Merits and Demerits of Confederation


Merits and Demerits of Confederation

We saw that power distribution is a sine qua non for the effective operation of modern states. Power is usually distributed among different parts and levels of the state.

The amount of power held by the central government determines the system of government a state has.

In this post, we will consider the meaning and characteristics of confederation as another form of political or administrative system. We will also discuss the factors that may encourage a country to take the path of confederation.

We will then wrap up the discussion with case studies of some states that have either tried the confederal option or where the model has been suggested or contemplated, at one time or the other.


Meaning of Confederation

A confederation has been defined as an administrative cum constitutional arrangement in which two or more sovereign and independent states agree to come together to have a central but weak government.

Put differently, the term confederation applies to the union of states, which is less binding in its character than a federation. A confederation is a union of states with a commonly recognized authority in certain matters affecting the whole, and in respect of external relations.

Confederation is a league or union of many sovereign states for a common purpose. In principle, the states in a confederal structure would not lose their separate identities but would retain the right of secession.

In practice, though this right might be difficult to exercise and the constituent units of a confederation might appear to be little different from those of any other federal states.

But confederation differs essentially from a federation in that it is a league of sovereign states, unlike the latter (federation) where the component states give up their sovereignty in favor of the new state, or even where the center can create more states, as it has been from the example of the Nigerian federation.

In a confederation, power resides more with the component states rather than the centre.

In other words, there is a weak centre and strong component parts.

The United States adopted a confederal structure in the early years of her independence. But the structure was later rejected by the conferees at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention on the ground that it was “weak at the centre and strong at the circumference”. Other examples of confederal states apart from the failed United States’ experience include the United Netherlands in 1579, the German constitutions of 1815 to 1867 and 1867 to 1871(before and after the unification of Prussia with other German states).

Merits of Confederation

1) Confederation protects countries that shelter under the arrangement from foreign invasion. Weak states can enjoy better defense militarily against foreign powers or aggression from neighbouring States.

This consideration was uppermost in the mind of Dauda Jawara of the Gambia in the early 1980s when he forged a confederal arrangement with Senegal, then known as Sene- Gambia. But the confederation did not last long.

2) Confederation has economic utility. The case of the Hanseatic League which was established in Europe during the Middle Ages to promote greater commercial interactions among the states concerned is a good example.

3) In large countries, it saves minority nationalities from domination by majority ethnic groups since each state in a confederation is sovereign.

This was the major reason why the former Eastern region of Nigeria then under Col. Emeka Odumegu-Ojukwu spoke in favour of confederation at the Aburi meeting in Ghana. His preference was predicated on the belief that confederation would give the Igbo nation more freedom to man oeuvre in a country where they felt threatened.


Demerits of Confederation

1) Confederation is a very loose and fragile system of government. This is because each state that makes up the confederation is autonomous with its governmental machinery. This gives the liberty to any member state to pull out any time it so desires.

2) Confederation has been criticised for serving as a breeding ground of intrigues and centres of rivalries. This is because, as Argawal (1994) pointed out, a strong and powerful member state often establishes its hegemony over others and exploits them to further its own ends. This was true of Prussia before the unification of Germany. Prussia then, the biggest and most powerful of German states exploited others that were weak and unviable.

3) The relationship between the central and confederal government is not usually well defined. This has often led to disagreement between member states of the confederacy.

4) Despite its theoretical attraction to leaders of a few states, in reality, a confederation has often proven a difficult and cumbersome political system to manage. This is why it has not endured for long in the few countries where it was practiced.

Indeed, the experience has shown that confederation has either failed in a few states that practiced it, while the authorities in other states like Nigeria, where suggestions were made in that direction spurned it. General Gowon flatly rejected confederation as an option for Nigeriain1967.

Conclusion on Merits and Demerits of Confederation

In spite of many instances of its failure to become an enduring form of political administration in those states that have experimented it, in any discourse of models of government, the confederal form of government is and will continue to be mentioned.

It still holds attraction among leaders of states that are willing to come together but are still suspicious of the prospects of a stronger bond in future.

In this type of situation, confederation seems to have more appeal since its constitution usually gives room for a peaceful breakup or outright secession.

In this article, we have examined the confederal form of political administration, its major features and the factors that can make a country adopt the confederal political structure. After examining its major advantages and disadvantages.

we finally noted that history has painfully recorded that confederation has not particularly been a popular or successful model of political administration in the few countries that we used in this unit as case studies.

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