The International Possibilities of Insurgency and Statehood in Africa: The U.P.C. and Cameroon, 1948-1971

  • Thomas Sharp

Student thesis: Phd


Amongst Western political scientists and policy-makers, a perceived economic and political 'crisis' of the African state since the 1980s has produced a terminology of 'weak states', 'quasi-states' and 'failed states'. Such terminology, however, represents a narrow and pathological understanding of the African state, one that has reduced its post-independence trajectory to a series of deviations from an ideal-typical - and largely Eurocentric - model of statehood. The normative standards of this 'strong' and 'successful' ideal of statehood have, predominantly, been defined by a government's ability to exercise complete domestic authority, and to provide for the full welfare and development of its population. Within this paradigm, armed conflict, and a government's reliance on foreign aid, are both seen to represent a country's 'lack' of statehood.The application of these universal standards to Africa has tended to ignore the distinct historical context from which independent African states emerged. Using the example of French Cameroon, this thesis firstly establishes such a historical context, one that was significantly shaped by the limiting and shallow development efforts of colonial administrations. Importantly, however, this context was also constituted by new opportunities for international support that emerged during the post-war period, represented by the newly formed U.N., an increasing number of independent (and former colonial) states, as well as former colonial powers. It is a context that necessitates a more specific set of standards to analyse the exercise of statehood in Africa.The thesis consequently identifies one such standard - or function - of statehood: the ability to control access to external resources, through a claim to represent an internationally recognised state. It is a function in which recourse to external aid, and even armed conflict, become understandable as rational strategies that reinforce statehood in an African context, rather than negate it. The original contribution of the thesis, however, proceeds from identifying this function in a group that was excluded from the institutions, and even territory, of the Cameroonian state. That group was the Union des Populations du Cameroun (U.P.C.); a nationalist party that waged a guerrilla insurgency against Cameroon's colonial and independent governments, and whose leadership predominantly remained in exile.By locating the U.P.C.'s history within this logic of African statehood, the thesis offers an alternative reading of the party's campaign, and a means of understanding the relationship between its armed and diplomatic struggles. By examining how the U.P.C. competed with Cameroon's government to successfully perform a fundamental function of African statehood, the thesis enables a more detailed analysis of its underlying dynamics, and interrogates the basis upon which the party - and indeed the African state - have been conventionally judged as 'failed'. Finally, the thesis contributes to a growing number of studies that have sought to examine empire and decolonisation from a transnational perspective, studying the complex and contingent relationships between local, national, regional and international histories.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorBertrand Taithe (Supervisor) & Steven Pierce (Supervisor)


  • Africa
  • Decolonisation
  • State
  • Transnational

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