African politics is accepted at being a unique type of politics. This type of regime, considering its ‘unique’ prefix, in Africa is agreeably one that is different from the regime in the West. There are many differences that one can discuss in this essay, from the role of the individual, to the existence of a structure etc. Arguably, the main point of difference between the West and African politics is the relationship between the public and private realms. While in the West there is a large gap between the private and public realm, in Africa there is a ‘lack of’ or nil separation between the two. This essay is going to argue that the lack of separation between the realms is engrained in traditional pre-colonial African politics. However post-colonial Africa was introduced with institutional structures due to the legitimacy of the colonisers. This essay will discuss the degree to which this colonial legacy of ‘institutionalization’ has lasted or shaped African politics today? This essay will first endeavour to discuss two main aspects affecting the lack of separation between the two realms in African politics. It will further move on to explain how the features of African politics described can be acquainted under a Neo-patrimonial Regime. In this first part of this study I intend to answer the question, in what ways has colonialism shaped African politics? Once that is established, the next part of the study will explain the degree to which colonialism has had an impact on contemporary political African politics. In order to carry this out, the latter part of the essay will apply the paradigm arrived at in the first half to the contours of existing African political regimes today. This study should be successful in portraying the depth and importance of pre-colonial traditional African politics in post-colonial Africa.
Colonialism and Personal rule in African society
a) Pre-colonial Africa
Personal rule in Africa is largely associated with the traditional community-based structure of African society. Leopold Sedar Senghor, former president of Senegal and cultural theorist, stated that for him politics is “the question of politician politics: the struggles of clans – not even ideological tendencies – to place well oneself, ones relatives, and one’s clients in the cursus honorum, that is the race for preferments”. (Jackson, Rosberg;1984;421).Whilst being an African leader himself, Senghor, was once in the position of ruling an African country and he emphasizes the importance of ‘Clientelism’ (Englebert, 2000) in association with African politics. Clientelism is described as an extensive chain of patron-client ties. In further detail these ties extend from the “center of a personal regime, that is from the ruler to his lieutenants, clients and other followers, and through them to their followers and so on” (Jackson and Rosberg,1984;433). This association is of great importance and significance in the unique governance of African politics. In fact it forms the basis for state-society relations in African countries. This will become clearer in the next few paragraphs.
In Africa, personal rule is directly related to the lack of separation between the public and the private realm in African society.
It is said that private interests appropriate the public sector of the state. (Chabal and Daloz, 1999; 9) Jackson and Rosberg, to further expand on their theory of personal rule, state that ‘Clientelism’ functions on the basis of individual patron-client linkages, this personal linkage unlike that of institutions, formulates a strong relation between the patron and client. In other words the patron can be recognized as the ruler or the ‘Big man’ (Chabal and Daloz 1999, Keisall, 2000, Bratton and Van de walle, 1994), and the ‘clients’ are the members of his ethnicity. According to Chabal and Daloz, these “vertical and/or personalized relations actually drive the very logic of the political system” in Africa. (Chabal and Daloz,1999;158) The reference to this relation as ‘vertical’ explains the ‘Big man’s’ relation with only his ‘clients’ or ethnicity rather than the entire state. This in Hyden’s words is recognized as the ‘economy of affection’ (Hyden,1980). It describes the reciprocity between the leaders and led, where the ‘Big man’ who rules is responsible for distributing resources to his community while his clients/members of the community return to him loyalty and affection as a sign of appreciation. This traditional concept of African politics can thus be witnessed as a pre colonial concept of African society. In Pre colonial Nigeria, “Big men’ who protect their followers from outside attack, augment their wealth and number through success in battle and ensue health.” (Keisall,2000; 56). Thus in African politics, the individual’s capacity in society differs considerably from its capacity in a Western society. In Africa, individual authority is essentially based on communal logic while in Western society individuals are self-defined citizens of the nation. (Chabal and Daloz,1999;156). This therefore explains the lack of separation between public and private realm in pre-colonial African society.
b) Post-colonial Africa
This relation between public and private attained another dimension in post-colonial Africa. According to Peter Ekeh, the colonial experience led to an emergence of a unique dialectic relation between ‘two publics’ after independence in Nigeria. (Ekeh,1975) The two publics are the Primidorial public and the Civic public. The Primidorial public is closely identified with “Primidorial groupings, ties and sentiments.” (Ekeh,1975;92) Therefore one can relate this public to the one described above, the traditional pre-colonial one. Although, Ekeh claims there is an “absence of a strong traditional ethos” African politics and hence believes that “our post colonial present has been fashioned by our colonial past” (Ekeh,1975;111). Hence he gives the impression that post colonial Nigeria (and an African country in general) has been born out of the colonial experience with no link to its traditional past. However this is not the case. Ekeh’s Primidorial public as it runs in post-colonial Nigeria, runs on the same lines as the indigenous, pre colonial traditional society as described above. Ekeh however suggests that “modern African Politics are in large measure a product of the colonial experience” (Ekeh,1975;93) His description of the Civic public, is the public solely born out of the colonial experience. This public consists of an ‘African bourgeoisie’ a generation born from western colonial education in colonial Africa. (Ekeh,1975;96) Thus the ideologies by which they intended to govern were not to opposition to the colonial ones, on the contrary it was “predicted on the manifest acceptance of these ideals and principles.” (Ekeh, 1975;100). Thus personal rule in Africa took on a complicated agenda post – colonialism.
This new agenda in African politics consolidated a different setting in African society, however, one that still lacked a separation between the public and private realm. With this addition of a civic public the function between patron-client was slightly enhanced. While in the previous, pre-colonial stetting patron-client relation was one of reciprocity, in post-colonial Africa this reciprocity did not exist. In the workings of the new dialectic individuals from the Primidorial public took money from the civic public stored it in the Primidorial public as a duty towards the community and also a token of affection for their kinship. There are thus two completely different moral linkages to the different publics in post-colonial Africa. The relation between the Primidorial public and the private realm is one of moral significance as this works merely on affection with no material expectation, however the relation in the civic public is almost exactly the opposite. Considering this public operates on only material satisfaction and has no emotional bond, this is identified as the amoral public. Therefore the “good citizen” in post-colonial Africa is recognized as one only if they “rob the civic public in order to strengthen the Primidorial public.” (Ekeh,1975;p.108) This constitutes the change in post-colonial Africa, however how far away is this from the reality of pre-colonial Africa?
While Post-colonial Africa did encounter much of a change from its pre-colonial governance, it did bring in to existence a second public that was most definitely born from colonial experience. However this Public functioned in a manner that didn’t affect or alter the traditional order of the pre-colonial African society. In fact the existence of the civic public functioned as an instrument that indirectly helped restore the Primidorial public. The civic public existence moreover played a larger part in attempting to institutionalize Africa as they endeavored to rule Africa the way the colonizers did.
The Colonial legacy of institutionalization in Africa
As a result of this lack of separation between the two realms in Africa, the state has never been constructively institutionalized. In other words, Chabal and Dolaz state that “with the establishment of a civic structure comes the emancipation of the state.” (Chabal and Daloz,1999;5) Thus while the civic public attempts to ‘establish a civic structure’ in African countries, they don’t seem to succeed as the traditional foundation that works on the basis of the Primidorial public/pre colonial traditions is unable to penetrate through. Thus there is no place for colonial institution in African politics. (Chabal and Daloz,1999;158)
The lack of institutions in Africa attribute to, or rather make up the unique political structure of African politics that Chabal and Daloz have termed “informal and personalized” (Chabal and Daloz, 1999;96) The word ‘informal is used due to the lack of institutions, as for the according to the Weberian ideal of the modern state, institutions are formal structures. The term ‘personalised’ due to the unique political function of the Primidorial public of in Africa. The unique colonial contribution is also the reason why Chabal and Daloz have termed African politics as ‘personalized’. Although they mainly emphasise the role of traditional factors in contributing to the uniqueness of the African political system, they also accept the role of colonization on it as well. They believe that after independence African countries were influenced by colonial structures but it has been “re-shaped (Africanized) both by circumstance of the post-colonial period and by the political culture of independent African countries” (Chabal and Daloz,1999;1) However the role of the colonial influence can mainly be limited to the function of an “empty shell” (Chabal and Daloz,1999;7) This empty shell can be equated with the role of the ‘civic public’ introduced by Ekeh.
Ekeh’s Civic public is agreeably a colonial creation, as its members were born out of Western education during the colonial period. Thus post independence its involvement in Africa is recognized as an African body trying to legitimize control on colonial terms. Colonial terms were mainly referred to as forms to ‘modernize’ the state, through the establishment of institutions, in order to democratize the African countries and initiate them into the process of development. However, due to the strong functioning of the Primidorial public in Africa and their lack of public private divide institutionalization does not work, and this is why Chabal and Daloz have termed the working of African political society as the ‘instrumentalisation of disorder’. (Chabal and Daloz,1999;150)
The State has “not been institutionalized it has not become structurally differentiated from society.” (Chabal and Daloz,1999;2) The state is thus an “edifice (that) conforms to the western template while the workings derive from patrimonial dynamic” Therefore the state functions the way it does, by Primidorial public and personal rule, under the façade of a western template also recognized as the ‘civic public’. Thus all these various features of African society can all be recognized under one name, Neo patrimonialism.
Neo patrimonialism in Africa
Neo patrimonialism is the term most often used by political theorists in describing post-colonial Africa. It is also, to this effect a conclusion to all the knowledge displayed above, and is invariably the answer to the argument made above. Neo patrimonialism is derived from the Weberian term ‘Patrimonialism’. According to Weber, a patrimonial society is one in which “all power flows directly from the leader” (Pitcher,Moran,Johnston,2009;127) This can be gathered from the ‘personal rule’ in Africa as described in the first section of this study. The ‘Big Man’ has all the power in his community as he handles the resource flow. This power flows from the top to bottom and everybody in the community is attached to this flow. This, hence, defines African Politics “from the highest reaches of presidential palace to the humblest village assembly.” This further accounts for the blur between the public and private realm, which is also another feature of a Patrimonial society. Bratton and van der walle thus state that in a neo patrimonial society “relationships of loyalty and dependence pervade a formal political and administrative system” (Bratton van der Walle, 1994;458) This therefore can be utilised in finalising the and answering a part of the question. The ways in which colonialism has shaped African politics today can thus be seen to act as a façade under which where Primidorial functions of loyalty and dependence prevail with no effect or even damage to administrative institutions.
However, although a seemingly universal phrase, the meaning of Neo patrimonialism is first and foremost never agreed upon, and secondly due to its encompassing nature within Africa, it can be applied in variation to all the countries in Africa. On looking at the two main features of this essay, personal rule in Africa and the role of institutions in African society, these can be applied to various types regimes across Africa. Bratton and van der Walle has categorised African regimes into three main Neo patrimonial regime variants; Political Dictatorship, Plebiscitary one-party state and Competitive one-party system.
While already evaluating the ways or rather way in which colonialism has shaped African countries, this essay will now focus on the degress to which it has had its effect. Having already established the role of the civic public as the creation of colonialism, as the colonial influence on the state trying to institutionalize the countries. This essay will thus focus on how the essentially traditional nature of personal rule in the Primidorial public and evaluate to what extent the traditional factor out way the colonial and vice versa. In other words it can be assumed that in the Competitive one-party regime colonial factors have an influence over traditional factors of personal rule, and in the Political dictatorship it can be said the same the other way around. However nothing can be properly stated once evaluated and this is essentially what this next section is going to entail, an evaluation of the degree of colonial rule in Africa.
a) Political dictatorship
As the name suggests, in a dictatorship in Africa, there is bound to be a high level of personal rule. The “strong man rules by decree; institutions of participation exist in name only and cannot check the absolute powers of the chief executive” (Bratton and van der walle,1994;474) This is similar to that of pre-colonial Africa, where there is a ‘Big Man’ in power. There is also a sign communal reciprocity, as it is said that the dictator “selectively distributing rewards to a narrow entourage of familial, ethnic or factional clients.” Thus there is an establishment of a Heyden’s economy of affection as well.
As for the colonial factor of institutions, it is said the political dictator weakens the formal structure or asserts total control over them. This directly encompasses all the paradigms of a pre-colonial African politics and there is no role of institutions except for it acting as an empty shell.
The recent personal dictators that existed in Africa have been Idid Amin of Uganada, Bokassa of Central African Republic and Macias Nguema of Equatorial Guinea. However these aren’t still in power but Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire and Hastings Banda of Malawi. (Bratton and van der walle,1994;475)
b) Plebiscitary One-Party system
There is an institutional measure to this regime at some measure. Voters are mobilized and controlled though the mechanism of one-part ‘plebiscites’. However the traditional measures of African politics overcomes these institutional measures by performing practices that eventually negate the existence of one. For example, between elections “the regime employs a party machine to distribute patronage to a wider array of economic and regional interests” (Bratton and van der Walle ,
The existence of national conferences is an example of a distinct institution. These conferences bring together national elites to address the country’s political problems etc. These conferences were held in over half a dozen West and Central African states. (Bratton and van der Walle, 1994;477) However, although this is seems like there is the existence of colonial type regime in Africa, it is important to note that “contingent forces do influence whether or not they occur.
For example, initially leaders in Benin and Congo quickly agreed to national conferences, however it was not long before the conference “turned into a devastating public inquisition into patrimonial malfeasance and incompetence” and leaders learned the lesson for the next time that there was “little to be gained from agreeing to a conference” (Bratton and van der Walle,1994; 479) Therefore this is empirical evidence to confirm Chabal and Daloz’s theory of ‘the political instrumentalization of disorder’. Which states that “where disorder has become a resource, there is no incentive to work for a more institutionalized ordering of society” (Chabal and Daloz,1999;162).
c) Competitive one party system
This regime as it is labeled is a competitive regime but still works on the same basis of a one party, i.e. African Personal Rule. Voters possess a restricted electoral choice from “a single official party with an established policy platform” (Bratton and van der Walle,1994;482) The party in power however, appreciates the personal political legitimacy and that their parties have the organizational strength to win a competitive election. (Bratton and van der Walle,1994;483) However, rulers see these institutions as mechanisms as an “availability of funds to finance the ruling party, (and) will ensure a comfortable electoral victory.” (Bratton and van der Walle,1994;483-4)
These measures although looked upon as ‘fraud’ or ‘corruption’ when explained in traditional African political terms seem different. In mutli-party election, “ruling parties were returned to power in part simple because they were perceived to be more able to deliver on expected patrimonial promises than their competitors. Thus if these ‘funds’ spoken about in the previous paragraph are taken and restored in the Primidorial public, which would have been done by most leaders, then this is a legitimate reason in Africa to have another ‘comfortable election victory’.
While this is more accustomed to a democratic institution of multi-party, one can still gather by the functioning of it that it is on its way of being Africanized.
Therefore in these various neo patrimonial regimes there has been a close examination of the colonial (institutions) and pre-colonial (personal rule and community ties) factors existing in contemporary African politics. The conclusion gained largely works around the phrase “the emergence of the modern state marks the end of patrimonialism” (Chabal and Daloz,1999;5) Therefore this implies that the successful integration of institutions in an African model would instantly alter and eradicate its Patrimonial nature, that exists in the manner solely due to the lack of separation between the private and public realm.
In conclusion the reason for the lack of separation between the public and private spheres in post-colonial African politics is largely due to its pre-colonial traditional values it has engrained in the depth of its political system. This patrimonial political system works on the basis of personal rule where there is a ‘Big Man’ as a leader and a moral reciprocity between him and the members of his ethnic community or Ekeh’s Primidorial public. The role of the civic public is two fold. It serves as a strengthening tool for the traditional workings of the political realm, thus further deepening the lack of separation, and on the other hand, due to colonial legitimacy the African bourgeoisie that took over at the time of independence, aiming to govern in the same way as the colonizers did, and thus began to introduce institutions African political system. This endeavor however fell flat on the faces of the ‘civic public’ as institutions were just not being accepted into the Neo patrimonial structure of African society. This is because, the large gap between the public and private realm exists for a reason and due to a non-existence of institutions. Therefore, the moment there is an institution introduced in African society it is attempting to open or create the gap between the two realms. However considering the basis of African patrimonial society functions on the ultimate basis of this lack of separation, when introduced by the civic public institutions are rejected.
“The emergence of the modern state means the end of patrimonialism” (Chabal and Daloz, 1999; 5) and vice versa. Therefore, African society is gradually shaking off the influence of colonialism (i.e.) institutions in order to pursue its traditional form of personal rule.
- Bratton,M. Van de Walle, N.(1994) “Neopatrimonial Regimes and Political Transitions in Africa” World Politic s 46(4) pp. 453-489
- Chabal.P, Daloz,J.(1999) Africa Works: Disorder as Poltical Instrument” Indiana University Press: Indiana
- Ekeh,P. (1975) “Colonialism and Two Publics in Africa: A Theoretical Statement” University of Ibadan, Nigeria pp.91-111
- Englebert, P.(2000) “Pre-colonial Institutions, Post-Colonial States, and Economic Development in Tropical Africa” Political Research Quarterly, 53(1) pp. 7-36
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- Jackson, R Rosberg, C. (1984) “ Personal Rule: Theory and Practice in Africa” Comparative Politics, 16(4) pp. 421-442
- Keisall,T (2005) History Identity and Collective Action, in Engle, E. Olsen, G. (eds) “The African exception”
- Pitcher, A. (et.al) (2009) “Rethinking Patrimonialism and Neopatrimonialism in Africa” African Studies Review, 52(1) pp. 125-156