Breath of Clarity

State-Building Characteristics Examined in Central America, Somalia, and Papa New Guinea


The state is the essential institution in comparative politics. This essay investigates three building blocks under rational political authority which determine a state’s ability to prosper. All three journals agree with Francis Fukuyama about the necessity of politics. First, Cameron Thies explains interstate war is indispensable, which Fukuyama concurs is true because it helps increase taxation and establish national identity. Second, Upsall asserts institutions must reflect the public’s way of life, which Fukuyama attests Denmark’s political order cannot take root in Somalia’s culture. Third, Kenneth Upsall illustrates law must be subordinate to the public’s will, and Fukuyama illustrates it is essential a modern state is accountable for public interest. The articles collaborate to show how areas with lacking public services can be rebuilt mindfully by constructing a strong state government institution.


In “Public Violence and State Building in Central America,” Thies examines the role wars play in building state government structure in Central America. The author initially grounds his assertions in the Bellicist theory, which explains wars stimulate extractive efforts that enhance state autonomy and capacity. However, qualitative evidence from South America does not support the Bellicist theory. The discrepancy guides Thies to venture beyond the Bellicist theory and investigate how broader public violence, both internal and external, impacts Central America’s long-term state development. The supplemental quantitative data reveals Central American interstate and civil wars reduces the state’s extractive ability, which is consistent with the South American evidence. Thies concludes interstate war stimulates extractive efforts among Central American governments, whereas intrastate violence is not conducive to state development. While Thies is concerned with conflict’s impact on state-building, Upsall emphasizes culture’s significance in structural design.

In the article “State Building in Somalia in the Image of Somaliland: A Bottom-Up Approach,” Upsall explains western-style government institutional structure is not in accord with Somalia’s culture. The colonial administrations cannot achieve legitimacy in a culture with a clan and kinship based identity. There was originally lacking government structure because independence created the environment which clan based fracturing of the government was inevitable. The existing clan and kinship local governance replaced the central government as the Somali state collapsed. Since then, several bottom up tactics were implemented throughout the country and were quite successful. The author frames Somaliland’s attempts at state building as a model for strong state creation in third world or tribal type states. While Upsall stresses the government structure must reflect the public’s culture, Joanne Wallis asserts legitimacy can only be established if the actual laws are supported by the public’s voice.

In “How Important Is Participatory Constitution-Making? Lessons From Timor-Leste And Bougainville,” Wallis shows how divided post-conflict societies can adjust to state structures and achieve sustainable peace. Wallis asserts observations from the Papua New Guinea autonomous state reveal participatory constitution-making plays a significant role in state building. The author explains constitution-making is the essential operating system that establishes state institutions and regulates state power. Furthermore, the text discusses how public participation in constitution-making enhances legitimacy. It brings opportunity to build unity because it defines the political bond between the government and people. It is conducive to constructing a strong state because it encourages reconciliation by embedding state institutions into society. The first case study in Bougainville shows cultivating a shared identity can reconcile societal divisions. In contrast, minimal public participation in Timor-Leste led to negative results in the constitution- formation process. It did not create a unifying national identity, left certain societal divisions unreconciled and exacerbated others, and created ineffective institutions. Wallis concludes it is not sufficient for a state to merely construct a constitution because there also needs to be powerful public participation.


The articles collaborate to guide foundational government structure establishment, as the essay defines characteristics needed to build a strong state. Thies initiates the conversation by implying social science investigates which types of interpersonal interaction lead to development. The article intelligently recognizes the state’s autonomy and capacity shape progress. It also identified while quantitative study uses systematic strategy to generalize, it needs to be qualified with discursive method to identify gaps. In Thies article, the qualitative data caused Thies to acknowledge his uncertainty by clarifying the public violence independent variable in the Bellicist theory. Specifying variables allowed Thies to generate more observable implications and inference. The data from South America was also public, which was important because it informed Thies about the discrepancy. Thies demonstrated how political systems are optimally studied via comparison to other nations or a normative standard.

However, while Upsall correctly highlighted institutions and culture shape behavior, the extent to which we can geographically extrapolate his theory is questionable. It evokes inquiry about what determines the geographical limitations. The article is written from a culturalist perspective, which encounters realities in particular villages. Futhermore, the ending conclusion takes on a more rationalist position which seek methods that produce universal laws. The ‘middle range’ concept is not applied by Upsall.

This project prompts me to question how theory is geographically extrapolated. Middle- range theory holds new institutionalism cannot be described as a deductive global model because there’s no attempt to specify ways institutions interact with configuration. Comparative politics distinguishes constitutional rule doesn’t hold the same consequences in every country. Perhaps, Upsall uses Somalia’s situation as a model for all third world areas because most still strongly value their indigenous cultures. Nevertheless, I conclude his theory is actually valid because while every area doesn’t still live by clan and kinship local governance, every third world state has its unique culture which must be acknowledge and listened to by state constructors.

Also, Wallis implicitly proposes the public participation feature of a democracy is beneficial in every state-building case. Upsall differs from Wallis because the latter is a structuralist, as he is interested in class relations and moved from particular analysis to generalization to explore relations among actors in the institution. Wallis depicts lacking public participation as a social barrier by indicating it impacts how interests are represented in a given country’s environment. Wallis writes a phenomenal point that public participation, often conceived as a democratic foundational principle, may indeed be crucial to all successful state- building.


Thies, Cameron G. “Public Violence and State Building in Central America.” Comparative Political Studies 39.10 (2006): 1263-282.

Upsall, Kenneth C. “State Building in Somalia in the Image of Somaliland: A Bottom-Up Approach.” Inquiries Journal 6.03 (2014).

Wallis, Joanne. “How Important Is Participatory Constitution-Making? Lessons From Timor- Leste And Bougainville.” Commonwealth & Comparative Politics 54.3 (2016).