Alexia Stainer, Grenoble, July 2010
The interactive state is a model of democratic consolidation developed using the historical experience of particular western states, which it is suggested could be used to encourage state-building and transformation processes in contemporary Africa.
According to Hadenius particular institutional arrangements are necessary to favour the consolidation of democracy within a state. As can be deduced from the name ‘interactive state’ these institutional arrangements are ones that are “open for intercourse in regulated ways with its citizens”, which create the conditions for political accountability.
This state model was found in particular parts of the Western Europe: England, Sweden and the Netherlands; and in North America where “no decisions of any import could be made without negotiating with society’s leading groups”. The critical point here is that state building was facilitated by institutions that created legitimacy through consultation, at first when aristocratic groups held the king accountable, but ultimately when the authority of the state was legitimized by democratic consent.
The model of the interactive state holds out the promise of a third way between democratization ‘forwards’ where an existent state develops democracy, as with the European countries mentioned above; or ‘backwards’ where democracy and elections are introduced without the benefit of a stable rule of law or civil society, such as the democratic transitions of many post-Soviet states. What the interactive state offers is the possibility that: “In a mutually reinforcing process, state building and regime consolidation occur (or fail to occur) together. In the virtuous version of this cycle, democratization introduces institutions that link citizens to the state, and meanwhile, state building increases capacities to improve mass welfare and hence strengthens democracy.”
The danger here is that the negative version of this cycle is more likely to occur in Africa: “leaders who are less than fully committed to democracy resist responding to popular needs and, as a result, citizens withdraw still further from the orbit of an already marginal state.”
Bratton, M. (2004) State Building and Democratization in Sub Saharan Africa: Forwards, Backwards, or Together? Working Paper 43, Afrobarometer
Hadenius, A. (2001) Institutions and Democratic Citizenship Oxford: Oxford University Press
This concept definition was developed as a result of the work carried out in the international conference Post-crisis state transformation: Rethinking the foundations of the state in Linköping, Sweden held 1-5 May 2009. This conference was run by Modus Operandi in collaboration with the Université Pierre Mendès France (Grenoble, France) and the European Science Foundation.