Scholars concerned with the formation of states, specifically the relationship between state formation and war, hold one of two positions. Some agree with Charles Tilly’s historiological conclusion that war is decisive for the establishment of stateness and specify key concepts, in order to explain presumed discrepancies between past and present. Others point towards the international sphere in its current form and advocate a “war breaks states” perspective. My dissertation argues that both standpoints neglect the ‘sub-national’ level. While proponents of the “war breaks states” thesis are missing para-sovereign zones of rule, supporters of the “war makes states” approach take a juridical view of statehood and focus on “state strength”. The failed states paradigm guiding contemporary security and development policy hinders an adequate analysis of the actual situation on the ground. Discussing the shortcomings of failed states approaches and state formation theorising, the dissertation proposes a conceptualisation in terms of socio-political variation instead of a mere dichotomisation of order. Questions are addressed broadly in relation to the historical sociology of state formation applied to a comparative empirical study of Sub-Saharan Africa.