November 23, 2020 / 5:23 PM / by John Campbell / Header Image
In Nigeria and the Nation-State, John Campbell explains what makes Nigeria different from other countries in Africa, how it works, and why understanding it is vital to avoid the mistakes the United States made in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as U.S. security and economic relations with Africa intensifies.
In Nigeria and the Nation-State , former diplomat and Africa expert John Campbell provides a clear-eyed vision of Nigeria and why it matters. Nigeria is a case study of many of the challenges faced by other post-colonial, multi-ethnic countries. With population projections to displace the United States as the third largest in the world by 2050 and as one of Africa's largest economies, it has democratic aspirations, yet it is undermined by weak governance, terrorism, and insurgency.
Nigeria is not a conventional nation-state, even if that is how other foreign ministries and international organizations perceive it. It is not quite a nation because Nigerians are not united by language, religion, culture, or a common national story. It is not quite a state because the government is weak and getting weaker, and it fails to provide for the security of its citizens, the primary requirement of any state. Instead, Ambassador Campbell characterizes Nigeria as a prebendal archipelago: prebendal because Nigeria's corrupt elites appropriate public money for private purposes, but prevent the state from breaking apart due to ethnic and religious rivalries out of self-interest. Elites benefit from state preservation through access to revenue from state-owned oil, government contracts, and office, all of which require a formal state. Simultaneously, the elites keep the government weak so they are not challenged, and government authority is restricted geographically to islands in a sea of ungoverned spaces-an archipelago. With this duality, it is a challenge for African democracies to build a mutually beneficial bilateral relationship.
About the Author
John Campbell is a former US Ambassador to Nigeria. He is also a Senior Fellow for Africa at the Council on Foreign Relations.