Green states in Africa: beyond the usual suspects

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Whilst the ‘green state debate’ has primarily focused on a narrow range of usual suspects in the developed world, the debate can be enriched and challenged by considering more diverse cases. Viewing African states from a green state perspective invites empirical reassessment of the geographical scope of the concept, and introduces a new set of conceptual questions about the political significance of transitions in environmental governance. Ecological modernisation theory has largely neglected African states because it is assumed that African states are weak, failing, or failed, and that environmentalism is a post-materialist phenomenon. Whilst both assumptions can be challenged empirically, a biopolitical perspective on the African environmental state, drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, can both position African state development within a longer-term context and challenge some assumptions of ecological modernisation. Examples from Egypt, South Africa, and the Kavango-Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area highlight underestimated continuities in environmental state practices. The international and transnational drivers of the green state in Africa are emphasised, as well as the political dangers of a green ‘state building’ project.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)116-135
Number of pages19
JournalEnvironmental Politics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Africa, environmentalism, biopolitics, ecological modernisation, post-colonialism


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