Banana republic

political science term for a politically unstable country

A banana republic is a politically unstable country whose economy depends on the export of one product in limited supply, such as bananas or minerals. A banana republic has social classes that are divided by wealth. These include a large, poor working class and a small ruling class made up of the businessmen, politicians, and the military.[1] The ruling class controls and exploits the country's economy.[2]

The phrase banana republic was coined (ca. 1904) by the American writer O. Henry (William Sydney Porter, 1862–1910).

Characteristics of a Banana Republic

The way the phrase banana republic is used has evolved since it was introduced more than a century ago. It is no longer limited to countries in Central America or the tropics. Key characteristics of a banana republic in the modern world include:

  • Widespread government corruption
  • Tyrannical government
  • Unstable government
  • Civil unrest
  • Coup attempts/insurgency
  • Economic dependency on exporting a limited natural resource (which may or may not be bananas)
  • Infrastructure owned/supported by out-of-country interests
  • Overall economic dependency on foreign investment or business entities
  • Widespread poverty
  • Significant stratification of social classes
  • Enormous gap between the haves and have nots
  • Lack of a middle class

Examples of Banana Republics

In the modern world, whether or not a country could accurately be described as a banana republic government is a matter of opinion. A number of countries have been described as banana republics at some point.

  • Bangladesh
  • Botswana
  • Costa Rica
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua
  • Nigeria
  • Panama
  • Zambia

A country that at some point might exhibit all of the characteristics of a banana republic could change, which would mean that the term would no longer apply. The fact that someone refers to a country as a banana republic does not mean that the country really is one. Remember that the phrase is a derogatory description rather than an actual type of government.

Related pagesEdit


  1. White, Richard Alan (1984). The Morass. United States Intervention in Central America. New York: Harper & Row. p. 319. ISBN 978-0-06-091145-4.
  2. "Big-business Greed Killing the Banana (p. A19)". The Independent, Via the New Zealand Herald. 24 May 2008. Archived from the original on 20 November 2018. Retrieved 24 June 2012.