The widespread failure of the post-colonial state in Africa is often attributed to a lack of social and cultural unity, and hence of national identity, in the territories in question. In Europe the state has historically been conceptualized as coterminous with the nation, an apparently ‘natural’ cultural unit that allowed for subsequent political cohesion and the avoidance of ethnic conflict. In Africa the concept (and the reality) of the nation is often absent and this is sometimes considered to be a stumbling block on the path to political stability. However, the suggestion that a state whose population exhibits the requisite cultural homogeneity would construct and maintain a nation and, subsequently, successful and stable statehood is challenged by evidence from the Comoro Islands. Here, despite apparent socio-cultural unity, there has been little movement towards the development of a nation; indeed, there is evidence that an explicit denial of socio-cultural unity underpins the failure of the state.