Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Political Science


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Rod Preece

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


While we in the latter half of the twentieth century have been experiencing the emergence of a multitude of new ‘developing’ states, we have also come to realize not just a scholarly interest in governments different from our own, but a pressing need for greater understanding and constructive co-operation among states working in a rapidly shrinking area. In the academic world, the coming to independence of close to two-score African countries stimulated a surge of interest. The field of comparative politics in particular was faced with a double-barrelled challenge: the development of approaches to the study of the African political experience possessing explanatory and predictive capacity; and the furtherance of understanding of African politics in a responsible fashion.

Since the early 1960’s there have developed alongside systems theory and the legalistic-descriptive schools of thought a number of approaches designed to tackle the dynamic questions of modernization, political development, instability, and integration—in short, issues of change. Despite the momentary diversion created by the short-lived Pan-African movement, there is little doubt today that the state is the entity of the foreseeable future, and as such provides the major unit of analysis in the study of change.

If at the governmental level the direction of state affairs as the art of the possible has assumed a mocking and bitter flavour, in the area of theory development there has arisen an emphasis on process with an end to determining multiple causality and thresholds. On a more general plane, explanatory research has come to focus on relationships among variables within the societal environment on the assumption that if it is known how the system works then prediction becomes possible.

It is the phenomenon of political instability, however, which has highlighted some of the most complex and theoretically puzzling problems. The processes of integration and modernization, already critically important to African leaders, become theoretically vital vis-à-vis the fragmented or ‘syncretic’ nature of African political systems. While the coup d’état, revolt, and rebellion provide the dramatic symptoms, the issue of political instability reaches right down to the grass-roots—to a non-integration within and between modern and traditional sectors. Further complicating factors include economic unpredictability, cultural or religious pluralism, anomalies arising out of the colonial experience, and the nature of the military.

The design of following pages, rather than attempting to construct a paradigm for the analysis of political instability, is to explore the realm of instability from the viewpoint of one interested in discovering conceptual tools and analytical foci consistent with a problem-oriented theoretical base. As the state constitutes the arena within which political stability or instability derive meaning and impact, it is accordingly through investigation and change among those elements which comprise the state which holds out the greatest promise for explanatory and predictive research.

Convocation Year