. Pierre Englebert of Pomona College, one of the foremost American experts on African sovereignty and governance issues. This discussion will set the stage for a study the Africa Center will prepare, which will assess governance on the continent in context of complex demographic, economic, and security trends and their implication for US strategy toward the continent. The project is part of the Scowcroft Center’s Strategy Initiative.  

Scowcroft Center Deputy Director Dr. Daniel Chiu and Africa Center Director Dr. J. Peter Pham welcomed participants and introduced the discussion. 

In his presentation, Englebert introduced a new paradigm to understand African sovereignty in the context of the Westphalian-Plus model, as outlined in the 2015 Atlantic Council report “Dynamic Stability.” He stressed the importance of an Africa-specific understanding of sovereignty due to the post-colonial circumstances and juridical nature of African borders and statehood. This context has led to high rates of state failure, a lack of democracy, an absence of strong governance, and limited development. Englebert highlighted the ways sub-state and non-state actors are able to fill the void, and he addressed the contradictions, opportunities, and challenges in comparing his African model to Westphalian-Plus.

Other participants in the event included Ms. Amanda Dory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, Hon. Johnnie Carson, Senior Advisor to the President at the US Institute of Peace and former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, General Carter Ham, former Commander of US Africa Command, Hon. Mary Carlin Yates, Atlantic Council Board Director and former Senior Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council; current and former senior US officials, and other experts.