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States and Power in AfricaComparative Lessons in Authority and Control$
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Jeffrey Herbst

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780691164137

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691164137.001.0001

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Power and Space in Precolonial Africa

Power and Space in Precolonial Africa

(p.35) Two Power and Space in Precolonial Africa
States and Power in Africa

Jeffrey Herbst

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines the theory and practice of broadcasting power in precolonial Africa. In particular, it explores the nonterritorial nature of power and how African rulers in the time prior to the arrival of the Europeans conceived of their boundaries. It considers how the combination of large amounts of open land and rain-fed agriculture meant that, in precolonial Africa, control of territory was often not contested because it was often easier to escape from rulers than to fight them. It also discusses the effect of the demographic and political realities in precolonial Africa on the contours of the states. In particular, as control of particular pieces of land was not critical to African societies, “there was no indigenous map-making in Africa or...its presence is so insignificant as to justify that generalisation.” The chapter also describes the determinants of power in the precolonial African state.

Keywords:   power, precolonial Africa, boundaries, land, agriculture, territory, states

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