Drawing directly on Stinchcombe (1968, 1983) we study the interdependence between power and legitimacy in state–organization contests for maintaining institutional control. We focus on postcolonial sub-Saharan Africa and the dynamics between the Zimbabwean state and Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, a start-up private firm that challenged the state’s rights to monopoly control over the telecommunications sector during the period 1993–1998. Our findings show that in contexts such as postcolonial settings, states use their power to dominate institutional sectors and maintain institutional control. We find as well that states can attempt to reinforce the legitimacy of their use of power and coercion through (1) securing critical property rights and embedding these rights in the state bureaucracy, and (2) calling on other ‘centers of power’. Finally, our study highlights the ways in which states and challenging organizations engage in various strategies of institutional work to maintain and disrupt, respectively, existing structures and practices of institutional control.
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