Bruce Whitehouse in the LRB, 30 August 2012:

What does Mali’s spectacular slide from celebrated democratic model to failed state augur for the rest of Africa? The number of electoral democracies on the continent has fallen from 24 to 19 in the last seven years. It may be that Mali is a portent of state collapse to come, as the façade of democracy erodes, exposing the informal government mechanisms that really run the show. What if, as the historian Stephen Ellis has argued, the increasing fragility of African states is ‘an early sign of a wider problem with the system of international governance’ built after World War Two? Western powers are discovering that in Africa, as in Afghanistan, there are limits to their ability to impose or even reform state systems. It may be that the way to help these societies sort out their conflicts is to let them do it on their own.