Graduation Year


Publication Date

Spring 2022


By most metrics, many African states underperform. Some scholars argue that neo-colonial systems established after independence are to blame, as they perpetuate dependence on former overlords. Others contend that continued failures of African leaders and political institutions prevent their countries from succeeding. I analyze two specific cases from French Africa diametrically opposed in their experiences of decolonization. In Guinea, the French left abruptly, taking everything they could carry. In Gabon, they stayed, and continued to direct the country’s politics and economy. What differences does this disparity have on state success after independence? To answer this question, I assess the impacts French actions had on three aspects of the postcolonial societies: rule of law, political participation, and development strategies. Each element is critical for a successful state– institutions must be bound by rules to be trusted by citizens and enterprises, citizens must have a voice (if not necessarily a vote) in government, and people must be able to meet their basic needs. I find that the rule of law failed in both states, though for different reasons. While political participation was limited in both cases by mass arrests, it was almost mandatory in Guinea, and discouraged in Gabon. While French interests ensured Gabon maintained the economic status quo, Guinea’s ambitious planned economy squandered resources on unprofitable investments. All told, the two extremes of French decolonization both resulted in the ruling party dominating, giving them complete authority to make, remake, and break the rules at their leisure.


International and Area Studies