Having assumed the burden of understanding political life in two-and-a-half dozen unruly countries, political scientists who study the new states of tropical Africa must leap with assurance where angels fear to tread. We have borrowed, adapted, or invented an array of frameworks designed to guide perceptions of disparate events, and Africa is now uniformly viewed through the best lenses of contemporary comparative politics with a focus on political modernization, development and integration. Unfortunately, it appears that when we rely exclusively on these tools in order to accomplish our task, the aspects of political life which we, as well as non-specialists, see most clearly with the naked eye of informed common sense, remain beyond the range of our scientific vision. In our pursuit of scientific progress, we have learned to discern such forms as regular patterns of behavior which constitute structures and institutions; but the most salient characteristic of political life in Africa is that it constitutes an almost institutionless arena with conflict and disorder as its most prominent features.
In recent years, almost every new African state has experienced more or less successful military or civilian coups, insurrections, mutinies, severe riots, and significant political assassinations. Some of them appear to be permanently on the brink of disintegration into several new political units. With little regard for the comfort of social scientists, the incidence of conflict and disorder appears unrelated to such variables as type of colonial experience, size, number of parties, absolute level or rate of economic and social development, as well as to the overall characteristics of regimes. The downfall of what was widely regarded as the continent's most promising democracy in January, 1966, was followed in February by the demise of what many thought to be the continent's harshest authoritarian regime.