Early States and ‘Fragile States’: Opportunities for Conceptual Synergy

Early States and ‘Fragile States’: Opportunities for Conceptual Synergy Early States and ‘Fragile States’: Opportunities for Conceptual Synergy
Author: Hagesteijn, Renée R.
Journal: Social Evolution & History. Volume 7, Number 1 / March 2008


After thirty years of analyzing the structure of the early state and its differences with chiefdoms on the one hand and so called mature states on the other, it might also be useful to explore the added value of the early state concept for understanding contemporary political configurations, in particular the so called ‘fragile states’. ‘Fragile state’ is a concept from the 1990s used by political scientists and development specialists in aid allocation. It is foremost related to issues of good governance, democracy, conflict, human rights, health, education, hunger and protection.

As an example, the Department for International Development in the United Kingdom (DFID) (2005) defines ‘fragile states’ as ‘those countries where the government cannot or will not deliver core functions to the majority of its people, including the poor’. The American equivalent, USAID1, uses the term fragile states to refer generally to a broad range of failing, failed and recovering states. However: ‘the distinction among them is not always clear in practice, as fragile states rarely travel a predictable path of failure and recovery’ (2005: 7). There are some 80 fragile states on the list of the United Nations.

One could argue that both early states and fragile states are deviants from an ‘optimum situation’. An early state is an evolutionary pre-stage of the state whereas fragile states basically are malfunctioning mature states. Several issues are important here:

1. Definitions of the state and the role model of the modern western stable state versus deviant models;

2. Different research cultures: the early state being the field of historians, archaeologists, anthropologists; fragile states are being studies by political scientists, sociologists, economists, legal experts;

3. Early states and fragile states are being operating under different internal and external circumstances, (lack of) access to technological (transportation and ICT) developments, climate change, global economic relationships, etc.

Although there is not one encompassing definition, in general a ‘state’ can be described as a political association with effective dominance over a geographic area, in which individuals in local political structures for some aspects of their lives are being dominated by supra local structures. The state has been extensively studied since the days of Plato. According to Cohen (1978: 31) the state is ‘the most powerful, continuously authoritative and most inclusive organisation of the species’.

According to Ghani, Lockhart and Carnahan (2005b: 6ff.) the ten key functions for the modern sovereign state are: (1) a legitimate monopoly on the means of violence; (2) administrative control; (3) sound management of public finances; (4) investment in human capital; (5) the creation of citizenship rights and duties; (6) provision of infrastructure; (7) market formation; (8) management of the assets of the state; (9) effective public borrowing; (10) maintenance of rule of law (see Table 1).

The Early state

The early state is seen as an organisational predecessor of the mature state:

An early state is an independent three-tier (national, regional, local level) centralised socio-political organisation for the regulation of social relations in a complex, stratified society, divided into at least two basic strata or emerging social classes – viz. the rulers and the ruled – whose relations are characterised by political dominance by the former and the obligation to pay taxes by the latter, legitimised by a common ideology of which reciprocity is the basic principle (Claessen infra).

According to Claessen and Skalník, the early state in general was triggered by population growth and pressure; war, the threat of war, conquest, raid, dominance and control of the economy; influence of already existing states (1978: 625, 642).

Based on the analysis of 21 case studies, a set of some fifty structural characteristics has been formulated for the Early State, in the field of territory, independence, economy, administrative apparatus, legitimation, benevolence and inequality (see Table 1).

One might argue that early states in one way or the other have been on the road towards achievement of the ten functions of modern states. In this sense three ‘types’ of early states have been identified: inchoate/incipient (showing close resemblances with chiefdoms), typical and transitional (on the verge of the modern, mature state; see Grinin infra).

Fragile states

Actually, ‘fragile states’ is one of many terms that have been used to describe current states that are weak in their institutional capacity, control of territory and ability or willingness to provide services to their people. There is no clear consensus on which is the most appropriate term to use and to categorise this wide range of states, although most multilateral and bilateral donors2 now tend to use the term ‘fragile states’. Also in use are the concepts: failed states, failing states, weak states, warlord states, shadow states, neo- patrimonial states, quasi states, collapsed states.

According to Moreno Torres and Anderson (2004: 5–6) the causes and symptoms of fragile, what they call, ineffective states vary. The features of weakness combine in different ways and can change over time, but include the following: state collapse, loss of territorial control, low administrative capacity, political instability, neo-patrimonial politics, conflict, repressive polities. According to Carment (2003: 409) state failure is a non-linear process of relative decay. ‘Placed along a developmental continuum, states can be characterised as “strong”, “weak”, “failed” and “collapsed”. Some states may never achieve the status of “strong”, moving instead from “weak” at independence to “failed” and in extreme cases to “collapsed”. Others may linger on as “weak states” for years and even decade. Others remain strong’. States weaken and fail when they are unable to provide basic functions for their citizens. This causes a domino effect ultimately resulting in collapse (e.g., Zartman 1995).

Along the same lines Moore (2001, adapted by Grindle 2007: 564) makes a distinction in types of centralised political systems:


It seems worthwhile to look into:

– common patterns of fragile states;

– similarities and differences between early states and fragile states (in causes and structures);

– the concept of ‘evolution’ used by historians and political anthropologists versus (lack of) ‘development’ used by economists, sociologists and political scientists.

For a modest first pilot set the following fragile states have been selected for comparison: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cambodia, Guatemala and Rwanda. The rationale for this selection is an even distribution over various regions3. The information for this quick scan has been obtained and adapted from Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org). As points of reference the following anchor points for the early states have been used: territory, independence, infrastructure, administrative apparatus, economy/means of subsistence, social stratification, legitimation/law giving and inequality, completed with the element of civil society of the modern state.


History: Afghanistan is a tribal society with a long history in political development. It has known several kingdoms and empires, some of them most likely with Early State features. From the Middle Ages onwards strong Islamic influences can be observed. In the 19th century Anglo-Afghan wars are reported resulting in British dominance in the region. From 1979 until 1989 the former USSR occupied the country (Vogelsang 2002), which came to an end with the help of the USA assistance to the Taliban. After the withdrawal by the Soviet Union, internal instability increased. The vast majority of the elites and intellectuals had escaped to take refuge abroad, resulting in a leadership vacuum. Fighting warlords continued among the victorious Mujahideen factions. Mujahid is a term for a Muslim fighting in wars or being involved in any other struggle. In Afghanistan segmentation of power, religious leadership, uncontrolled war lords eventually became part of a well organised organisation with commanders and ‘soldiers’. At a certain point some 4000 bases with each 300 people existed. Hierarchies of organization above the bases were attempted (Roy 2004). The most serious fighting during this period occurred in 1994, when over 10,000 people were killed in Kabul alone. The chaos and corruption that dominated post-Soviet Afghanistan in turn stimulated the rise of the Taliban. The Taliban developed as a politico-religious force, and eventually seized Kabul in 1996. By the end of 2000 the Taliban were able to capture 95 % of the country and sought to impose a very strict interpretation of Islam law (Rashid 2000).

Legitimation and (in)dependence: From 2001 onwards there is active US and UN interference to bring back stability in the region. Since 2003 Afghanistan is an Islamic republic with an elected government.

Tribal conflicts have been enhanced by years of civil war and the influence of old Mujahideen. For instance, in the first half of 2007 the UN has installed a governor in Uruzgan. Since he – coming from the town of Paktia – has no tribal connections in Uruzgan, his presence has a reverse reaction: the Taliban are more influential than ever. Taliban have restored old ties from the days they fought against USSR and are undermining authority of the governor. Also, the governor has very little support from the government in Kabul (Derksen 2007).

The tribal system and clan loyalty remain to be dominant. The population outside the urban areas has loyalty to its tribe, such that, if called upon, they would assemble in arms under the tribal chiefs and local clan leaders (Khans).

Territory: Afghanistan has a fixed territory.

Population: Population grew from 13 million in 1979 to 30 million in 2007 with a population density of 49/km2.

Infrastructure: Transportation is being reconstructed with assistance of foreign aid. A network of cellular phones is being developed rapidly.

Administrative apparatus: Currently, Afghanistan is administratively divided into thirty-four (34) provinces (welayats), and for each province there is a capital. Each province is then divided into many provincial districts, and each district normally covers a city or several townships. The Governor of the province is appointed by the Ministry of Interior, and the Prefects for the districts of the province will be appointed by the provincial Governor. The Governor is the representative of the central government of Afghanistan, and is responsible for all administrative and formal issues. The provincial Chief of Police is appointed by the Ministry of Interior, who works together with the Governor on law enforcement for all the cities or districts of that province.

The current parliament was elected in 2005. Among the elected officials were former Mujahideen, Taliban members, communists, reformists, and Islamic fundamentalists.

Regulations and laws: Afghanistan currently has 60,000 police officers. It plans to recruit 20,000 more officers. They are being trained by and through the Afghanistan Police Program. Although the police officially are responsible for maintaining civil order, sometimes local and regional military commanders continue to exercise control in the hinterland. Police have been accused of improper treatment and detention of prisoners. In 2003 the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force, now under command of NATO extended and expanded beyond the Kabul area. However, in some areas unoccupied by those forces, local militias maintain control. In many areas, crimes have gone un-investigated because of insufficient police and/or communications. Warlords, depending on local and regional clientelism, remain active in Afghanistan.

Economy: Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, 65 % of population lives on less than $2 a day. The economy has suffered from Soviet invasion in 1979 and droughts in the 1980s and 1990s. The economically active population is 11 million on a population of 30 million. Since 2002 the return of 4 million refugees has lead to increasing economic activities and entrepreneurship and a growth of the economy with 29 % in 2002, 16 % in 2003, 8 % in 2004 and 14 % in 2005.


History: Bosnia has a long history, starting with Illyrian tribes dating from the Bronze Age, annexation by the Roman Empire in the 1st century A.D., immigration of Slavic tribes, to be Christianised in the 9th century, and to become influenced by the feudal system of the Franks. The principalities of Serbia and Croatia split control of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the ninth and tenth century, but in the High Middle Ages the area was contested between the Kingdom of Hungary and the Byzantine Empire. Following another shift of power between the two in the late twelfth century, Bosnia found itself outside the control of both and became an independent state under the rule of local bans (princes, lords, chiefs, and governors), lasting till the 14th century. The Ottoman conquest of Bosnia had considerable impact. A native Slavic-speaking Muslim community emerged and eventually became the largest of the ethno-religious groups (mainly as a result of a gradually rising number of conversions to Islam). Bosnians played a significant role in the Ottoman Empire, both culturally and military. Mostar and Serajevo became important centres for culture and trade. In the 19th century the region became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Bosnia and Herzegovina were made model colonies and introduced codification of laws and administrative reforms. Catholic churches were built. The success of the Habsburg regime was hampered by a rise of nationalism and World War I. Following this war, Bosnia was incorporated into the South Slav kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (soon renamed Yugoslavia). In these days ethnic elements in political disputes became manifest. Even though there were over three million Bosnians in Yugoslavia, outnumbering Slovenes and Montenegrins combined, Bosnian nationhood was denied by the new Kingdom. Although the initial split of the country into 33 oblasts (administrative units) erased the presence of traditional geographic entities from the map, the efforts of Bosnian politicians ensured that the six oblasts carved up from Bosnia and Herzegovina corresponded to the six sanjaks (first level territorial subdivision) from Ottoman times and, thus, matched the country's traditional boundary as a whole. After World War II the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed by Josip Broz Tito, with the constitution of 1946 officially making Bosnia and Herzegovina one of six constituent republics in the new state.

Ethnic issues continued to play a role and escalated in the years after the death of Tito, resulted in the break down of Yugoslavia (official independence in 1992) and the Balkan Wars. Bosnia officially was in war from 1992 until 1995, experiencing political, economic and humanitarian (genocide) catastrophes.

The war ended in 1995 with the so called Dayton Agreement.

Territory: Bosnia has a fixed territory.

Population: Population grew from 3.9 million in 1996 to 4.5 million in 1997, with a density of 89/km2.

Infrastructure: The infrastructure in the area has been damaged by the war and has not been fully reconstructed.

Legitimation and independence: Up to this date Bosnia is supervised by a Peace Implementation Council, which provides financial assistance, troops for SFOR (Stabilization Force) and a High Representative to oversee national politics in Bosnia Herzegovina. The High Representative has many governmental and legislative powers, including the dismissal of elected and non-elected officials. More recently, several central institutions have been established (such as defence ministry, security ministry, state court, indirect taxation service etc.) in the process of transferring part of the jurisdiction from the entities to the state.

Administrative system: Bosnia and Herzegovina's government's representation is by elites who represent the country's three major groups, with each having a guaranteed share of power.

The Chair of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina rotates among three members (Bosnian, Serb, Croat), each elected as the Chair for an eight-month term within their four-year term as a member. The three members of the Presidency are elected directly by the people (Federation votes for the Bosniak/Croat, Republika Srpska for the Serb). The Chair of the Council of Ministers is nominated by the Presidency and approved by the House of Representatives. He or she is then responsible for appointing a Foreign Minister, Minister of Foreign Trade, and others as appropriate. The Parliamentary Assembly is the lawmaking body in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It consists of two houses: the House of Peoples and the House of Representatives. The House of Peoples includes
15 delegates, two-thirds of which come from the Federation (5 Croats and 5 Bosnians) and one-third from the Republika Srpska (5 Serbs). The House of Representatives is composed of 42 Members, two-thirds elected from the Federation and one-third elected from the Republika Srpska.

The country has four levels of administration: federal, entities, cantons and municipalities. Since 1996 the power of the entities relative to the federal government has decreased significantly. However, entities still have numerous powers to themselves. Warlords, as a remnant from the war and historical periods are still active in Bosnia.

Regulations and laws: The Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the supreme, final arbiter of legal matters. It is composed of nine members: four members are selected by the House of Representatives of the Federation, two by the Assembly of the Republika Srpska, and three by the President of the European Court of Human Rights after consultation with the Presidency.

However, the highest political authority in the country is the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the chief executive officer for the international civilian presence in the country. Since 1995, the High Representative was able to bypass the elected parliamentary assembly or to remove elected officials.

Economy: The war in the 1990s caused a dramatic change in the Bosnian economy. Production fell to 6 %, GDP fell 75 % and the destruction of physical infrastructure created massive economic trauma. While much of the production capacity has been restored, the Bosnian economy still is not up to speed. Figures show GDP and per capita income increased 10 % from 2003 to 2004; this and Bosnia's shrinking national debt being positive trends, but there is still a high unemployment and a large trade deficit.


History: Until the 15th century, Cambodia had seen several Early States: Funan, Chenla and the Khmer empire of which the centre was Angkor, where a series of capitals was constructed during the empire's peak period. After a long series of wars with neighbouring kingdoms, Angkor was sacked by the Thai and abandoned in 1432 (Hagesteijn 1989). During the next three centuries, the Khmer kingdom alternated as a vassal state of the Thai and Vietnamese kings, with short-lived periods of relative independence between.

From 1863 onwards Cambodia was a protectorate of France, administered as part of the French colony of Indochina. After war-time occupation by the Japanese empire from 1941 to 1945, Cambodia gained independence from France on November 9, 1953. It became a constitutional monarchy under King Norodom Sihanouk.

Cambodia has also been affected by the Vietnam War. In this Sihanouk adopted an official policy of neutrality until thrown out in 1970 by a military coup. From Beijing, Sihanouk cooperated with the communist Red Khmer rebels who had been slowly gaining territory in the remote mountain regions and urged his followers to help in overthrowing the pro-United States government of Lon Nol, contributing to the onset of a civil war. US bombing resulted in some 2 million Cambodians to become refugees by the bombing and fighting and severe famine. The Red Khmer took power in 1975, changing the official name of the country to Democratic Kampuchea, led by Pol Pot. They immediately evacuated the cities and sent the entire population on forced marches to rural work projects. They attempted to rebuild the country's agriculture on the model of the 11th century. They also discarded Western medicine, with the result that while hundreds of thousands died from starvation and disease there were almost no drugs in the country. Estimates as to how many people were killed by the Red Khmer regime vary between two to three million. In November 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia to stop Red Khmer incursions across the border and the genocide of Vietnamese in Cambodia. Violent occupation and warfare continued throughout the 1980s. Peace efforts began in Paris in 1989, resulting in 1991 in a peace settlement.
The United Nations was given a mandate to enforce a ceasefire, and deal with refugees and disarmament.

Only in recent years reconstruction efforts have begun and some political stability has finally returned to Cambodia, with an exception in 1997 when a coup d'état took place. Cambodia has been aided by a number of more developed countries such as Japan, France, Canada, Australia and the United States, primarily economically.

Territory: Cambodia has a fixed territory.

Population: Population grew from 11.4 million in 1997 to
14 million in 2006, with a density of 78/km2.

Infrastructure: There is a lack of basic infrastructure.

Legitimation and independence: Cambodia currently is independent.

Politics and administrative system: The politics of Cambodia formally take place, according to the nation's constitution of 1993, in the framework of a parliamentary, representative democratic monarchy. The Prime Minister of Cambodia is the head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system, while the king is the head of state. The Prime Minister is appointed by the King, on the advice and with the approval of the National Assembly; the Prime Minister and his or her ministerial appointees exercise executive power in government. On October 14, 2004, King Norodom Sihamoni was selected by a special nine-member throne council. The monarchy is symbolic and does not exercise political power.

Cambodia is divided into 20 provinces (khet) and 4 municipalities (krong). There are further subdivisions into districts (srok), communes (khum), villages (phum), and islands (koh).

Regulations and laws: Legislative power is vested in both the executive and the two chambers of parliament, the National Assembly of Cambodia and the Senate. Corruption is a major problem in current Cambodia. In 2006, an organization called Transparency International rated Cambodia as 151 of 163 countries making it one of the most corrupt countries on earth.

Economy: Despite recent progress, the Cambodian economy continues to suffer from the effects of decades of civil war, internal strife and continuing corruption. Corruption has also added to the wide income disparity within the population.

The per capita income is rapidly increasing, but is low compared with other countries in the region. Most rural households depend on agriculture and its related sub-sectors. Rice, fish, timber, garments and rubber are Cambodia's major exports, and the United States, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, China, Indonesia and Malaysia are its major export partners.

By 2000, Cambodia was once again self-sufficient in rice. The recovery of the economy slowed seriously in 1997–1998, due to the regional economic crisis, civil violence, and political infighting. Foreign investment and tourism also declined. Since then however, growth has been steady. In 1999, the first full year of peace in 30 years, progress was made on economic reforms and growth resumed at 5.0 %. Despite severe flooding, GDP grew at 5.0 % in 2000, 6.3 % in 2001, and 5.2 % in 2002. Tourism was Cambodia's fastest growing industry, with arrivals increasing from 219,000 in 1997 to 1,055,000 in 2004. During 2003 and 2004 the growth rate remained steady at 5.0 %, while in 2004 inflation was at 1.7 % and exports at $1.6 billion US dollars. As of 2005, GDP per capita in PPP terms was $2,200, which ranked 178th (out of 233) countries.


History: Archaeologists divide the pre-Columbian history of Mesoamerica into 3 periods: The Pre-Classic from 2000 B.C. to 250 A.D., the Classic from 250 to 900 A.D., and the Post-Classic from 900 to 1500 A.D. The Classic period of Mesoamerican civilization corresponds to the height of the Maya.

Civilization, and is represented by countless sites throughout Guatemala (Schele and Freidel 1990). This period is characterized by city-building, the development of independent city-states, and contact with other Mesoamerican cultures. This lasted until around 900 A.D., when the Classic Maya civilization collapsed. The Maya abandoned many of the cities of the central lowlands or were killed off by a drought-induced famine. The Post-Classic period is represented by regional kingdoms, which preserved many aspects of Mayan culture, but would never equal the size or power of the Classic cities.

The area was colonised by Spain in 1518. During the colonial period, Guatemala was a Captaincy General (Capitanía General de Guatemala) of Spain, and a part of New Spain (Mexico). It extended from the modern Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas to Costa Rica. This region was not as rich in minerals (gold and silver) as Mexico and Peru, and was therefore not considered to be as important. Its main products were sugarcane, cocoa, blue dye, red dye from cochineal insects, and precious woods used in artwork for churches and palaces in Spain.

In 1821, the Captaincy-General of Guatemala (formed by Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Honduras) officially proclaimed its independence from Spain and its incorporation into the Mexican Empire. This region had been formally subject to New Spain throughout the colonial period, but as a practical matter was administered separately. All but Chiapas soon separated from Mexico after Agustín I from Mexico was forced to abdicate.

The Guatemalan provinces formed the United Provinces of Central America, also called the Central American Federation (Federacion de Estados Centroamericanos). However, that federation dissolved in civil war from 1838 to 1840. Guatemala's Rafael Carrera was instrumental in leading the revolt against the federal government and breaking apart the Union. During this period a region of the Highlands, Los Altos, declared independence from Guatemala, but was annexed by Carrera, who dominated Guatemalan politics until 1865, backed by conservatives, large land owners and the Church.

Guatemala's ‘Liberal Revolution’ came in 1871 under the leadership of Justo Rufino Barrios, who worked to modernize the country, improve trade, and introduce new crops and manufacturing. During this era coffee became an important crop for Guatemala. Barrios had ambitions of reuniting Central America and took the country to war in an unsuccessful attempt to attain this, losing his life on the battlefield in 1885 against forces in El Salvador.

In the first part of the 20th century Guatemala was run by dictators. From 1944 onwards the country was led by a military junta of three generals. The Junta called Guatemala's first free election, which was won with a majority of 85 percent by the prominent writer and teacher Juan José Arévalo Bermejo, who had lived in exile in Argentina for 14 years. Arévalo was the first democratically elected president of Guatemala to fully complete the term for which he was elected. His ‘Christian Socialist’ policies, inspired by the U.S. New Deal, were criticized by landowners and the upper class as ‘communist’, starting conflicts between the government and local political factions.

This period was also the beginning of the Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR, which was to have a considerable influence on Guatemalan history. From the 1950s through the 1990s, the U.S. government directly supported Guatemala's army with training, weapons, and money.

In 1954, Arévalo's freely elected Guatemalan successor, Jacobo Arbenz, was overthrown by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and a small group of Guatemalans (landowners, the old military caste, and the Catholic Church), after the government instituted the so-called ‘decree No. 900’, which expropriated large tracts of land owned by the United Fruit Company, a U.S.-based banana merchant (Chiquita Banana). Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas was installed as president in 1954 and ruled until he was assassinated by a member of his personal guard in 1957.

In 1966, Julio César Méndez Montenegro was elected president of Guatemala with the slogan ‘Democratic Opening’. Méndez Montenegro was the candidate of the Revolutionary Party, a centre-left party which had its origins in the post-Ubico era. It was during this time that rightist paramilitary organizations, and the Anticommunist Secret Army, were formed. Those organizations were the forerunners of the infamous ‘Death Squads. Military advisers of The United States Army Special Forces were sent to Guatemala to train troops and help transform its army into a modern counter-insurgency force, which eventually made it the most sophisticated in Central America.

In the 1970s two new guerrilla organizations, The Poor Guerrilla Army (EGP) and the Organization of the Peoples in Arms (ORPA), began and intensified by the end of the seventies, guerrilla attacks that included urban and rural guerrilla warfare, mainly against the military and some of the civilian supporters of the army. In 1979, the United States ordered a ban on all military aid to the Guatemalan Army because of the widespread and systematic abuse of human rights. The Israeli Government took over supplying the Guatemalan Army with advisors, weapons and other military supplies.

In 1980, a group of Guatemalan (Quiché-) Indians took over the Spanish Embassy to protest army massacres in the countryside. The Guatemalan government launched an assault that killed almost everyone inside as a result of a fire that consumed the building. The Guatemalan government claimed that the activists set the fire and immolated themselves. However, the Spanish ambassador, who survived the fire, disputed this claim, noting that the Guatemalan police intentionally killed almost everyone inside and set the fire to erase traces of their acts. As a result of this incident, the government of Spain broke diplomatic relations with Guatemala. This government was overthrown in 1982. Another General was appointed to be President of the military junta, continuing the activities with torture, disappearances, and ‘scorched earth’ warfare.

In 1996, at the initiative of the United Nations, the 35-year old war of repression ended with a peace accord between the guerrillas and the government. Both sides made major concessions. The guerrilla fighters disarmed and received land to work. According to a U.N.-sponsored Truth Commission, government forces and state-sponsored paramilitaries were responsible for over 93 % of the human rights violations during the war. During the first 10 years, the victims of the state-sponsored terror were primarily students, workers, professionals, and opposition figures, but in the last years they were thousands of mostly rural Mayan farmers and non-combatants. More than 450 Mayan villages were destroyed and over 1 million people became internal and external refugees.

Territory: Guatemala has a fixed territory.

Population: The population is 12 million, with a density of 134 km2. 1.5 million Guatemalans are estimated to live in exile.

Infrastructure: Guatemala is heavily centralized. Transportation, communications, business, politics, and most relevant urban activity takes place in Guatemala City, which has about 2 million inhabitants within the city limits and more than 5 million within in the urban area. This is a significant percentage of the population (12 million).

Legitimation and independence: Guatemala is politically independent.

Politics and administrative apparatus: Since the peace accords, Guatemala has witnessed several successive democratic elections, most recently in 2003. Guatemalan politics take place in a framework of
a presidential ‘representative democratic republic’, whereby the President of Guatemala is both head of state and head of government, and of
a pluriform multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Guatemala is divided into 22 departments (departamentos) and sub-divided into about 332 municipalities (municipios).

Regulations and laws: Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Congress of the Republic. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. There is little information on law enforcement.

Economy: Guatemala's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is US$ 5,000 putting it among the 10 poorest countries in Latin America, with the distribution of income remaining unequal with 56.2 % of the population below the poverty line. Financial assistance from Guatemalans, who fled to the United States during the civil war, now constitutes the largest single source of foreign income (more than the combined value of exports and tourism).

In last years the exporter sector of ‘non-traditional’ products has grown dynamically representing more than 53 % of global exports. Some of the main products for export are fruits, vegetables, flowers, handicrafts, cloths and others.

The service sector is the largest component of GDP at 58.7 %, followed by the agriculture sector at 22.1 % (2006 estimate), and the industrial sector at 19.1 %. The agricultural sector accounts for about one-fourth of GDP, two-fifths of exports, and half of the labour force. Coffee, sugar, textiles, fresh vegetables, and bananas are the country's main exports. The 1996 peace accords that ended the long Civil War removed a major obstacle to foreign investment. Tourism has become an increasing revenue source for Guatemala. In March 2005 Guatemala's congress ratified the Dominican Republic – Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) between several Central American nations and the United States. Guatemala also has free trade agreements with Taiwan and Colombia.


History: Rwanda has been originally inhabited by the Twa, the aboriginal Pygmy inhabitants, later to be joined by the Hutu's and the Tutsi's. At a certain point a kingdom has been established, under a centralized administration headed by a king. The inhabitants of Rwanda have always shared a common culture, religion and language (Kinyarwanda). They were differentiated along social lines depending on their level of wealth (cattle). The Batutsi class depended on cows for their livelihood, Abahutu depended on agriculture, while the Batwa either produced pottery or specialized in entertaining at the king's court. All three classes paid tribute to the king in return for protection and various favours. Batutsi, who lost their cattle due to a disease epidemic such as rinderpest, would become Bahutu and likewise Bahutus who obtained cattle would become Batutsi, thus climbing the ladder of the social strata. A traditional justice system called Gacaca predominated as an institution for resolving conflict, rendering justice and reconciliation. The king was the ultimate judge and arbiter for those cases that ever reached him. Despite the traditional nature of the system, harmony and cohesion had been established among Rwandans and within the kingdom (cf. Maquet 1961).

At the end of the 19th century Rwanda became German territory. With only 2500 soldiers in East Africa, Germany did little to change societal structures in much of the region, especially in Rwanda. Later it became a UN trust territory, administered by Belgium, leaving the monarchy in place. The Belgians used the Tutsi aristocracy to collect taxes and enforce Belgian polities. It maintained the dominance of the Tutsi in local colonial administration and expanded the Tutsi system of labour for colonial purposes (cf. Trouwborst, infra).

In the 1950s and early 1960s, based on a wave of Pan-Africanism, Hutu's claimed their own rights. Following a period of unrest, in 1960, the Belgian government agreed to hold democratic municipal elections in Ruanda-Urundi (Rwanda-Burundi), in which Hutu representatives were elected by the Hutu majorities. This change in the power structure threatened the centuries-old system by which Tutsi superiority had been maintained through monarchy and resulted in a period of civil war, also involving the neighbouring countries Burundi and Congo, and which ended only recently.

In 1961, Rwandans voted, by referendum and with the support of the Belgian colonial government, to abolish the Tutsi monarchy and instead establish a republic. Between 1961 and 1962, Tutsi guerrilla groups staged attacks into Rwanda from neighbouring countries. Rwandan Hutu-based troops responded and thousands more were killed in the clashes.

The years to follow were dominated by unrest and (intra regional) wars. In 1990, the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Rwanda from Uganda. Some members allied with the military dictatorship government of Habyarimana responded in 1993 to the RPF invasion with a radio station that began anti-Tutsi propaganda and with pogroms against Tutsis, whom it claimed were trying to re-enslave the Hutus.

Between July and August, 1994, Tutsi-led RPF troops first entered the capital Kigali and soon thereafter captured the rest of the country. Over 2 million Hutus then fled the country, causing the Great Lakes refugee crisis. Many went to Eastern Zaire. After the Tutsi RPF took control of the government, its leader Kagame installed a Hutu president, Pasteur Bizimungu, in 1994. He was considered a puppet president, however, and when Bizimungu became critical of the Kagame government in 2000, he was removed as president and Kagame took over the presidency himself.

The first elections since the invasion of Rwanda by Kagame's forces in 1990 (and the subsequent creation of a military government by Kagame in 1994) were held in 2003. Kagame, who had already been appointed president by his own government in 2000, was then ‘elected’ president by over 95 % of the vote, with little opposition. Opposition parties were banned until just before the 2003 elections. Following the elections, in 2004, a constitutional amendment banned political parties from denoting themselves as being aligned with ‘Hutu’ or ‘Tutsi’. However, the RPF,
a primarily Tutsi political organisation, was not disbanded and therefore continues its dominance. Most observers therefore do not believe the 2003 elections to have been fair or representative. The next presidential elections are due to be held in 2010.

Territory: Rwanda has a fixed territory.

Population: Population grew from 8.1 million in 2002 to 9.7 million in 2005, with a density of 343/km2.

Infrastructure: There is a lack of basic infrastructure.

Legitimation ands independence: Rwanda is politically independent.

Politics: After the 1994 genocide, the RPF installed a single-party ‘coalition-based’ government. Paul Kagame became Vice-President. In 2000, he was elected president of Rwanda by the parliament. A new constitution, written by the Kagame government, was adopted by referendum in 2003. The first post-war presidential and legislative elections were held in August and September 2003, respectively. Opposition parties were banned until just before the elections, so no true opposition to the ruling RPF existed. The RPF-led government has continued to promote reconciliation and unity amongst all Rwandans as enshrined in the new constitution that forbids any political activity or discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion. Right of return to Rwandans displaced between 1959 and 1994, primarily Tutsis, was enshrined in the constitution, but no mention of the return of Hutus that fled Kagame's RPF forces into the Congo in a refugee crisis of 1994–1998 or subsequently, is made in the constitution. Nevertheless, the constitution guarantees ‘All persons originating from Rwanda and their descendants shall, upon their request, be entitled to Rwandan nationality’ and ‘No Rwandan shall be banished from the country’.

Administrative apparatus: By law, at least a third of the Parliament representation must be female. It is believed that women will not allow the mass killings of the past to be repeated. Rwanda topped a recently conducted global survey on the percentage of women in Parliament with as much as 49 percent female representation, currently the highest in the world.

The Senate has at least 26 members, each with an 8 year term. At least 1/3 of positions must be held by women. 8 posts are appointed by the president. 12 are elected representatives of the 11 provinces and the city of Kigali. Four members are designated by the Forum of Political Organizations (a quasi-governmental organization that currently is an arm of the dominant political party); one member is a university lecturer or researcher elected by the public universities; one member is a university lecturer or researcher elected by the private universities. Any past President has permanent membership in the Senate. Under this scheme, up to 12 appointees to the Senate are appointed by the President and his party. The elected members must be approved by the Supreme Court.

The Chamber of Deputies has 80 members, each with a 5 year term; 24 posts are reserved for women and are elected by province; 53 posts can be men or women and also are elected by local elections; 2 posts are elected by the National Youth Council; 1 post is elected by Federation of the Associations of the Disabled. The President and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies must be from different political parties. The President is elected every 7 years, and may serve a maximum of 2 terms.

In 2006, however, the structure of the country was reorganized. It is unclear how this affects current elected representation proportions.

Regulations and laws: There are 14 Supreme Court members, who are designated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. There is little information on law enforcement.

Economy: Rwanda is a rural country with about 90 % of the population engaged in (mainly subsistence) agriculture. It is landlocked with few natural resources and minimal industry. Primary exports are coffee and tea, with the addition in recent years of minerals and flowers. Tourism also is a growing sector. It has a low gross national product (GNP), and it has been identified as a Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC). In 2005, its economic performance and governance achievements prompted International Funding Institutions to cancel nearly all its debts.

According to the UN World Food Programme, it is estimated that 60 % of the population live below the poverty line and 10–12 % of the population suffer from food insecurity every year.

Although a movement for individual ownership of land arose at the time of independence, land scarcity over much of Rwanda made this impractical over the long term.

Northwest Rwanda had traditionally used a system of locally controlled land collectivisation schemes. It is therefore the northwest of Rwanda that objects most strongly to the central control of land policy, taking control away from local owners. Some farmers who resisted the policy when it was begun in the 1990s were punished by fines or jail sentences; the policy remains the source of many disputes.

When implemented on a large-scale in the late 1990s, authorities in some cases used force, fines, and prison terms to make Rwandans re-locate.

At least two collectivising schemes created in north-western Rwanda in 2005, leading to land loss for local farmers. Although the law claimed to accept the validity of customary rights to land, it rejected the customary use of marshlands by the poor and abolished important rights of prosperous landlords (abakonde) in the northwest.

There is no capital market in Rwanda in the traditional sense. The government primarily provided economic services until recently. The monetary and financial markets are dominated by nine banks and six insurance companies in which the state continues to be a major shareholder.

Preliminary observations

On the basis of this small pilot study, some similarities in the structure and functioning of these contemporary states can be observed: lack of or fragile infrastructure: war or threat of war: an imbalance in theory and practice in the functioning of the political apparatus; a weak and in many aspects traditional economy; lack of independence; problems with centralisation.

In comparison, of the factors causing or influencing the development of early states, being: war, the threat of war, conquest, raids, dominance and control of the economy; influence of already existing states, one might argue that they also play a significant role in the causes for state failure in contemporary states, but with a reverse effect: not invoking political centralisation but as a decentralising agent. Details can be found in Table 2.

Early state formation in most cases has been – or at least appears to have been – an autonomous process, brought forward by strong charismatic leaders. In contrast, most fragile states are unable to regain political stability and economic independence without help from outside, by the international community.

Benevolence, the state taking interest in civil society, and ‘good governance’ are mostly absent or very rudimentary in fragile states, while in early states and mature states these are the crucial elements. In fragile states, a connection between the central level and the local communities exists in theory, but not dominantly in the eyes of the local citizens, who automatically fall back to clan or tribal relationships.

In general, the element of legitimation is difficult to analyse in fragile states. For longer periods of time force seems to be more applied than persuasion or authority. Another observation might be that local or regional factions headed by tribal leaders, clan heads, or ‘warlords’ in fragile states are quite dominant and resemble the regional subversive elements occasionally threatening central power and stability in early states. Actually, another resemblance lies in the fact that occasional fission occurs, both in early and fragile states, in periods in which regional and local political and in some instances kinship structures are dominant over the central political system. In this sense Bondarenko's description (infra) of the kinship – territoriality dichotomy (the distinction between societas and civitas) also concerns present day's fragile states.

Based on the quick scan of five fragile states it might be useful to increase the set of data in a future, more elaborate project. The five states in the pilot have a long history of centralisation, and decentralisation, alternating situations of ‘strong’, ‘weak’ ‘declining’ and ‘recovering’ states. In a sense they have been subject to evolution and decline. What are the major elements in causes and effects behind these developments?

Another question that comes to mind is that if the 21 early states in the sample of Claessen and Skalník (1978) would have been perceived from a more longitudinal, macroscopic perspective, would not they have shown a similar pattern of instability and rise and decline? For instance, in the cases of China, Cambodia and France, this would have been the case.

As far as fragile states are concerned, Carment (2003: 410ff.) makes a distinction in macro or long term changes in the international system (decolonisation, the end of the Cold War, the impact of the UN system, globalisation, etc.), intermediate mechanisms (state/society interactions, changing legitimation and hierarchical relationships), and micro-level interactions between groups. Most literature deals with the first two aspects, but there is a need for comparison of data on the micro level.

Early states have been historically ‘gelled’, while fragile states are ‘life’, dynamic and current object of study, enabling action research. Actually, studies are being done to develop ‘early warning systems’, to identify measurable characteristics that affect the risk of state failure (Goldstone et al. 2000): changes in population, environment, economy, etc. Also ‘response strategies’ are being developed (Carment 2003). Another line of research is into conflict negation (Frerks 2006a, 2006b; Zartman 2007), in which evidence based tools are being developed for the international community to mediate in national conflicts in fragile states.

A downside to the recentness of the data is that some aspects of the fragile states simply have not been properly monitored or researched, as this is especially the case in the sphere of legitimation and ideology; it is particularly in this section of Table 2 that the question marks mostly appear, therefore requiring more in depth investigation.

The concept of the ‘state’ is becoming part of a more complex system and asks for new research (Krohn-Hansen and Nustad 2005) on issues such as: globalisation, new forms of mobility and communication, inequality in access, migration and new forms of identity and political legitimation. Trans-national and sub-national issues are becoming as important and in some aspects more important than national ones (intra state vs. interstate relationships). Participation in international markets, global access to markets, supply chains and delivery networks, has consequences for local/national politics, conflicts, security, etc.

Thirty years of Early State-research have produced the data and the tools for comparison, enriching future debates on state research and social sciences. The current article has merely skimmed the possibilities for future research, with possibly a broader horizon.


1. United States Agency for International Development.

2. Aid Agencies.

3. Other possibilities for case studies: Nicaragua, Colombia, Bolivia, Surinam, Senegal, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Uganda, Zambia, Mozambique, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Jemen, Eritrea, Egypt, Albania, Palestine Territory, Macedonia, Moldavia, Georgia, Armenia, Pakistan, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Indonesia. Countries for instance receiving aid by Dutch government in 2007/8.


Carment, D.

2003. Assessing State Failure: Implications for Theory and Policy. Third World Quarterly 24(3): 407–427.

Claessen, H. J. M., and Skalník, P. (eds.)

1978. The Early State. The Hague: Mouton.

1981. The Study of the State. The Hague: Mouton.

Cohen, R.

1978. State Origins: A Reappraisal. In Claessen and Skalník 1978: 31–76.

Derksen, D.

2007. Zwak bestuur biedt Taliban de ruimte [Weak Government Gives Wide Berth to Taliban]. De Volkskrant, 02 juni 2007.

Frerks, G. E.

2006a. The Role of Civil Society in Peacebuilding. In The Role of Civil Society in Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding (pp. 16–25). Utrecht: European Centre for Conflict Prevention.

2006b. The Use of Peace Conditionalities in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings: A Conceptual Framework and a Checklist. The Hague: Clingendael Institute.

Ghani, A., Lockhart, C., and Carnahan, M.

2005a. Closing the Sovereignty Gap: How to Turn Failed States into Capable Ones. Opinions 44. Overseas Development Institute.

2005b. Closing the Sovereignty Gap: an Approach to State-Building. Overseas Development Institute Working Paper 253.

Goldstone, J. et al.

2000. State Failure Taskforce Report, Phase III findings. University of Maryland.

Grindle, M.

2007. Good Enough Governance Revisited. Development Policy Review 25(5): 553–574.

Hagesteijn, R.

1989. Circles of Kings; Political Dynamics in Continental Southeast Asia. Dordrecht: Foris Publications.

Krohn-Hansen, C., and Nustad, K. G.

2005. State Formation, Anthropological Perspectives (Anthropology, Culture and Society). London: Pluto Press.

Maquet, J. J.

1961. The Premise of Inequality in Ruanda. International Africa Institute: Oxford University Press.

Moore, M.

2001. Understanding Variations in Political Systems in Developing Countries: a Practical Framework. Unpublished.

Moreno Torres, M., and Anderson, M.

2004. Poverty Reduction in Difficult Environments. Policy Division, UK Department for International Development: PRDE Working Paper 1.

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2000. Taliban – Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia. Yale University Press.

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2004. Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah. New York: Columbia University Press.

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US Agency for International Development

2003. Fragile States Strategy. PD-ACA-99. Washington DC.

Vogelsang, W.

2002. The Afghans. Oxford: Blackwell.

Zartman, I. W. (ed.)

1995. Collapsed States: The Disintegration and Restoration of Legitimate Authority. London: Lynne Rienner.

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Table 1

Type of political system


Institutional stability of the state

Organisational capacity of the state

Degree of legitimacy

Collapsed states (e.g., Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan)

No effective central government

Extremely low (no effective rules that can be agreed upon)

Extremely low

Low to non existent

Personal rule

(e.g., Turkmenistan, Guinea, Libya)

Rule through personalities and personal connections. If political parties exist, they are based on personalities

Stability highly dependent on personal control of power. Rules of the game emphasise power of elites and personal connections to elites; there is conflict over who controls the state



Minimally institutionalised states (e.g., Kenya, Paraguay, Indonesia)

Unstable mixture of personal and impersonal rule

Basic rules are established in law and practice, although they function poorly and intermittently



Institutionalised non competitive states (e.g., North Korea, Vietnam, China)

Rule through stable and legitimate organisations and procedures; no open competition for power. Political parties serve the regime or are hindered and controlled by it

Clear rules; centralised and authoritarian practices



Institutionalised competitive states (e.g., South Africa, Chile, India)

Rule through stable and legitimate organisations and procedures, open competition for power through programmatic parties

Rules widely recognised as legitimate; conflicts resolved through appeal to the rules



Table 2

Comparisons between Early and Fragile States*

Structural characteristics of Early states (Claessen and Skalník)

Key functions of the Mature state
(Ghani et al.)

of Fragile states


A definite territory, divided into divisions (99 %)

Arbitrary – often post colonial – borders



(99 %)

Often dependent on UN, IMF or bilateral aid


Population growth


One governmental centre (99 %) and a royal court (100 %)

One formal governmental centre


Provision of infrastructure (6)

Lack of infrastructure, incl. modern ICT

Economy / means of subsistence

Trade is commonly practiced (99 %), long distance trade commonly found (99 %)

Market formation (7)

Trade disrupted by war

Markets are generally found (99 %)

Markets disrupted by wars

The most prevalent means of subsistence is agriculture (99 %)


of agriculture

The production of a surplus is characteristic (99 %)

Decline in production

Tribute is the main source of income for the ruler

Tax system disrupted

Trade and markets as a source of income for the ruling class

Non transparent source of income for the rulers

The ruler dominates and controls the economy

Sound management of public finances (3)

No or only partial control of ruler over the economy

management of the assets

of the state (8)

Mismanagement of assets of the state

effective public borrowing (9)

Imbalance in public Borrowing

* Based on a small sample of 5 fragile states.

Table continued





Administrative apparatus

Delegation of tasks and power constitutes a principle of political organisation (100 %)

Administrative control (2)

Disruption or uneven delegation
of tasks and powers

A 3 tier administrative system (99 %)

In theory an administrative system that is non- or partially functioning in practice

Full time specialists
(99 %)


The family of the ruler exercises influence on political decisions
(100 %)


The ruler travels trough the realm to extract tribute and allegiance


The ruler performs rites (99 %)



The relations between ruler and subjects are based on a mythical charter (99 %)


The ruler has a divine or sacred status (99 %)


An exalted position explained by genealogical status (99 %)


The ruler is the formal law giver

(99 %)

Maintenance of rule of law (10)

Not always

The ruler is the supreme judge (99 %)

Not always

Informal influences on law giving are found (100 %)


The ruler is considered as supreme commander (99 %)

Legitimate monopoly

on the means of violence (1)

Not always

The ruler has a body guard


Table continued






The ruler presents gifts to his people (100 %)


The ruler remunerates his people for services rendered (100 %)


The ruler pays offerings (100 %)



A sovereign and kin and an aristocracy are found (99 %)

Not always

Smallholders and tenants are commonly found (99 %), their main source of income is primary production


Social stratification embraces at least two strata (100 %)


The direct participation in food production is limited to specific social categories (99 %)


Access to the basic means of production (land) is unequal

(99 %)


The rulers’ kin belongs to the aristocracy

(100 %)

Not always

Tenure of high office is merely possible for aristocracy (100 %)


Heads of certain clans belong to the aristocracy (99 %)


There are no kinship relations between the ruler’s family and the commoners (100 %)


The aristocracy is internally stratified (100 %)


Table finished





Priesthood supports the ideological basis; priests exercise an influence on decision making

(99 %)

Religious and ethnic

influences on political ideology and decision making

Commoners have obligations to pay taxes, tribute, etc. and to perform services (100 %)

In practice the taxation system is not functioning well

Civil society

Investment in human capital (4)


the creation of citizenship rights and duties (5)