This survey can only be one historian's view of a large and controversial matter. African states are contested objects of study on two grounds, the one particular to the changing preoccupations of Africanists, the other common to the humanities in general. European colonialism was a living denial of the ability of Africans to organize their own sovereignties. African studies emerged out of colonialism's decay, in part a sort of recantation, in part a dimension of informal empire. The analysis of past and present African states could not fail to act as a lightning conductor of warring emotions, ideologies, and theories, categories which have often not been very distinct. The first African histories after the colonial era tended to be, as the first studies in political science were necessarily, studies in state-formation as achievement. In more recent years, it has been objected that these were really chronicles of injury, not, as was thought, of pride; for states were and are engines of oppression, not civilization (for early protests, see Soyinka, 1967; Wrigley, 1971; Chanock, 1972b; and later, Markovitz, 1977: 25-55). Moreover, most Africans did not actually live in states until colonial rule fastened Leviathan's yoke upon them. Indeed, the most distinctively African contribution to human history could be said to have been precisely the civilized art of living fairly peaceably together not in states.
The dispute was really over the evolutionist assumption that it is in some sense “better” to live in states, a premise so deeply rooted in most of us that it can seem almost an insult to explore analytically “the notion of statelessness, long abandoned by historians of Africa” (Uzoigwe, 1980: 115).