Since the signing of the 1648 Westphalia treaty, the nation-state system has stood the test of time as a replacement for the ancient-medieval empire system. But in recent years, state collapse in different parts of the world has served to illustrate the fact that the nation-state system is losing relevance.
This is compounded by the emergency of non state actors in influencing community, continental and international issues.
I will dwell on the phenomenon of state collapse in different parts of the world. This is something that has been witnessed mostly in developing countries especially on the African continent.
Soon after independence many African states experienced military takeovers. This was witnessed in Ghana, when the Pan Africanist Kwame Nkhruma was overthrown by the military from power. Patrice Lumumba was also deposed, and so was a host of other African independence leaders who had nationalist credentials.
This ushered in a period when most African nation states experienced widespread state collapse. Civil wars raged in many parts of the continent with revolutionaries seeking to remove corrupt and totalitarian dictators who were seen as puppets of super powers.
The collapse of the post independence nation states in most of Africa took the face of ethnic conflicts. At the same time other interests developed where civil wars presented an opportunity for rogue elements to control territories rich in minerals and thus gained the opportunity for primitive accumulation.
This was witnessed in Sierra Leone where warlord Foday Sankoh’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF), was heavily supported by mining conglomerates in exchange for mineral concessions especially in diamonds.
Thus the role of multinationals in intra-state conflicts like the Sierra Leone and Angola civil wars in part, illustrates the extent to which non state actors have in the recent past come to influence national and international issues in direct competition with state actors.
However, sometimes they have supported state actors but nevertheless, their increasing influence can be taken as an indication of the fact that state actors, no longer have exclusive power to influence the course of world events and hence history as was the case in the aftermath of the Westphalia treaty.
The Iraq civil war has also to a large extent portrayed the state system as being in retreat. The fact that in the aftermath of the collapse of Saddam Hussein and his socialist Baath Party, the American forces had to resort to private security contractors to pacify the country is telling.
This shows that even the strongest nation-state on earth is not able on its own to pacify an occupied country. To have some semblance of control over Iraq, the United States has had to work hand in hand with non state contractors like Halliburton.
More still the emergency of terrorist or Jihadist organisations like al-Qaeda, that work independently to influence the course of world history is yet a manifestation of a new world order. Individuals like Osama bin Laden have carried out operations which in the past could only be carried out by strong state security agencies.
The fact that such individuals and organisations, that may not even be interested in taking state power have had an imprint on international events, shows the extent to which the notion of the strong nation-state system has come under challenge and threat. This is also because some Jihadist organisations like Hezbollah in the Middle East have in the past offered social services like education and health care without necessarily having control over the state.
The era of globalisation has in a sense shown that Chief Executive Officers of strong companies like Microsoft have greater influence than most Heads of states. This is so because of the resources they have accumulated over time.
The same resources are used to control the destiny of millions of people around the world. This is something a number of states are unable to do.
The moral of all this is that the need to control the state through political power by highly ambitious and gifted individuals is no longer a life and death matter. There are other avenues as demonstrated by the likes of Bill Gates through which one can make a lasting impact on the history of mankind.