Formal democratic state institutions will not by themselves generate substantive . . . and sustained democracies without the support of, and accountability to, pluralist, informed and well organized non-governmental associations . . . The decision by civil society organizations to relegate to themselves the function of overseeing state’s performance in the important areas of economic development and good governance project is a source of major conflict and antagonism between the state and civil society organizations (Udogo 2007: 130).

This article will examine the perspective predominantly utilized (exemplified by the above quote) by civil society theorists in reference to the World’s Most Troubled Continent. The theoretical discourses concerning the woes of Africa have focused a great deal on civil society as a dimension of governance potentially capable of addressing the failures of African states over the past half-century of independence (Shraeder 2005; Hyden 2006; Harbeson, Rothchild, and Chazan 1994; Makumbe 1998; Crawford 1994; Udogo 2007; DeLue 2009; Friedman 2005; Hall and Trentmann 2005; Patterson 2007). A generalized working definition of civil society as those non-state civic elements which challenge and cooperate with the state, a classic tenet of traditional Western political thought, has expanded and deepened to the extent that it now includes virtually all non-state elements; it has become a catchall term brought out to legitimize everything from international NGOs, to transnational terrorist networks, to local individualized civic action (Adekson 2004; Ricther 2006; Thorn 2006; Oyugi 2004) . Myriad international and local organizations have found themselves categorized as civil society, often due to the simple fact that they are not state entities. While different scholars have collectively identified a spectrum of definitional scopes, they have virtually all utilized the perspective provided by the ‘state-society’ dichotomy that holds a central role in civil society theory.

However, this article will argue that a shift in the internationally recognized location and utility of sovereignty necessitates a new wave of civil society theory that transcends the ‘state-society’ perspective. The age of humanitarianism and internationalism that followed the Second World War are gradually removing the traditional international recognition of sovereignty as the right to non-intervention that rested solely with the state, and instead transposing sovereignty onto the individual. Sovereignty has been decomposed, so that it now entails capacity, legitimacy, and responsibility, three dimensions that can be shared by multiple actors, rather than existing exclusively (Bacik 2008; Deng and Lyons 1998; Von Rooy 2004; Krasner 2005). The theoretical reconceptualization of sovereignty that has occurred effectively challenges the assumption upon which traditional civil society literature was founded: that the state exists as the sole guarantor of sovereignty on the international stage, and that civil society therefore exists mainly as a civic counterbalance to state sovereignty (Hegel; Locke 1689; Hobbes 1651; De Tocqueville 1835; Harbeson 1994). This assumption, in combination with the historic state formation process in Africa, has resulted in a current body of civil society literature that suffers from a flawed adherence to the ‘state-society’ perspective. This perspective has limited our ability to understand the actions and abilities of civil society in areas where state capacity is most lacking. For example, in the Eastern DRC, the state does not have the capacity to exercise any type of authority. In this area, therefore, it is problematic to view the actions of local civic elements from a ‘state-society’ perspective. This perspective provides only a partial picture of non-state agents, such as militias and international peacekeepers. Instead, scholars need to identify the true location of sovereignty and authority within the region, and subsequently examine the flows of power and legitimacy that occur. Since these flows occur mostly between local individuals and global agents, such as MONUC (the UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo) in the DRC, the utilization of a ‘state-society’ perspective has limited our ability to prescribe effective governance solutions.

The article will first examine the scope of the ‘state-society’ perspective in civil society literature. It will be argued that two factors dictated that the literature followed this perspective: the Western roots of the concept, and the state formation process in Africa that catalyzed conflict between state and society in many regions. However, in certain regions, as Herbst argues, populations exist outside of the reach of state institutions (Herbst 2000). In these regions, a focus on the ‘state-society’ dichotomy has rendered most civil society literature inapplicable.

Unfortunately, these areas are often those most in need of development. Once the scope of the perspective has been identified as comprehensive in civil society literature, the article will examine the international reconceptualization of sovereignty that has occurred since 1960. Once a Westphalian concept used to justify the infant state system in Africa, sovereignty is now regarded as having expanded to include the distinct, yet interwoven, dimensions of capacity, legitimacy, and responsibility. Furthermore, it is regarded as a fluid abstract that can be shared and traded between various agents of governance. This reconceptualization greatly diminishes the role of states in regions where state capacity and influence are minimal to non-existent. The theoretical acknowledgement by the international community that sovereignty no longer exists exclusively within the state realm now necessitates a parallel acknowledgement by the civil society body of literature. Civil society literature must reflect a study of the relationship between those agents that compete for and share sovereignty, rather than assuming that this relationship operates exclusively between state and nonstate, a minimalist perspective at best.

The article will conclude with a brief discussion of the potential implications for civil society theory that reflects the new sovereignty dynamic rather than the ‘statesociety’ dynamic. The author argues that the new sovereignty dynamic can be characterized by the flows of power that occur through norms and financial aid. As such, future research should examine the flows of power that occur between local elements and the greater international community as a whole. Further research can focus on the barriers to cooperation between these two realms of governance, and thereby contribute to development theory in an empirically sound manner.


As a body of literature, African civil society theory finds minimal collectivity. Since African states became independent in 1960, scholars have attempted to demarcate a specific role for ‘civil society’ in an increasingly crowded political arena (Harbeson, Rothchild, and Chazan 1994; Makumbe 1998; Young 1994; Ferguson 2006; Bratton 1994; Florini 2000; Friedman 2005; Giovanni 2004; Oyugi 2004; Ngosi 2006). Originally a Western concept that dates back to the days of Aristotle, civil society had been generally understood as the collective non-state civic elements that exist within a state’s territory. The term underwent a rebirth within an African context after the newly independent states suffered from a failure to consolidate authority and power (Shraeder 2004). For this reason, African civil society literature retained the original state-society perspective. This article does not universally discredit the ‘state-society’ perspective; in fact the author holds that it remains an appropriate and viable context in which to examine how certain societies have reacted to state repression and exploitation. However, the African continent is large, and levels of state capacity vary spatially (Herbst 2000). In those areas, such as the Eastern DRC, Somalia, Sudan, and Chad, where state capacity and authority are virtually non-existent, it makes little sense to examine civic action from the traditional perspective. This section will examine the state-society perspective in civil society literature, and argue that it remains predominant.

Scholars such as Aristotle, Hobbes, and Locke utilized the term as a means of differentiating between state institutions and social organizations that involve themselves in the governance process. As such, the initial civil society theorists utilized the concept in order to examine and debate the relationship between the state and the society that exists within the state’s territory. A review of traditional civil society literature will elucidate the state-society perspective in which traditional civil society literature rests.

The traditional Western concept of civil society can be traced to the work of Hobbes, who postulated the existence of a civitas, or commonwealth, whereby each individual mutually and voluntarily agrees to give up their personal quest for self-preservation through the appointment of a sovereign ruler or assembly charged with protecting a collective security (Hobbes 1651). Through the development of Hobbes’ commonwealth individuals collectively define the principles and norms of governance, so that the state exists as an inferior entity that holds obligations to society . Essentially, Hobbes views the state as a creation by a loosely defined civil society that serves the purpose of collectively protecting individuals from a demonic human nature. Locke postulated a clearer separation between society, as those living collectively under a popular consent, and civil society, which is inherently involved in the constant activity of defining purposes and structures of both society and the state . Locke envisioned a clearly defined civil society that retains sovereignty and serves to protect society as a whole from state abuses of power . While Locke clearly serves as the antithesis to the basic principles of Hobbes, the differences between the two serve to effectively define boundaries of state-society relationships as understood long before the era of globalization.

Many other liberal Western philosophers attempt to define civil society through its relationship with the state. Both Keane and Ferguson argue that a centralized state challenges the important sovereignty of civil society, and therefore it is the role of civil society to defend against such impositions. Likewise, de Tocqueville argued that the best way to defend against centralized state power was through a “plurality of interacting, self-organized and constantly vigilant civil associations.” Conversely, Hegel (taking an economic standpoint) argued that the inherent conflictual nature of civil society necessitated the regulation of a state . Hegel, who represents the most commonly used basic understanding of civil society, defines civil society as the realm between family and the state which mediates private interests across kinship groups. This definition does not differ significantly from that of Locke, however Hegel deepened the definition, arguing that although civil society exists distinctly from the state it is dialectically joined through a reciprocal relationship . Rousseau’s analysis of civil society also deepened the definitional scope set forth by Locke and Hobbes. Rousseau felt it necessary to examine the initial precipitation and development of civil society. Rousseau retains a distinction between society, civil society, and the state, whereby civil society serves as the intermediary (Rousseau 1762).

Clearly traditional civil society literature provided an effective discourse for understanding the relationships and flows of power between state and society in the Westphalian state system. Towards the end of the Soviet Union this discourse was essentially reinvented by Africanist scholars in order to examine the civic potential for governance on a continent where the state system had failed to provide wellbeing to individuals. The historic and theoretical developments occurring at the time dictated that civil society theory reemerged within the same ‘state-society’ perspective that original civil society theory utilized. This provided an effective tool for the analysis of state-society relations, however it partially co-opted analysis of civic development on the continent.

Firstly, many scholars argued that civil society fit within an African cultural context (Rothchild 1994; Makumbe 1998). Prior to colonization, African societies did not feature civil society as identified in Western constructs, but did feature a prominent role for general civic participation (Shraeder 2004). In many African societies major decisions were not made without widespread consultation and consensus-building . However, as Makumbe astutely points out, the hereditary nature of seats of governance in most African kinship groups did not necessitate a role for society in choosing leaders. Furthermore, as discussed below, the intrinsically African consensus-building nature of governance facilitated an inherent lack of an opposition role for civil society . Therefore, the civic participation indigenous to African culture varied significantly from that of Western culture. Still, scholars found optimism in the civic participation present in many pre-colonial Western societies (Harbeson 1994).

Secondly, the repression of civic expression that the colonial powers and post-independence states perpetrated cast a ‘state-society’ perspective on the discourse of African development, which faulted the repression of civic elements by colonial and post-independence regimes for the continent’s governance problem (Clapham 2002; Dunn 2003; Udogo 2007; Patterson 2007; Shraeder 2004; Hyden 2006; Thorn 2006). The historical experience and development of civil society in Africa differs greatly than that of most Western nation-states. The colonial era in Africa was characterized by general repression and exploitation of civic expression. Whereas the ideal Western society developed in a reciprocal relationship with the state, in African societies foreign colonialists and authoritarian regimes systemically repressed any political expression or semblance of civic organizations, for fear of their potential role in opposition. During colonialism the colonizers essentially restructured the African political system in such a way that Africa was reinvented as ‘the subordinated other.’ The colonizers dominated socio-political domains, effectively transforming them through Western medians, and consequently the political space of society was suppressed. “The radical reordering of political space imposed by the colonial partition deconstructed potential civil societies.” Additionally, the accompanying “framework of domination and state hegemony” was transferred from the colonialist to nationalists so that even in immediate post-colonial Africa there remained little political space for a civil society to emerge.

Clearly, colonial and authoritarian repression of civic expression undermined the ability of any formal Western mold of civil society to form in Africa. However, civic expression certainly existed. Makumbe argues that in many colonial regimes African societies developed “seemingly apolitical” groups as a result of the suppression of political space available to society; these groups avoided any ostentatious political role or even desire. They often allowed for covert political organization however, and Makumbe holds that they were instrumental in facilitating collective resistance to the oppression of colonialization . In the terminal colonial years somewhat competing forces existed. Repression of civic expression precipitated a certain amount of backlash, especially as societies across the continent became increasingly frustrated with the status quo.

Group activity under the paternal tutelage of mission churches, colonial corporations, and ethnic associations was seen as harmless and thus was more easily tolerated. But in the terminal colonial years the tutelary surveillance relaxed, and associational activity expanded with remarkable vigor. If one defines civil society by its organizational life, one might suggest that the decolonization era was its golden age.

Following the end of colonial rule many African states experimented for a number of decades with various socialist models, almost all of which manifested themselves in corrupt authoritarian rule (Shraeder 2004; Hyden 2006). The collapse of the USSR coincided with the cumulative failure of these authoritarian regimes, a collapse under economic strain that was further facilitated by a variety of coups and rebel militia activities. State centralization increasingly began to prove a failure in the 1970s and 1980s. Economic decline deepened, and the state proved unable to provide basic social functions. The state was unable to redistribute wealth, and systems of kleptocracy plundered revenue and funneled it into personal bank accounts. In the DRC this basic inability became compounded by the copper and oil shocks in the 1980s (Shraeder 2004). Civic expression in DRC first became apparent in the vanguard lead of student organizations and religious organizations. According to Shraeder, student organizations and the Catholic Church provided increasingly public opposition to Mobutu, which facilitated enhanced civic opposition. Throughout the continent such organizations played a crucial role in empowering the consciousness of the citizenry. At the same time, popular expression became increasingly militaristic (Pears 2004; Adekson 2004).

Many scholars postulated that the general discontent of African peoples, largely manifest in military activity, indicated the presence of a space available for civic participation. Essentially, this argument was predicated on the thesis that repression of civic expression by years of colonial and authoritarian rulers had not destroyed the space available for expression, but rather translated the means of this expression into primarily militaristic methods. The protection of this space, therefore, would allow for civic expression in the form of civil society, which would in turn precipitate democratic reforms (Harbeson, Rothchild, Chazan, Young 1994).

This continued examination has yielded a variety of complementary and contrasting concepts; however, virtually all of the discourse regarding civic expression in Africa has occurred within the ‘state-society’ perspective that has become theoretical baggage carried by the term civil society. This perspective has provided significant contribution towards understanding the possible avenues for civic expression in areas where the state has held the capacity to influence the lives of daily citizens. Due to its popularity, civil society theory has often been regarded as the primary means through which theorists examine localized, civic action in Africa. However, the state formation process and the Eurocentric legacies of civil society theory that presupposes state capacity have combined to effectively cripple our current understanding of civic expression in those areas on the continent where state capacity does not exist, such as the Eastern DRC, Somalia, or the Darfur region of Sudan.

The subsequent inadequacy of civil society literature in areas that lack state capacity and authority becomes manifest in two main ways. First, rather than acknowledging the explicit and exclusive relationship between local civic actors and international institutions and organizations (the collective international community), civil society theorists have co-opted the global into existing civil society theory, thus creating a “transnational” or “global civil-society” (Florini 2000; Ferguson 2006; Von Rooy 2004; Friedman 2005; Karns 2004; Oyugi 2004; Richter, Berking and Muller-Schimd 2006; Thorn 2006). This perspective maintains the state-society dichotomy, thus understating the flows of power that occur between local and global non-state elements. Second, the merging of local and global civic elements has resulted in NGOs and international organizations being treated as synonymous with civil society. This conceptualization is problematic, because it fails to acknowledge that NGOs often do not reflect any localized civic will or interest. Especially concerning areas of minimal state capacity, scholars must maintain the term civil society for localized interests, rather than allowing one non-state element (NGOs) to speak for and represent a very different non-state element (localized civic action). In these areas, a distinction from state entities is not particularly useful in understanding political dynamics, however a distinction between local civic action and global non-state intervention will provide a more empirically sound concept of political relationships and civic development capacity.

In order to understand the theoretical means through which certain states in Africa have lost the ability to explicitly influence their internal populations, we must examine the evolution of sovereignty as a concept. This evolution largely discredits the supremacy of the state-society perspective in African civil society literature, since it has effectively removed sovereignty from state dimenentities in favor of transposing sovereignty and authority onto those non-state elements that hold capacity, legitimacy, and responsibility, the three main dimensions of ‘new sovereignty theory.’


While civil society theorists have maintained the state-society perspective of traditional literature, the theoretical conceptualization of sovereignty has evolved drastically since Westphalia. Like civil society, sovereignty as a theory dates back to traditional Western political thought. Bodin and Hobbes stand as the original scholars within sovereignty literature (Elian 1979). However, the concept has evolved since that time. Originally sovereignty was defined as the exclusive right to non-interference held by territorially- bounded states (Bodin 1576; Hobbes 1651; Arlinghaus 1984; Kratochwil 1985; Elian 1979; Klein 1974). It represented a collective attempt, through the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, by the international community to address the anarchic nature of global politics through ensuring an international system of order. As a concept, it represented international recognition of exclusivity of authority within a delineated territory, held by the rulers and government institutions of that territory, as representatives of the general population that inhabited it. “During the historical development of human society, sovereignty appeared alongside the emergence of the State as a social-political phenomenon and an attribute of the State. The definitions which have been given to this concept have, for a long time now, converged in a mutual assessment: sovereignty means the independence and supremacy of the State” (Elian 1979: 1).

Sovereignty, therefore, was granted both by the international community, which recognized and respected the right to nonintervention, and the internal population, which granted the state institutions and leaders representative rights to rule and enforce law. Traditional sovereignty, therefore entails both an internal and external dimension, both well-documented within sovereignty literature (Karns and Mingst 2004; Hyden 1996; Deng 1996; Rousseau 1762).

The more recent “erosion” of sovereignty has also been well documented. This socalled erosion represents a reduction in sovereignty held by states, as alternate forms of governance have increased nonstate share in sovereignty. For example, the norm of humanitarian intervention by the international community signifies that states unable to ensure order within their territory effectively surrender their sovereign right to non-intervention (Annan 1999). In these scenarios, sovereignty is not eroded in the sense that it becomes lost, but rather certain actors step in to share the sovereign responsibilities that the state is unable to perform exclusively (Krasner 2005; Bacik 2008). Sovereignty evolved to entail three main dimensions, all of which include both internal and external elements:

  1. Legitimacy;
  2. Capacity;
  3. Responsibility.

First, the power to rule necessitates a legitimacy in the eyes of two groups, the external international community of sovereign rulers, and the internal population of citizenry. Therefore, in order to obtain sovereignty, state institutions must hold legitimacy both internally and externally. Legitimacy has always been a central dimension to the sovereignty discourse; however, scholars continue to evaluate the changing ways through which legitimacy is achieved and lost. Von Rooy developed an important demarcation of legitimacy transactions, in which she argues that claims to legitimacy must be based firstly upon “meaningful representation” (Von Rooy 2004: 67). The legitimacy dimension of sovereignty therefore necessitates “acceptance of representation” (Von Rooy 2004: 68). As such, localized populations maintain a significant role in this dimension of sovereignty1. From this perspective, civil society cannot exist or achieve legitimacy without originating and operating from a very low level within Africa. Global civil society theorists tend to equate NGOs with civil society, since on the global stage they are the most prominent non-state actors in governance. However, especially in Africa these NGOs are often not representative of the locals for which they advocate, and so a distinction must be made. Global actors receive legitimacy when they have the capacity to reach and empower local movements in areas of failed state capacity. International actors, therefore, can achieve legitimacy through the accurate reflection of local interests. However, it is extremely important to remember that this legitimacy can only be granted by the localized population. It is also important to note that the state simply represents a single entity in a complex web of international governance capable of achieving local legitimacy.

Secondly, sovereignty implies a certain level of capacity. This dimension follows logically from legitimacy; in order to receive legitimacy by internal and external agents, state institutions and rulers must hold the capacity to exercise influence and authority. This dimension, although it follows logically from the original concept of sovereignty, catalyzes a significant evolution of the sovereignty concept when placed within the failed states context of Africa. Since independence, African states have often been granted external legitimacy by the international community. However, since they have often failed to maintain the capacity to rule within their delineated territory, we witness a fracturing of sovereignty (Bacik 2008). Essentially, the state formation process in Africa has proven that sovereignty can be shared between actors, and that the location of external legitimacy does not preclude internal capacity.

Thirdly, sovereignty entails responsibility (Deng and Lyons 1996;1998). This dimension represents the most radical evolution of sovereignty theory, and it remains slightly theoretical due to the relative weakness of the international community. It reflects the collective response of the international community to the humanitarian and governance crises that have occurred in the developing world, and thereby reflects the global humanitarian ideals that have spread following the institutionalization of international cooperation. Essentially, states can no longer obtain external legitimacy without accepting responsibility for the wellbeing of the citizenry that they represent and rule. Sovereignty as responsibility represents the will of the collective international community for global order. Before the World Wars of the 20th century and recent globalization, the international arena attempted to maintain order through the maintenance of state sovereignty. However, as Deng argues, the international system has evolved in such a manner that certain states no longer uphold the responsibility to ensure order that sovereignty has always implied. This is reflected empirically by the implicit refusal of states such as the DRC, Somalia, and Sudan to accept responsibility for the well-being and security of the population. For this reason, sovereignty as responsibility must be held by the non-state elements willing to accept it. Consequently, the addition of sovereignty as responsibility reflects the evolution of sovereignty as exclusively within the state to a fractured sovereignty in which legitimacy, capacity, and responsibility are shared and traded between both state and non-state agents. This evolution has significant implications for civil society literature, which the literature has not yet reflected.

The author argues that the scholastic understanding of sovereignty has changed drastically since the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia. In the globalized world, sovereignty exists as a fluid system of power shared by a variety of actors in a global arena. These actors include states, localized populations, and international non-state elements. Sovereignty can be further characterized as a fluid reflection of legitimacy and power, due to its ability to be shared and traded by cooperative and competing forces within the international arena. Due to the fluid nature of sovereignty in the current international arena, different states, international organizations, and localized populations share sovereignty in comparatively different portions.


The DRC has suffered a tumultuous existence since receiving independence from Belgium in 1960. The central African country contains substantial and valuable natural resources such as copper and cobalt; however, the general population has suffered extreme poverty. Multiple civil wars and military coups have greatly complicated the state system. In addition, the country suffered great repression under the prebendalist and authoritarian government of Mobutu. The current President, Joseph Kabila took office following his father’s death in 2001. In 2006 he was officially elected in internationally acclaimed elections. However, since that time the Kabila government has failed to provide basic public services to its population. In addition, the government exercises virtually no control over significant areas of the territory. Specifically, the rebel militia under Tutsi general Nkunda in the East has perpetuated massive conflict. The state military, a hodgepodge of ‘reintegrated’ former militiamen, has proven unable to control the region. For this reason, the UN has deployed a massive peacekeeping mission in the area (MONUC).

Therefore, in the DRC sovereignty is divided and traded between international, local, and state actors. The state retains nominal sovereignty as legitimacy granted by the international community (Friedman 2005). Although the state has demonstrated a significant lack of capacity, it is treated as the sovereign authority in that no external, globally recognized challenge exists to its authority. This can be evidenced by the reluctance of MONUC to engage in operations without the consent of the Kabila government2. Despite the changes brought by globalization, the legitimacy of the international state system as a whole has not been challenged, and therefore the state retains external legitimacy as recognized by the formal international community. However, the internal legitimacy, granted by the consent of localized populations, is not maintained by the formal state. This becomes evident when one examines the informal economic and social structures that localized populations have developed (Dunn 2003; Hyden 2006). Localized individuals do not view the state as the legitimate authority in economic interactions, but rather legitimize means of non-state economic activity by choosing to pursue alternate means of well-being that avoid state apparatus.

This can be exemplified by the health sector. The Kabila government is incapable of providing even the most basic of health services to its citizens. State hospitals serve more realistically as morgues than places of healing (Persyn 2004). Consequently, local peoples are predominantly responsible for the implementation of health services, and this implementation is often co-funded/managed through international organizations and NGOs. “Public Health is increasingly co-managed by the World Health Organization (WHO), along with competent Congolese staff. At the same time, however, there is a marked shift away from Western-style health care towards a syncretic form of healing based on faith systems and traditional pharmacopoeia” (Trefon 2004:8). This quote provides a critical insight into the location of empirical authority within the DRC health care system. Despite attempts at regulation3, the the state is incapable of influencing a growing private sector, bottom-up approach to health care. In reality, it is the local peoples that have determined the operation of the health industry, despite the state receiving the recognition of authority by the international society. Therefore, sovereignty as legitimacy within the health sector is shared by a variety of actors, from local witchcraft doctors to international organizations such as WHO.

In the same vein, food security is provided, for the most part, by the innovation and tenacity of the Congolese at the lowest level of social organization. 50% of Kinshasa residents live on one meal per day, and 25% have one meal every other day (Tollens 2004). Citizens have responded to this food crisis with a variety of bottom-up coping mechanisms, most importantly through urban-agriculture and an informal shipping sector. International organizations have contributed in a few ways to these local innovations. For example, in the 1980s the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) financed a boat-building project that enhanced the ability of urban farmers to reach consumers. To the same ends, the PAR project (financed by the EU) rehabilitated important asphalt roads in 1998 and 1999 (Tollens 2004). These projects utilized cooperation between local and global agents to facilitate increased distribution of food. However, just as with water supply, increased cooperation between transnational sources of funding and technology and local individuals would enhance food security in the DRC.

Furthermore, the DRC example illustrates the parallels between sovereignty as legitimacy and sovereignty as capacity. Organizations require capacity to achieve legitimacy, and vice versa. Responsibility, however, does not necessarily follow either capacity or legitimacy. For this reason, the responsibility to impose order within the boundaries of the DRC has been captured and shared by a variety of actors, the state bearing the least responsibility. The international UN system has largely accepted the responsibility for peacekeeping in the East, which has manifest through the presence of MONUC forces in areas where the state military cannot exercise control. The UN system also provides humanitarian assistance through programs such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which attempts to locate and assist localized citizens upended by the conflict. In the context of the DRC, the governance potential of civic activity is best understood through localglobal non-state relationships, rather than through ‘state-society’ relationships.


As the example of the DRC shows, the fluid exchange of sovereignty as a result of relative differences in state and international capacity highlights the empirical irrelevance of the state within the Eastern territory. As such, the civil society literature that utilizes a state-society perspective remains unable to contribute to effective development literature concerning the area. Future research must begin, therefore, with an examination of the relative flows of power between localized groups, various elements of the international community and the state. Only once these flows of power have been more clearly delineated can theorists and scholars understand the role and capabilities of localized civic elements. This article has not argued for a general disregard of the role of state institutions in African politics but rather illustrates the problematic approach that a ‘state-society’ perspective provides. The evolving nature and location of sovereignty have been utilized to illustrate the irrelevance of the state-society dichotomy in certain areas where states retain only minimal external legitimacy, while various non-state elements hold and exchange the remaining dimensions of sovereignty. Future research should focus on the flows of power and sovereignty that occur between the plethora of non-state actors in various regions on the continent. These flows occur within three main manifestations:

  1. The exchange, spread, and influence of ideals and norms;
  2. The flows of financial aid and comparative finance;
  3. Tangible aid in the form of capacity enhancement and training.

Our understanding of the implications of these manifestations will greatly elucidate the true nature of sovereignty and the subsequent role for civic action in Africa. With the potential reductions in international aid that will inevitably occur due to the global economic crisis, the Troubled Continent will either rise or fall with independent, localized civic action.


Adekson, Adedayo Oluqakayode. 2004 The ‘Civil Society’ Problematique: Deconstructing Civility and Southern Nigeria’s Ethnic Radicalization. New York: Routledge.

Annan, Kofi. 1999 “Reflections on Intervention,” Pp. 517- 522 in International Politics: Enduring Concepts and Contemporary Issues, edited by Robert J. Art and Robert Jervis. New York: Pearson Longman.

Arlinghaus, Bruce E. (Ed.) 1984 African Security Issues: Sovereignty, Stability, and Solidarity. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Bacik, Gochan. 2008 Hybrid Sovereignty in the Arab Middle East. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Benit-Gbaffou, Claire and Sophie Didier and Marianne Morange. 2008 “Communities, the Private Sector, and the State: Contested Forms of Security Governance in Cape Town and Johannesburg, in Urban Affairs Review 43(5): 691-717.

Bodin, Jean. 1576 Six Books on the State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bratton, Michael. 1994 “Civil society and political transitions in Africa.” Pp. 51-81 in Civil Society and the State in Africa, edited by John Harbeson and Donald Rothchild and Naomi Chazan. Colorado: Lynne Reinner.

Clapham, Christopher. 2002 “The Challenge to the State in a Globalized World,” In Development and Change 33(5): 778.

Deng, Francis M. 1996 (with Sadikeil Kimaro, Terrence Lyons, Donald Rothchild, and I. William Zartman) Sovereignty as Responsibility: Conflict Management in Africa. Washington, D.C: The Bookings Institute. 1998 (with Terrence Lyons) “Promoting Responsible Sovereignty in Africa,” Pp. 1-11 in Africa Reckoning, edited by Francis M. Deng and Terrence Lyons. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institute.

DeLue, Steven and Timothy Dale. 2009 Political Thinking, Political Theory, and Civil Society. New York: Person Longman.

De Tocqueville, Alexis. 1835 Democracy in America. New York: Vintage Books.

Dunn, Kevin C. 2003 Imagining the Congo: The International Relations of Identity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Elian, George. 1979 The Principle of Sovereignty Over Natural Resources. Alphen aan den Rijn, The Netherlands: Sijthoff and Noordhoff.

Ferguson, James. 2006 Global shadows: Africa in the neoliberal world order. London: Duke University Press.

Florini, Ann M. (Ed.) 2000 The Third Force: The Rise of Transnational Civil Society. Japan: Japan Center for International Exchange.

Francois, Monika and Inder Sud. “Promoting Stability and Development in Fragile and Failed States,” in Development Policy Review 24(2): 141-160.

Friedman, Elisabeth Jay and Kathryn Hochstetler and Ann Marie Clark. 2005 Sovereignty, Democracy, and Global Civil Society: State-Society Relations at UN World Conferences. New York: State University of New York Press.

Fukuyama, Francis. 1992 The End of History and the Last Man. London: Hamish Hamilton.

Gibrill, Hashim. 2007 “The Disintegration and Restoration of State Authority in Sierra Leone.” Pp. 177-200 in Beyond State Failure and Collapse: Making the State Relevant in Africa, edited by George Kieh. Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books.

Giovannoni, Marco and Theodore Trefon and Jerome Kasongo Banga and Charles Mwema. 2004 “Acting on Behalf (and in Spite) of the State: NGOs and Civil Society Organizations in Kinshasa.” Pp. 99-115 in Reinventing Order in the Congo: How People Respond to State Failure in Kinshasa, edited by Theodore Trefon. London: Zed Books.

Harbeson, John. 1994 “Civil Society and Political Resistance.” Pp. 1-29 in Civil Society and the State in Africa, edited by John Harbeson and Donald Rothchild and Naomi Chazan. Colorado: Lynne Reinner.

Hegel, George. 1991 Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hepner, Tricia M. Redeker. 2008 “Transnational Governance and the Centralization of State Power in Eritrea and Exile,” in Ethnic and Racial Studies 31(3): 476-502.

Herbst, Jeffrey. 2000 States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Hobbes, Thomas. 1651 Leviathan. New York: Dutton.

Hyden, Goran. 1998 “Sovereignty, Responsibility, and Accountability: Challenges at the National Level in Africa,” Pp. 37-66 in Africa Reckoning, edited by Francis M. Deng and Terrence Lyons. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institute. 2006 African Politics in Comparative Perspective. New York: Cambridge.

Karns, Margaret and Karen Mingst. (Ed.) 2004 International Organizations: The Politics and Processes of Global Governance. Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner.

Klein, Robert. 1974 Sovereign Equality Among States: the History of an Idea. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.

Krasner, Stephen D. 2005 “The Case for Shared Sovereignty,” in Journal for Democracy 16(1): 71.

Kratochwil, Friedrich and Paul Rohrlich and Harpreet Mahajan. 1985 Peace and Disputed Sovereignty: Reflections on Conflict over Territory. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Locke, John. 1689 Two Treatises on Government. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Makumbe, John. 1998 “Is there a Civil Society in Africa?” in International Development 74(2): 305-317.

Milliken, Jennifer and Keith Krause. 2002 “State Failure, State Collapse, and State Reconstruction: Concepts, Lessons, and Strategies,” in Development and Change 33(5): 753-774.

Mwacan, Angeline. 2004 “The Tap is on Strike: Water Distribution and Supply Strategies,” Pp. 33-46 in Reinventing Order in the Congo: How People Respond to State Failure in Kinshasa, edited by Theodore Trefon. London: Zed Books.

Ngosi, Anthony. 2006 “The Voice of Civil Society in the Rebuilding of Burundi,” Pp. 223-247 in Postconflict Reconstruction in Africa, edited by Ahmad A. Sikainga and Ousseina Alidou. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Oyugi, Walter O. 2004 “The Role of NGOs in Fostering Development and Good Governance at the Local Level in Africa with a Focus on Kenya,” in Africa Development 29(4): 19-55.

Patterson, Amy S. 2007 “Civil Society Organizations: The Search for Empowerment,” Pp. 255-278 in Toward Africa’s Renewal, edited by Jeggan C. Senghor and Nana K. Poku. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Pears, Brad. 2004 “Civil War in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: an Analysis of Conflict and International Intervention for Peace,” in Journal for the Study of Peace and Conflict: the Annual Journal of the Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies: 101-109.

Persyn, Peter and Fabienne Ladriere. 2004 “The Miracle of Life in Kinshasa: New Approaches to Public Health,” Pp. 65-81 in Reinventing Order in the Congo: How People Respond to State Failure in Kinshasa, edited by Theodore Trefon. London: Zed Books.

Rice, Condoleeza. “The New American Realism: Rethinking the National Interest,” in Foreign Affairs 87(4): 2-26.

Richter, Ingo K. and Sbine Berking and Ralf Muller-Schmid. (Ed.) 2006 Building a Transnational Civil Society: Global Issues and Global Actors. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rotberg, Robert I. 2002 “Failed States in a World of Terror,” in Foreign Affairs 81(4): 127.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1762 The Social Contract. New York: Dutton.

Samatar, Abdi Ismail and Ahmed I. Samatar. (Ed.) 2002 The African State: Reconsiderations. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Sassen, Saskia. 2006 Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Shraeder, Peter J. 2004 African Politics and Society: A Mosaic in Transformation. California: Wadsworth.

Sikainga, Ahmad A. and Ousseina Alidou. (Ed.) 2006 Postconflict Reconstruction in Africa. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Thorn, Hakan. 2006 Anti-Apartheid and the Emergence of a Global Civil Society. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Tollens, Eric. 2004 “Food Security in Kinshasa: Coping with Adversity,” Pp. in Reinventing Order in the Congo: How People Respond to State Failure in Kinshasa, edited by Theodore Trefon. London: Zed Books.

Trefon, Theodore. 2004 “Reinventing Order,” Pp. 1-19 in Reinventing Order in the Congo: How People Respond to State Failure in Kinshasa, edited by Theodore Trefon. London: Zed Books.

Udogu, E. Ike. 2007 African Renaissance in the Millennium: The Political, Social and Economic Discourses on the Way Forward. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

USAID. 2005 “Promoting more Transparent and Accountable Institutions”. Democracy and Governance.

Von Rooy, Allison. 2004 The Global Legitimacy Game: Civil Society, Globalization, and Protest. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Young, Crawford. 1994 “In Search of Civil Society,” Pp. 35-50 in Civil Society and the State in Africa, edited by John Harbeson and Donald Rothchild and Naomi Chazan. Colorado: Lynne Rienner.

Zartman, I. William. 1994 Collapsed states: The Disintegration and Restoration of Legitimate Authority.

Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner. 2007 “The African State,” Pp. 17-34 in Toward Africa’s Renewal, edited by Jeggan C. Senghor and Nana K. Poku. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.


1 This role has often been clouded by the state-society perspective in civil society literature
2 President Joseph Kabila has held power since January of 2001, and was legitimized in a 2006 national election.
3For example: the state is the recognized entity which approves the actions and policies of health NGOs and international organizations with the DRC.


Jon Crain

Photograph of Jon Crain Jon Crain is originally from Herndon, VA. He will graduate in May with an international studies major; focus in world politics and policy, and a minor in Spanish. He will most likely pursue an education in international law next year. His paper reflects two years of research for his University Honors thesis, which he aims to publish in a joint essay with his advisor, Dr. Stivachtis. He first became interested in the academic field of African politics and development in the summer of 2007, when he worked as an intern in the Bureau of Central African Affairs at the State Department. That experience provided the initial catalyst for his final thesis. He spent the summer of 2008 studying in Costa Rica, where he hopes to live one day. Jon was selected to present this research at the ACC Meeting of the Minds in 2009. He would like to thank Dr. Ionnis Stivachtis, an excellent and readily available research mentor, as well as Dr. Parakh Hoon for some critical insight and help.