(Russia- South Africa)
THE STATE IN AFRICA AND AFRICAN RENAISSANSE: THE PARADOX OF ABNORMALITY
OR THE NORMALITY OF THE PARADOX *
For the last three decades the international Africanist community has been
engaged in debating the legacy of the state in Africa. Is it mostly African? Or is it
Western, colonial, imposed? Which of these two legacies is to blame for the atrocities of
African civil wars, wars, coup-d’etats, maladministration, corruption etc. — African
or European? Is the African state not enough Europeanised to behave “normally”, or is
it too Europeanised — and thus alien?
After three decades we are not much closer to conclusive answers. Vast
academic literature exists on the state in Africa and on the correlation between the state
and tradition, state and community, and even more so — on the state and democracy, or
rather on the perceived incompatibility between the two. The consensus seems to begin to
emerge among the researchers as to the roots and scope of the problem. There is, however,
much less accord on where it stands now, on the direction in which it evolves and on what,
if anything, should or could be done to tackle it.
It is hardly possible to present a comprehensive range of views on the
historical legacy of the state in Africa within the limited space of an article. It is
still less possible to come up with an original study of this subject when dozens of such
studies of both concrete and theoretical nature have been published all over the world.
What is plausible here is to outline what seems to be the consensual view of the
parameters and the scope of the problem; and to contextualise it within the discourse of
its social historicity and against the background of international involvement and
The Scope of the Paradox
One of the most obvious aspects of “misbehaviour” of the state in
Africa, of its non-compliance with the norms accepted by the institutionalised
international public opinion is the fact that until recently democratically elected
governments had been an exception rather than a characteristic feature of the political
scene on the African continent.
The overthrow of Kwame Nkruma’s government in Ghana in 1966 was not the
first coup against a democratically elected government in Africa (it was preceded by the
coup in Togo in 1963) but it became a sensation because of Nkruma’s high regard as
president of the first African country to gain independence. It was also the first blot on
the previously unsullied mantle of the anti-colonial forces which had been perceived as
democratic by definition for they were fighting against the undemocratic colonial and
neo-colonial order. Since then coups, counter-coups and attempted coups (all either
military or supported by the military) of which few African countries were spared, became
such a common phenomenon that they stopped to make news anywhere except a country
concerned and its closest neighbours. Nigeria which in thirty years after its first coup
in 1966 had less than five years of civilian rule (in 1979-1983) may be the most notorious
Civil wars, of which the first one, the Nigerian, in 1967-1969, abhorred
the international community because more people are said to have died in it than in the
Vietnam war, became a common feature of the African political landscape (Angola,
Mozambique, Chad, Somalia, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, People's Republic of
Congo). Military conflicts and interventions that sometimes led to the toppling of
neighbouring country's regimes and sometimes supported them (Ethiopia-Eritrea;
Somalia-Kenya; Somalia-Ethiopia; Tanzania-Uganda; the extreme case of multi-national
intervention in DRC) although still perceived as abnormal in the context of the
continent's quest for unity, become more and more widely spread. Compared to this military
interventions of African regional organisations, such as the Economic Community of West
African States (with Nigerian military constituting the majority of its military wing,
Ecomog) and the Southern African Development Community (with South Africa as the strongest
regional power), into internal politics of member states (Sierra Leone, Liberia, Lesotho)
seems to be a much milder case.
Perhaps the most terrifying phenomenon in the same range are mass ethnic
cleansings, the worst, both in scale and mode, having taken place in 1994 in Rwanda. This
inevitably resulted in mass exodus of refugees, proliferation of military conflicts and
enormous human suffering.
Coups, military interventions, civil wars and massacres may have been the
most obvious but not the only vestiges of the departure of the African state from what is
perceived as norms of democracy. Military or authoritarian regimes and one party systems
which until recently have been perceived as non-democratic by Western observers; flawed or
fraudulent elections; intolerance towards all kinds of opposition and media, and sometimes
physical assaults on and assassinations of opponents and journalists; the suppression of
basic political and personal freedoms; the oblivion or suppression of human rights and the
low value of human life — all this adds to the disgraceful political performance of the
state in Africa.
Massive embezzlement of state funds and assets by state office holders and
massive corruption on the part of all levels of state employees seem to constitute raison
d'être of the existence of quite a number of states on the continent which Robert Jackson
and Carl Rosberg defined as “personally appropriated states”.1 Zaire, where
during the 1980s Mobutu Sese Seko’s wealth was estimated at approximately the same sum
as the whole national debt, and Nigeria, where the eight-year tenure of Ibrahim Babangida
alone saw the disappearance of 12.4 billion US dollars in oil receipts (a third of which
is believed to have been stolen by the general himself)2 present just the best
Economic incompetence and the inability or unwillingness of state
institutions to stimulate economic growth, the decay of basic social services and of
economy as a whole, and finally a failure on the part of the state to exercise a
meaningful control over its own territory, — a phenomenon which John Iliffe
appropriately called “state contraction”.3 In extreme cases “state
contraction” can lead to a complete collapse of state structures, as happened in DRC and
Somalia. The combination of over centralisation and authoritarian nature of power on the
one hand and “state contraction” on the other seem to be a contradiction in terms but
only at first sight, for they co-exist harmoniously, representing two sides of a coin.
The dismal performance of the state in Africa was always attributed to the
lack of democracy as it was understood by Western schools of thinking. It was thought that
democratic elections and the introduction of multi-party systems drastically change the
situation. As Daniel Simpson put it, “if people have a legitimate and peaceful means of
changing their governors, theoretically those governors — wishing not to be turned out
of office — have reasons not to steal, not to install their relatives and ethnic kin
exclusively at the trough, and not to abuse human and civil rights or otherwise torment
the governed. Instead, the governors will rule wisely and will pursue constructive
long-term economic policies”.4 Thus the enthusiasm of the 1990s when one
African leader after another announced “the transition to democracy”. This enthusiasm
was, however, short lived.
The results of democratic elections that swept through the continent (for
example, in Zambia, Ghana, Congo, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Ethiopia and now Nigeria),
have often been nullified by ensuing coups. The spirit of democratisation which seemed to
be gaining momentum in the wake of the Cold War, slowed down and then suffered severe
blows inflicted by massacres in Rwanda and Burundi, civil wars in Liberia, Congo, Zaire5
and then DRC, the coup in Sierra-Leone, and the attempted coup in Zambia. Moreover, it
soon became obvious that new democratically elected leaders do not necessarily act
democratically themselves — of which treatment of the opposition by Zambia’s Frederick
Chiluba is just one example. Even the character and the parameters of the newly born
democracies itself seems to be very different from the known patterns.
Explanations of the deplorable state of democracy in Africa and of the
role of the state in creating this situation were aplenty. The most popular were offered
by the now unanimously denounced “dependency and underdevelopment” school of thought
which dominated the debate on the subject both in Marxist an non-Marxist circles during
the 1970s and early 1980s.6 Its main thrust was the idea that African countries
were economically weak and still dependent on former colonial and on other
“neo-colonial” powers. Their social structures were “underdeveloped” compared to
the “developed” “first” (Western) and “second” (“socialist”) worlds, and
they could not incorporate institutions of the developed democracies organically.
Therefore these democratic institutions were imposed on African societies in the same
fashion as colonial institutions, and sometimes together with them, and were unacceptable
for this reason. This implied the weakness or absence of institutionalised civil society,
of democratic traditions — the “habit” of democratic behaviour, and, more important,
of the appropriate classes and social structures which could generate them. In other
words, as Patrick Chabal puts it, the weakness of the state was blamed on its
“artificial” construction on colonial foundations, as opposed to an “organic”
growth from the entrails of civil society.7
Not that there has ever been an accepted set of social prerequisites for
democracy but there was a theoretical perception (shared, again, by broad circles of
Marxists and non-Marxists alike) that “contemporary” democracy could only emerge with
the development of the classes of “contemporary” (capitalist) society. Therefore, the
main question was how capitalist African societies were at the end of the colonial era and
how long it would take them to “modernise” their social, economic and political
structures in order “to catch up” with the “modern” world.
The theory may seem to have Eurocentric connotations in the present
historico-political discourse but two decades ago it did not because a) it was
anti-colonialist; b) it was not racist, or at least was not meant to be because African
“backwardness” was seen only in social (formational) and not in cultural or political
terms — and was mainly blamed on colonialism; c) its authors and adherents assumed that
African societies were in the process of “modernisation” and that gradually they would
develop classes of the “contemporary society” (capitalist or socialist). Thus they
would one day “catch up” with the “modern” world and in the process of doing so
they will democratise themselves with the assistance of either “progressive”
(socialist) or “democratic” (capitalist) international community.
Since Western institutionalised democracy with parliaments, multi-party
elections, parliamentary oppositions etc. was seen as alien to Africa, the state itself,
designed as a replica of that system at the end of the colonial era, was looked upon as
fragile, weak and thus unable to cope with the general task of governance and with the
concrete problems of each particular country. This led to the situation of perennial
crises, instability and disorder with “ethnicity” being one major rationale behind
conflict. The worst cases of collapsed states, such as Mozambique at the end of its
incessant civil war, Somalia and the DRC with armed bands of no particular political
affiliation controlling vast areas in the manner and order established entirely by
themselves seemed to confirm the “weak state” thesis.
As years went by it has became increasingly clear that the predicted model
of socio-political transformation has failed to materialise. Social structures of African
societies proved resistant to the pre-determined direction of change and the changes in
their political behaviour re-defined but confirmed the existing pattern. It has also
become clear that while the political situation in different countries remained volatile
and highly unstable the pattern of this instability remained the same. Moreover, despite
its obvious weakness and irrespective of the degree of ungovernability and of the amount
of turmoil within its borders the state itself as a sovereign political entity
demonstrated an enviable degree of resilience and proved to be much more stable than it
had been envisaged.
Artificial colonial borders which divided well established
“ethnicities”, or, on the contrary, clubbed together alien and often hostile entities
— another reason for conflicts — sustained for several decades and show the tendency
to a deeper entrenchment. The changes were few, none very significant. The struggle for
power, often violent, wars and civil wars — all seem to be for, not against the state;
for straddling, not for ruining the state in its present borders — or at least a part of
the state. Of course, the structures of governance may collapse in the process — as they
often do — but the state as a political entity survives.
Significantly, the mode of functioning of the state remains stable as
well. Generalisations are, of course, inappropriate, for each African state has
accumulated its own unique historical memory and lives within the constrains of its own
unique historical experience, yet the pattern is omnipresent. The “abnormality” of
corruption, violence, instability and ungovernability in combination with authoritarianism
and non-democratic principles seems to be well entrenched, normal, almost stable.
The “dependency and underdevelopment” theory did not offer any
explanation as to why and how something as artificial and “non-organic”, as the state
in Africa was supposed to be, could last so long and become so well entrenched. It also
failed to explain the overt independence of political superstructures from their social
basis, the enormous political weight of power bearers in the political process coupled
with the perceived political “passiveness” of institutions and non-institutionalised
social groups, and for the disproportionately high percentage of policy makers who chose
and were able to abuse law and order in their countries, internationally accepted norms of
political behaviour and the logic of political responsibility.
The inadequacy of this approach was becoming increasingly obvious during
the 1990s and new ideas on how to deal with the problem began to crystallise. These do not
exhaust the problem but rather takes the debate further by opening new perspectives for
new questions and accommodating some contradictions of the “underdevelopmental” and
Political Economy of the Historical Legacy
The adherents of the new approach attempted to transfer the focus of
attention from the influence of the world economic process and international politics to
the internal social and political processes that are taking place in the entrails of
African societies themselves; and second, to put the present developments into the context
of socio-political historicity of both colonial and pre colonial eras.
The origins of the contemporary state are usually traced to the beginning
of the colonial era when all major institutions and social groups of colonial society came
into existence. As Jean-François Bayart puts it, “the vicissitudes of the conquest and
the modalities of colonial economic exploitation make up the genesis of the contemporary
state”.8 Soviet anthropologist and historian Dmitri Olderogge entertained the
same idea almost two decades earlier when he wrote of “the colonial society” as “a
special type of social development” which “took a whole century of the colonial
subjugation of Africa to develop social conditions that would define the future of new
Colonial state as the precursor of the contemporary state in Africa has
been thoroughly studied.10 Bruce Berman's and John Lonsdale's analysis 11
is close to my understanding of colonial roots of the contemporary state but the synopsis
of colonial society presented here is based mainly on my own work on the subject.12
The introduction of colonial rule was a political act but the main goal
and the main function of the new order was the creation of social conditions for economic
exploitation of the conquered territories by the colonial powers. This social function was
actually the main goal of establishing colonial rule as a system of direct political
control over the colonised societies.
The colonial state acted as an intermediary between European capital,
whatever the form of its engagement in the colonies, and the colonised societies. It was
the colonial state, not the capital itself, that played the decisive role in the
organisation of the system of colonial production. Directly or indirectly the colonial
administration provided labour for mines and plantations, introduced cash crops,
maintained “law and order”, i.e. suppressed strikes, uprisings and various other forms
of protest. All these functions could be successfully fulfilled only with the assistance
of local agents, local institutions of power.
There was not much difference between the mode of colonial social
engineering in the territories with direct and indirect rule. The difference lay rather in
the nature of pre colonial societies. In the societies with well established pre colonial
institutions of power colonial authorities used these institutions changing their nature
(e.g. intervening into the rules of succession or changing and regulating the functions
and the rights of the rulers to adjust them to their needs (as in Buganda, Northern
Nigeria and the Zanzibar Sultanate). In the societies where these institutions were weak
or non-existent (mainly in pre-class and stateless societies), new mechanisms and
institutions of power were introduced without much regard for the existing (pre-colonial)
structures of governance, although some elements of these structures could be
The selection of such institutions and structures began already during the
years of colonial partition, when colonial authorities, at that time weak and scanty,
began to recruit allies in the local communities. The process of selection went both at
structural and personal levels with the personal level being of major significance:
European administrators easily dropped local institutions of power and substituted them
with something new, or reformed them, in order to extend the administrative power of this
or that ally.
John Ainsworth, a well known colonial official in Kenya, wrote in 1905
that the administration encourages “any strong personality” and “does everything to
increase its power as soon as it demonstrates loyalty”. The degree of
“traditionality” of the new allies began to worry colonial administrators only later
when they realised that their allies would be useless in they did not have at least some
legitimacy in the eyes of their compatriots. Ainsworth noted that there were two
difficulties that the British administration had to face while establishing the system of
local authorities: one was “to find a really strong reliable person”, another, “to
make the natives as a whole to recognise one representative of their tribe as a person
having authority over them”. 13
The early allies of colonial administration whole range of “strong
personalities” with varying degrees of involvement in pre-colonial power structures. The
early 20th century political landscape of British East Africa is a good example of this
The Sultans of Zanzibar from the Busaidi dynasty could claim much
legitimacy despite the fact that the British intervened into the succession process on the
regular basis. Kinyanjui, who became one of the three Gikuyu “senior chiefs” (the
notion that had not existed in pre colonial times) under the British, could not claim any
authority within the pre colonial Gikuyu system of governance for he started his career as
a guide for the caravans of the Imperial British East African Company. Another Gikuyu
“chief”, Wayaki, had some power within the scope of pre-British norms for he was head
of a big and powerful lineage. Ngonyo, a Giriama strong man turned “chief” enjoyed
some authority within pre-colonial political landscape but outside the established Giriama
system of power for he made his name and fortune by trade with the passing Swahili
caravans and with Swahili clans on the coast. Lenana, a Masai supreme “chief”, in his
pre-colonial days was a ritual leader who enjoyed a significant authority but not a real
power. A Luhya “supreme chief” Mumia used to be Head of the most powerful Luhya clan,
Wanga, but had no authority over other clans.
All these leaders who for various reasons sought allies outside their own
communities found them in the British administration and used its assistance to strengthen
their own (and their clientele's) political and economic position to the detriment of that
of their neighbours and enemies. This could only be done through the use of force, either
in the form of direct punitive expeditions organised by colonial administration against
the enemies of its allies, or through a demonstration of power, or through intimidation,
or through other forms of “impressing” friends and enemies alike.14
By supporting some elements of the local political landscape against other
the colonial administration directly intervened into the local political and
socio-economic processes in the situation where at the beginning of the colonial era other
players were not in the position to comprehend fully either its ultimate goals or the real
extent of its power. But with all the ruthlessness of this intervention far from
everything was disrupted. Having created the network of its clientele through the use of
force — a well established practice in many pre colonial societies — the colonial
administration became the “strong man” at the local political arena, thus extending
the pre colonial patronage system into the colonial era and building it into the
foundations of the relations between the colonial and “native authorities” for decades
to come. In other words personalities, institutions and functions could be different
(although often they were not) but the basic law which defined the mode of and provided
for the functioning of the colonial society was still intact: the system of client-patron
relations, well familiar, fully understood and accepted by all players.
The way the “native authorities” came into existence defined
characteristic features of this social group: it was highly dependent on the colonial
state on the one hand, and it enjoyed a high degree of freedom from socio-political
responsibility towards its own community on the other. Its connection with the colonial
administration was its major source of power, indeed the backbone of its very existence,
and the basis of its two main sources of accumulation: the legal income that it received
from or within the framework of colonial administration and the spoils from corruption
that it received because of its close association with the colonial state. 15
“Native authorities” were the first product of socio-genesis of
colonial society of which the colonial state was a direct agent. This fact attains much
significance in the light of the importance and independence of the superstructural
(political) institutions as factors of social genesis in late colonial and post-colonial
African societies (social implications of national-liberation movements, and the attempts
at social engineering by the governments of “African socialism”, to give just two
During the 1920s and 1930 other new social groups appeared within the
colonial society, such as migrant labourers, squatters, colonial peasantry. These were not
classes, not even proto-classes but rather amorphous social formations without clearly
identifiable economic or social parameters: like “native authorities” they were rather
the vehicles than the products of colonial social stratification. Much can be said about
the roles of each of these strata in the construction of a specific colonial social
structure but only one was as important as the “native administration” in the
formation of the contemporary state, the new educated stratum, or, as a Kenyan author
Gideon Mutiso called it, “asomi”, from the Swahili word “kusoma”, to study —
those who got European education during the colonial era.16
The small social stratum of “asomi” which became a political and
social factor after the second world war had certain advantages in the process of
accumulation but no administrative power that could enable it to consolidate and increase
them.17 Thus its dual role in the colonial society: on the one hand “asomi”
were interested in preserving their advantageous position which was only possible on
condition of their alliance with colonial authorities, on the other they wanted to destroy
the system of alliances which had already come into existence and which did not leave
them, as a group, a place near the only possible source of accumulation and vertical
social mobility, i. e. within the colonial structures with the support of the colonial
administration and in the role of its ally.
There was a link between “native authorities” and the “asomi” from
which the majority of the leaders of national-liberation movements came, for a significant
part of the new stratum was, in fact, represented by children of the old one but in the
social sense “asomi” became the arch enemy of “native authorities” during the
colonial era. The main social difference between the two was not the age or the level of
education but the type of alignment with the colonial administration. Unlike “native
authorities” the new educated stratum had mass following, particularly at the end of the
colonial era, and thus was expected to be much more accountable to its community in the
sense of delivery. By the same token it was more independent from the colonial state and
could even exercise pressure on the colonial administration.
In the wake of colonialism it imposed itself on the colonial
administration as the new (and the only genuine) intermediary between the colonial state
and population. After the colonial order was substituted with neo-colonial structures it
remained the main channel of communication, the main intermediary between the local
societies and the international capital, thus turning itself into the neo-colonial élite.
At this critical juncture of de colonisation the personalities and the institutions have
changed — as they did in the process of the creation of the colonial society — but the
system of patronage, once again, remained in place.
The main source of accumulation for the élite of the neo-colonial state
was, again, its administrative function, which gave it (and its clientele) access to both
legal and illegal, internal and external procurement. And the main sources of power of
this élite were, again, its connection with the international capital, its ability to
deliver to its clientele, and the use of force, although it could do it more independently
than its predecessor. The aura of legitimacy made it generally more independent from the
international capital than the “native authorities” had been from the colonial state,
particularly in the first years after its coming to power. The new élite used this
post-colonial situation to its utmost benefit, for this relative independence allowed it
to procure a much higher level of accumulation for itself and for its much broader
clientele than the one with which “native authorities” had to be satisfied.
The centrality of the external factor for the structure of both colonial
and post colonial state commented on by many researchers. Bayart's comment is, perhaps,
the most outspoken. He wrote: “the dominant groups who hold power in black Africa
continue to live chiefly off the income they derive from their positions as intermediaries
vis-à-vis the international system”. Quoting Niger as an example, he concluded that
“the principal source of accumulation, for the dominant actors of the country, lies in
the more or less legal trade with Nigeria and the embezzlement of international aid”. 18
Colonialism was not, however, the first link in the chain of the
historicity of the African state. At the level of concrete studies there has never been
any doubt that every aspect of both colonial and post colonial African societies carried a
powerful pre-colonial legacy. At the level of generalisations, however, the study of
continuity between pre colonial, colonial, and particularly post colonial state remained
muted for a long time, possibly because of the perceived political inappropriateness of
this idea. French anthropologist Georges Balandier wrote about the continuity
between the pre colonial and colonial societies already at the end of 1950s and the
beginning of 1960s19 but the interpretation of the pre colonial legacy in the
post colonial era began only in the 1990s.
Bayart's analysis of this legacy seems to be the most penetrating. He
outlined several features of pre-colonial “modelity” that played and continue to play
a formative role in the process of social construction of the contemporary African state:
low productivity of labour and the attempts, on the part of the state, to augment its
procurement by “mobilising resources derived from [its] (possibly unequal) relationship
with the external environment”; the “exit option” — the political fragmentation as
a result of the secessions of clans and lineages which was made possible by the
availability of unoccupied or temporarily unused territories; rebellion as a regular
phenomenon which was made possible by the availability of the “exit option”;
“acephalous” nature of many societies; the importance of lineage structures within the
state structures which enabled the subordinate actors to impose some limitations upon
their leaders. 20
The most important of these, in my view, were the low productivity and
unequal relationship with the external environment; the political fragmentation as a
result of secession; and socio-political role of the lineage structures. They were all
interconnected, strengthening an supplementing one another.
There is no need here to go into the detailed analysis of reasons for the
low productivity of labour and the extensive nature of production in pre colonial (as well
as colonial and post colonial Africa). Suffice it to say that almost everywhere where
African societies were not “acephalous”, i. e. developed institutions of power, these
came into existence not only and even not mainly as a result of the growth of productivity
of labour and of the need to organise and manage it, as it happened in many other
societies (but by no means all), but rather as a result of the appropriation of a trading
or of some other intermediary function by certain groups or lineages (as it happened, for
example, among some Eastern Slavs in Europe).
Trade was important in the rise of all ancient societies but in some more
than in others. The enormous (although dubious) role of trans-Saharan trade in the rise of
Ghana, Mali and Songhai or of trans-Atlantic slave trade in Congo, Benin and other West
African states, or of trade with Asia in Swahili city states is a testimony to this. This
pattern of state formation could only emerge in conditions where it was impossible to
enforce the intensification of labour. In case of Africa such conditions were created by
the existence of free, unoccupied land (in West Africa less than in other regions) which
enabled dissatisfied groups (lineages and other) to leave — the opportunity which was
Russian historian Leo Kubbel who studied the specificity of African pre
colonial state concluded that the impact of this pattern of state formation on future
historicity of the state was manifold. It resulted in “floating” élites, only weakly
attached to the corresponding societies in the economic and social sense; in the absence
of strictly defined state borders; in the relative strength of the subordinate groups
(lineages) and in the absence of social stratification within them (which was not
tantamount to the internal social or economic equality); in strengthening “vertical”
internal structures of the society (clan and lineage) and weakening the horizontal ones
(class) thus slowing and playing down the processes of social stratification; and finally,
in the system of patronage which kept together every lineage and the whole state
Certain features of the historicity of the contemporary state are not
easily attributable to any particular period, patronage system being only one of many.
Even such a seemingly “modern” category as inefficient state sectors of African
economies derives, in part, from the historical legacy of the African state. In pre
colonial era when in many cases a ruler or a head of a lineage or of any other group had
the ultimate power to dispose of the state land, or the group's land (which was sometimes
considered the ruler's own estate as, for example, in the case of Kabaka of Buganda) this
was used to bestow favours on his retinue. Multiple and various colonial monopolies in the
economic sphere (including the ultimate power to distribute land) modernised and
entrenched the tradition. Since independence inefficient state sectors were mainly used as
a source of accumulation through embezzlement by the new élite, irrespective of whether
the state was considered to be “socialist” or “capitalist”. In both cases state
sectors collapsed but the idea that the state should provide through taking control over
the country's assets is very much alive among the lower strata of the population.
One of the most controversial and widely discussed aspects of Africa's
historical legacy is the confusing and confused notion of ethnicity on which so many
failures of the state are blamed. Until recently the academic debate about ethnicity
centred on its artificial, superficial, constructed and recent nature, and its importance
was blamed on the politicians who politicised it in their own egoistic interest — which
is all true but does not answer the question why it is this particular identity that is so
easily politised. The debate on the nature of ethnicity is beside the point here but the
question of how recent it is may shed some light on the problems connected with it.
The emergence of “modern” ethnicity is generally attributed to the
colonial era. This process involved two developments: the emergence of the concrete groups
which define themselves ethno-politically at present; and the rise of a particular kind of
group mentality and group behaviour which is defined as “ethnic” at present. Berman
maintains that it was “European expectations about African cultures and institutions”
that “contained African political processes within the categories of “tribe” and
encouraged Africans to think ethnically”.
What, then, was the nature of the categories in which African political
processes developed before the advent of colonialism? Ethnicities for Berman are,
basically, interest groups where “the vertical relations of patrons and clients involved
mutual obligations of support and assistance and extended the ties of kinship and
sentiment into the wider structures of economies and politics” and where “wealth and
power rested on the ability to mobilise and maintain a following of both kin and unrelated
dependants”.22 In other words he thinks that ethnicities were — and are —
based on exactly the same principle of patron-client relationship on which lineages and
other pre colonial identities had been based.
Moreover, Berman declares that ethnic identities “must be built on real
cultural experience”23 — an observation which in my view is not entirely
correct (“historical experience” should be substituted for “cultural experience”)
but is well worth mentioning because of its refreshingly straightforward nature after the
decades of research aimed at proving the artificiality of ethnicity. Both points indicate
that however recent ethnicities themselves may be the basic principles underlying their
functionality are deeply entrenched in the historicity of African societies.
A particular type of historicity brought about a particular historical
memory and a particular political culture derived from it. These are graphically captured
by Themba Sono. “The role of the group in African consciousness”, he writes, “is
overwhelmingly totalistic, even totalitarian... This mentality, this psychology, is
stronger on belief than on reason; on sameness than on difference. Discursive rationality
is overwhelmed by emotional identity, by the obsession to identify with and by the longing
to conform to. To agree is more important than to disagree; conformity is cherished more
than innovation. Tradition is venerated, continuity revered, change feared and difference
shunned. Heresies are not tolerated in such communities”. “Civilisations of
consent”, he goes on, quoting his own earlier work, “demand consensus (indeed, unity,
uniformity, solidarity, etc.) and are thus prone to coercive pressure; to moral
agreement.., refusal to consent frequently invites punishment. Consensus in civilisations
of consent is rather superficial... Civilisations of dissent value the notion of 'No'
while those of consent prize the value of ‘Yes’”.24
This observation, crucial as it is for the understanding of politics of
the contemporary African state, particularly of the attitudes and treatment of the
opposition, needs to be amended. What, for Sono, constitutes civilisational types of
mentalities is better attributed in terms of particular stages of civilisational
historicity. The mentality and politics of consent, consensus, conformity and, as a
result, of coercion (as opposed to the accommodation and utilisation of dissent) is more
characteristic of rural than of urban societies, of agricultural rather than of
industrialised societies and of earlier rather than of later stages of development of
civilisations. The quest for compulsory unity and conformity is, naturally, greatly
enhanced in societies and groups under pressure.
However well developed the contemporary African state may be, the reality
is that the societies that constitute it are more rural, more agricultural, less socially
and economically developed and more under all kinds of pressure than their Western
counterparts — and this is one of the sources of their attitude to dissent. Before
colonisation the existence of free land and of the “exit option” mitigated the
conflict. Under colonialism the safety valve of the “exit option” was closed, and in
the post colonial era internal militant and sometimes violent intolerance of a group
towards opposition and dissent became a major factor in the politics of the African state
at every level.
This is not to say that the African state repeats the historical
trajectory of its Western predecessors but rather to stress the historicity of the roots
of its behaviour. Although the “mentality of consent”, the system of patronage and the
factor of ethnicity are by no means uniquely African phenomena, a particular combination
of these features, as well as a particular kind of their sustainability and ajustability
at particular historical junctures constitutes the specificity of the African state. It is
this specificity that creates recurring patterns of centrifugal and centripetal forces
inside and around the evolving African state through decades and centuries.
The historical parallels and coincidences that emerge from these patterns
are startling. The organised criminality that shook African countries during the first
years of post colonial era and gangsterism that led to the virtual collapse of several
states, such as Mozambique, clearly fall within the pattern of the socio-political
behaviour of African societies during crises periods before the advent of colonialism.
When societal ties were weakened and individuals had to take care of themselves gangs of
young warriors around strong leaders often entered the political arena. The “tabari”
gangs of young Gikuyu that harassed the local population and pillaged the passing trade
caravans in central Kenya in the 1890s were one of many examples.25 The 1997
march of anti-Mobutu forces through the huge territory of Zaire that brought to power
Laurent Kabila and the 1998 offensive of the army of Kabila's opponents replicated long
distance military raids of compact but well organised (usually along ethnic lines but
allowing aliens to join) and well armed groups which disrupted and overwhelmed potentially
more powerful settled formations in the 19th century. The invasion of East Africa by
Zwangendaba's Ngoni in the 1830s — 1840s and the occupation of Hausa city states by
Usman dan Fodio's Fulbe at the turn of the 19th century are the first to come to mind.
Both resulted in the destruction of the old and the formation of the new polities.
There is no abyss between “tradition” and “innovation” in African
historical experience and memory — no more than in the historicity of any other region
of the world. In fact, the two can not be separated at all. All major changes in African
societies happened within the framework of “innovative traditionalism” or,
“traditionalised innovation”. In the past four decades, for example, Africa was going
through a process of massive and fast urbanisation which is usually associated with
“detribalisation” and the emergence of civil society . What happened in reality,
however, was “villigisation” of the cities and “retribalisation” which had an
adverse effect on democratisation.
Historicity of the state in Africa is a process with its own logic of
continuity and its own mode of innovation and regeneration. But the state's historical
trajectory is not and has never been formed independently of the world's changing
economic, political and social order. For centuries there has been a dialectic and dynamic
concatenation between the two with Africa playing an important albeit an asymmetric role
in the formation and development of the changing global order and being its integral part.
This means that the modality of the state in Africa is the organic result of both a long
process of internal development, and the external influences which were continuously
internalised to create a particular kind of social historicity and a particular kind of
“Everything points in the end to the fact”, Bayart writes, “that
unequal entry into the international systems has been for several centuries a major and
dynamic mode of African societies, not the magical suspension of it. Their internal
structure itself stems from this relationship with the world economy. Of course,” he
adds, “the concept of dependence still keeps its meaning, but it should not be
dissociated from the concept of autonomy”.26 The truth is that the
eventuality of the present day African political landscape encompasses and exceeds both
external (“dependence”) and internal (“autonomy”) factors creating a new
homogeneous historical modelity based on both but not tantamount to the sum.
The Conflation of the Political Space
“Britain will have to fulfil its dual mandate in India”, Karl Marx
prophesied in his work on the nature of the socio-economic function of colonialism in
India — “to destroy the old Asian society on the one hand, and to lay the foundation
of the Western society in Asia on the other”. 27 From the importance that he
attributed in this connection to industrialisation it is obvious that by “Western”
Marx meant “capitalist”. The social results of the “creative” activities of
colonialism, be it in Asia or in Africa, were not really capitalist. We have already seen
that the colonial society in Africa did not copy British or French capitalist socia. In
terms of Marxist approach the whole social dynamic of the colonial society was inverted,
for it was its superstructure that acted as the agent of its socio-genesis while the
social basis of this superstructure, the capitalist order, was situated outside the
framework of local (African) societies. But were these societies cast in the same mould as
their capitalist fecundators, at least in the distant future?
Leon Trotsky's perspicacious insights into the development of capitalism
in Russia show that there is no straightforward answer to this question and that the
problem is much more complicated and global than a simple answer would presuppose.
Trotsky’s departure point was that capitalist development in different regions of the
world proceeded from different starting points. It did not follow, at least not for him,
that when they were incorporated into the international system they would at some point
converge in an advanced democratic society. He saw certain advantages in the phenomenon of
late development of capitalism (which he called “the privilege of historic
backwardness”), for example, the universal accessibility of technology. At the same time
he noticed the peculiar contortions of social structure in the societies in which this
development took place.
In Russia, for example, fast industrialisation during the last two decades
of the 19th century, produced a significant working class but because of the dominance of
foreign capital and the over centralised and undemocratic nature of the tsarist state
local bourgeoisie remained weak and unable to provide a liberal opposition to the
autocratic regime. Moreover, it had to rely on that very autocratic pre-capitalist regime
for the protection of its property and for the maintenance of law and order. The majority
of the population, the peasants, who were, seemingly, excluded from the capitalist
development, were, in fact, subsidising it, for in view of the growing Russia's
indebtedness to the international markets the state attempted to extract increasingly
higher taxes from the peasantry. The international capital, in its turn, was interested in
the survival of the archaic tsarist state because it was the only guarantor of debt
This picture is a far cry from the classical image of capitalist society
but it can not be called “pre-capitalist” either. It is neither — and both,
presenting an example of what Trotsky called “uneven and combined” process of world
capitalist development. “England in her day”, he wrote, “revealed the future of
France, considerably less of Germany, but not in the least of Russia and not of India”.28
As another author put it, Eastern Europe became the West’s “first model of
underdevelopment”.29 This is to say that historically all countries, except
Britain, and perhaps France, shared or share the condition of relative social
backwardness, which means that “contortions” in capitalism's development were not an
exception but the norm in the world historical process.
Justin Rosenberg spelled out several implications of Trotsky’s theory
for the modernity. First, capital did create one world as Marxists always claimed it would
— but it was not a homogeneous world “fashioned in the image of the capitalist
societies in the centre”. Second, this meant that a logical abstract model of a
homogeneous capitalist state does not exist or if it does it does not help us to
understand “the variety of political forms”. In order to understand them one has to
grasp “the peculiar international mechanism of capitalist expansion”. Third,
“the social structure of humanity” (Trotsky’s expression) can only be understood
geopolitically, for if capitalism distorted Russian society, it did “by the same token,
incorporate that social distortion into the world market”.30
What follows is that although the African pattern of modernity is unique,
at the same time it is not. Although in the light of the above it is clear that even in
similar circumstances different societies do not repeat socio-political experiences of
their predecessors there is much to be said about the similarity of socio-political
processes developing on a “short cut” rout to the market economy. Political
instability, “vertical” organisation of the society, non-democratic practices or
straightforward authoritarian regimes, attempted coups, civil wars, high levels of
criminality, corruption and embezzlement as structural phenomena — all these societal
features are no less characteristic of the modernity in Russia, than in Africa.
Corruption as a structural phenomenon in the process of accumulation and
of the utilisation of anti-corruption slogans in the struggle against political opponents
during the late Soviet era 31 fall well within the “African” pattern. At
different levels both societies, not just Africa, are going through a stage where “the
modern state structure... forms little more than a thin carapace over the living social
organism”, where “the vital activity... takes place in the largely hidden realms of
the informal economy and companion polity” in which “population struggles to make
sense and to survive..”. 32
This does not mean, of course, that socio-political results of the similar
(at least overtly similar) processes in the two regions are going to be the same, for the
historical “soil” on which these processes are developing is different. Moreover, in
both cases these results are unpredictable — and so is, if we are to believe Trotsky,
the outcome of the present geopolitical order as a whole because it is itself the result
of the incorporation of all the previous “distortions” which — and only which —
constitute the process of world history.
We must here return to one such “distortion”, the most important one
for the understanding of the interaction between the African modelity and the
international arena, i. e. the “inverted” societal structures with the resulting
importance of superstructural factors. “The assumption... is not that there are specific
socio-economic preconditions that have to be met before democracy becomes possible”,
wrote the American political scientist, Marina Ottaway, “but that there are conditions
that facilitate a democratic transition. If those conditions do not exist — and they do
not in Africa — then democracy has to be attained purely through politics: political
action by small democratic groups has to provide the leverage for change that has not been
provided by social or economic transformation. Democratisation, in other words, takes a
curious Leninist twist, becoming a process where political organising must make up for the
unfavourable underlying socio-economic conditions”. 33
This assertion needs to be corrected. From what has been said about the
social historicity of the state in Africa and about its international context it is clear
that the meaning of “the active role of superstructure” should not be seen as just
“political action by small democratic groups” (however important this may be in
itself) but as a much more diversified and in-depth process comprising, among other
things, the socio-political and psychological climate in the society and on the
international arena as a whole.
It was important, for example, that Africa entered the post colonial era
at the time when the global order was defined by the Cold War — the factor that
dominated the international political arena until the beginning of the 1990s. The global
political order of the Cold War era implied a relatively high degree of involvement of
super-powers into African affairs. The hunt for allies in which both counterparts were
engaged on the global scale turned any kind of an ally into a precious asset. Mobutu, for
example, enjoyed the support of his Western donors irrespective of what he did in the
country as long as he was in control of the situation and loyal. In its turn the Soviet
Union supported not only such controversial leaders as Ethiopia's Mengystu Haile Mariam
(who enjoyed popularity and a high degree of legitimacy during the first years of his
rule) but also outright criminal dictators like Uganda’s Idi Amin.
This meant not only that during the three decades of the post colonial era
the global dynamics were not conducive to democratisation in Africa but also that both
counterparts of the Cold War order supported and propped up the institution of the state
itself, saving it from disintegration for decades. According to Leonardo Villalón, it was
at that time that “the international face of the state in Africa... outstripped its
domestic reality in importance”. 34
After the end of the Cold War African states were faced with an entirely
new global order (to the creation of which they had extensively contributed). After the
disintegration of the Soviet Union African leaders of all denominations found themselves
faced with a more or less united “international opinion” both non-institutionalised
and expressed by major international institutions and organisations. Soon, however, they
were to discover, together with policy makers elsewhere, that with the end of the Cold War
the bi-polar global order turned not into a homogeneous and harmonious mono-polar world,
but rather into a heterogeneous multi-polar, multi-faceted and very unstable system. This
meant that the world powers (being increasingly represented by NATO rather than by such
international organisations as the UN) have lost much of their willingness, let alone
their ability, to intervene into African affairs.
The “withdrawal” of world powers from Africa has been, of course,
partial and relative, a tendency rather than a consistent policy. France still has
“special” relations with Fracophone African countries which allowed it to intervene in
Chad, for example, but which have been moving increasingly into the humanitarian sphere.
The USA is still believed to be the major force behind Uganda's Yovery Kaguta Museveni.
Big European companies and transnational corporations (of the magnitude of “Shell” in
Nigeria or “Elf Aquitaine” in Congo and Gabon) still have an enormous leverage in
political developments on the continent. All this, however, does not count for much
compared to the direct involvement of superpowers in policy making in Africa,
particularly, military involvement, as happened with wars in Nigeria or Angola, for
The withdrawal of world powers from Africa left their former allies in a
very precarious position — personally, institutionally and socially. They suddenly found
themselves much more independent of the international arena (politically) and much more
vulnerable and exposed to the internal developments as a result. Once again, as it
happened at another critical juncture, before the end of the colonial era, these
intermediaries between the world capital and their own societies had to reorganise,
re-invent and re-position themselves.
Three major (and seemingly very different) developments provoked by the
changing global situation have come to dominate the political arena of the continent in
the past decade, all of them in this or that way connected with the process of the
re-positioning of the élite: the democratisation of the states in the form of the
increased number of multi-party elections; the internationalisation of conflicts in the
form of the increased number of inter-state interventions at the continental and regional
levels; and disintegration of states in the form of the increased number of collapsed
Of these three “democratisation” which swept through the continent
bringing about negotiated settlements and/or multi-party elections in such long suffering
countries as Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, Zambia, Uganda, Ghana, Sierra-Leone,
Congo-Brazzaville, Ethiopia and, most notably, South Africa and Nigeria, is perceived
internationally as the most important new tendency which signifies the new hope for
Africa. The other two, as expressed in the regional intervention in the war in the DRC,
successful coups against democratically elected leaders, such as Lissouba in Congo and
Alhaji Ahmad Kabbah in Sierra-Leone and the following chaos, the collapsed or
semi-collapsed state structures and the incessant wars in the DRC, Sierra-Leone, Angola,
Liberia etc., are seen as unwelcome survivals of the dark past which would sooner or later
disappear under the pressure of new developments.
While the outcome of the new developments may not yet be quite clear, it
is already obvious that the crises will not disappear in the wake of democratic elections,
and that the newly proclaimed “democracies” may themselves be part of the problem,
rather than of solution. In fact, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that the
new world dispensation itself is more conducive to democratisation and peace than the
A Renaissance of a Special Kind
Many Africanists and the “international community” at large may
rejoice at the proliferation of the democratic elections in Africa but many participants,
as well as the most insightful analysts the question arises of how democratic these
elections really are and how much democracy they create. The main reason for the question
is that with dramatic insistence they bring to power the military or other authoritarian
rulers who organise them. The electoral procedures are closely monitored by international
observers and the elections are pronounced to be free and fair, yet Ghana's elected
civilian president is Jerry Rawlings, the leader of two successful military coups;
Uganda's elected civilian president is Yovery Museveni who had toppled the elected
government at the end of a protracted guerrilla war; Nigeria’s president elect is
General Olusegun Obasanjo, one of the country’s former military rulers; and Ethiopia’s
prime minister, Meles Zenawi, is the leader of the minority Tigre Popular Liberation Front
which had ceased power before it began to win multi-party elections. 35
Some of these “returnees” clearly state that, in fact, their views
have not changed. In an interview to a South African newspaper Rawlings said: “A great
deal of progress was achieved when I was in uniform. Not so much because I was in uniform,
but because we did not have a constitutional or multi-party system with all its
Museveni thinks that the main problem of the state in Africa is its
“ideological dependence” on foreign powers as expressed in the debate between “the
rightists” and “the leftists” or in the attempts to introduce a multi party system.
In his view parties in peasant societies can only be inspired by tribalism and thus divide
the nation. Museveni's democracy is, therefore, based on one party, or rather a movement
— his National Resistance Movement which, supposedly, incorporates all shades of
political opinion. Other political parties are not prohibited but politicians can only
participate in elections as individuals. 37
In Ethiopia Tigrean People’s Liberation Front created an umbrella body,
Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which consists of new,
specifically formed parties based on ethnicity and grouped by region. The EPRDF rules a
federation of regions which are supposed to be autonomous but which in reality do not
enjoy any political autonomy at all. The control of Tigrean People's Liberation Front
within the EPRDF is maintained.38
Why do these leaders or parties bother about their democratic reputations
or elections and at all? International pressure greatly subsided after the end of the Cold
War but it has not disappeared completely. Sometimes it comes in a form of certain signals
from international organisations, such as the unanimous vote of the UN's Security Council
in favour of the imposition of sanctions against Sierra Leone's latest military junta.
According to a commentator, the vote reflected “a new position vis a vis military coups
on the continent”.39A more disturbing scenario for a military leader is the
danger of provoking an intervention of a stronger neighbour, either independently or on
behalf of a regional organisation, as it happened with Sierra Leone and Liberia where
Nigeria’s troops acted on behalf of the ECOWAS, and with Lesotho where South Africa’s
army intervened on behalf of SADC.
More important is, however, a different consideration. There is little
doubt that the increased independence from the international arena makes military and
other authoritarian regimes more dependent and exposed internally. In these circumstances
to be able to maintain their role of an intermediary between the world capital and their
societies and thus to continue getting their procurement through this link the élite has
to seek additional legitimacy and stability and to create additional following among their
own population. As Villalón put it, “elections themselves may be a strategy for
maintaining power, and many African (and indeed other) elections in the 1990s have been
clearly intended to forestall change, or even strengthen the status quo”.40
In other words, “democratisation” is aimed at strengthening the position of the élite
and the existing socio-political system through adjustments, at continuity, rather than at
introducing an in-depth structural change. Adewale Maja-Pearce's comment on the outcome of
the much praised Nigerian elections stresses exactly this.41
If the ruling élites had had any doubts about the need for
“democratisation” it would have been brought home to them by the other two
developments on the African political arena. “Democratisation” is not the alternative
to the collapse of state structures or to war — the three go together and are a
continuation of one another. Not only chaos and war often result in the recognition of the
need for “democratisation” but attempts at democratisation often end up in war and
chaos, Uganda being the best example of the former, and the DRC representing the latter.
In Africa (just as in many other regions of the world, the Balkans being one of them) war
may be as profitable as politics. Quoting Martin Van Creveld's Transformation of War
Robert Kaplan wrote: “...fighting in many ways is not a means but an end... in places
where... there has always been mass poverty, people find liberation in violence”.42
Successful “democratisation” may bring a lull in the war; it may also enable one of
the former warring factions, or both, to consolidate and re-group in case a new conflict
One of the more concrete purposes of “democratisation” is, no doubt,
the accommodation of the opposition. This is done either through the incorporation of
opposition groups in the process of negotiated settlements or through accommodation of the
opposition as a whole through the election exercise in the spirit of what Bayart called
“the logic of the reciprocal assimilation of élites”.43
Another purpose is the legitimisation of the élites both in the eyes of
their compatriots and of the outside world. The reason why this legitimisation had to take
the shape of elections and of “democratisation” in a more general sense is not as
obvious as it might seem. The opinion of the “international community” does matter in
this case, because that is where the rewards have to come from. This does not explain,
however, why “democratisation” would help to legitimise the élites within their own
communities or at least broaden their the power base. Does this mean that the majority of
Africa's populace has the ideals of institutionalised democracy at heart?
What democracy means for this majority is stability and material reward.
According to Frederic Schaffer's study the word “demokaraasi” means something very
different for rural Wolof from the word “demokratie” for their urban compatriots.
While in the towns, especially among the better educated, one finds support for the idea
of multi-party democracy, in the rural areas partisan division is feared, and
“demokaraasi” implies agreement, consensus. A villager thus relates the wisdom of his
community to the author: “Some chose the first candidate, others the second. When we saw
the first candidate had more support, those who had initially chosen the second candidate
immediately joined the majority, to make things run better”. This majoritarian consensus
is, however, sought and achieved not out of sheer peace loving nature of the villages but
for a purpose. If their candidate wins he would deliver roads, water supplies, electricity
and other advantages to them. They do not want an abstractly just, democratic and
impartial government, they want a partial government, acting in their favour. That, for
them, is “demokaraasi”.44
Museveni has his own vision of democracy, also “concensual”. “They
(the foreign observers — I. F.) were engaged in their own stereotypical and mediocre
understanding of the situation”, he writes. “According to them, the people of Uganda
were extremely hungry for political parties, and as soon as they got a free vote they
would vote for them. There is even an element of racism in this perception because it
seems some people think that Africans are not able to know what is good and bad for
them... Indeed, quite a number of our own intellectuals, trained in the colonial tradition
of not thinking for themselves but instead imbibing whatever others tell them, also fell
victim to this paternalism... we, in the National Resistance Movement, were absolutely
sure that our people did not want parties at this moment in our history... Firstly, we had
brought peace, security and respect for human rights, especially in the elimination of
extra-judicial killings. Secondly, we had repaired some of the infrastructure, especially
roads. Thirdly, we had rehabilitated industries..”.45
Stability, peace and delivery, all of which can only be achieved through
access to the levers of power — this is what “democracy”, obviously, means for the
majority of African population, rather than the abstract notions of institutionalised
equality and representativity. In this contexts the purpose of the state is not the
accommodation of diversities but the delivery to certain groups, and elections are
designed to prevent the monopolisation of power by a particular group for too long a time.
Maja-Pearce writes, for example, that Obasanjo was elected not for his personal merits but
because he “happens to satisfy the widespread demand for the next president to be a
southerner as a compensation for the 1993 annulment. Obasanjo is also a Yoruba from
Abeokuta,” he writes, “the same town as Abiola,46 which makes him a perfect
choice for everybody except his own people who regard him as a traitor”,47
obviously, because of his work with and for the northern generals.
With all the global talk about “democratisation” it becomes
increasingly clear that the implied international consensus about the meaning of the term
“democracy” does not actually exist. Not only there are no clearly expressed and
accepted definitions of the term but what different parties agree on in this respect today
drastically differs from what they used to agree on two or three decades ago. There is
also little doubt that the notion of “democracy” will continue to evolve.
Many “sacred cows” that constituted the notion of democracy even a
decade ago are no longer there. The institutions that used to be considered an integral
part of the democratic order, such as parliaments and multi-party systems were the first
to come under fire, not only from military dictators and professional ideological
custodians of the “new democracy of the Soviet type” but from democratically elected
African leaders as well, the first President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, and the first
president of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, among them. Democratically minded academics contributed
their portion to denunciations. The arguments against these institutions are too well
known to go into them in any detail (they are alien to African cultures and traditions;
they are a luxury; they are a divisive element in the situation when nations have to be
united in the fight against poverty, etc.). What is important here is that four, three or
even two decades ago these arguments were unacceptable to the then core of the
“democratic world” but they count as good enough now — at least for Africa.
Thirty years of political instability and of the silent acceptance or of
direct support of non-democratic practices in African have had their impact on the global
political consciousness. It is a well known fact that there were a lot of irregularities
during the Nigerian elections, and some Nigerian intellectuals attempted to warn
international observers and other international public about it.48 But it seems
that even before the elections started, the “international opinion” had been set to
proclaim the elections as “democratic enough” — at least for Nigeria, at least for
now. An American commentator said at a South African radio talk show that there is no
reason to be upset. The Nigerian democracy is developing but the American one is
developing too. The first has problems and the second has problems, and it will be better,
but for now what is will do.49 This should basically mean that rigged elections
are better than no elections, and one should not criticise but rather be patient and wait
until a better system emerges.
The next to go may be the majoritarian principle of elections which seems
to be loosing out in favour of the power-sharing system. Power sharing is already seen by
many policy makers both in Africa and elsewhere as a better way of “democratisation”
than the “winner-take-all” principle50 — again, for the African continent
Freedom of press has long been an endangered species and in the past
months Robert Mugabe has joined the long list of leaders who attempted to suppress the
media. International presses were always considered unfriendly but only the most
notoriously undemocratic regimes interfered with their work. This is exactly the route
that the Swaziland government took a short while ago without much outcry, even from the
However, attempts to silence critics of a state which has announced its
intention to “democratise”, come not only from the state itself, not even from the
communities concerned but more often from the sympathisers abroad some of whom, as Richard
Joseph puts it, turn democracy into a “protective sophism”.51 At least one
author, John F.Clark, has virtually suggested that democracy generally should be
“limited in a number of ways” for it “to work in the new African regimes”.52
There are many who undertake to prove that the new regimes that emerge from elections are
actually democratic by definition and from the outset.
According to Timothy Longman, such “studies” have a far reaching
effect. “Far from being of purely academic interest”, he writes, “the conception of
civil society that seeks to distinguish good (i.e. state oriented) organisations from bad
(i.e. “particularlistic”) has direct policy implications. USAID, in developing
guidelines for supporting civil society, begins with a definition of civil society that
excludes many local and small-scale groups because they do not seek a direct “advocacy
role” with the state and thus do not help to build state capacity”.53 The
reason for such a dramatic departure from what used to be considered democratic is
obvious: a limited and partial democracy is thought to be better than chaos. In fact, the
quest is not even exactly for democracy any longer but rather for stability. The problem
is that while the “maximalist” approach to democracy can ruin the state itself the
“minimalist” protectionist approach is not conducive to the evolution of a limited
democracy in a more democratic direction.
Does this all mean that a different set of standards is applied in
political thinking and policy-making in Africa? Or has the change occurred in the global
model itself? In fact this is not an “either-or” situation. Trotsky’s idea that the
incorporation of local social and political “distortions” in the process of
globalisation of capitalist order changes the “historical trajectory” of the order
itself, explains much in this respect. Africa has played its part in the transformation of
the world order, including, among other things, the perceptions of democracy — the
process in which it has participated together with other “incorporated” societies. It
was the success of this transformation that has enabled different standards and different
perceptions of democracy to be applied on the continent.
Fareed Zakaria divides the contemporary world into Western liberal
democracies and the new “illiberal democracies”, characterised by elected but
non-democratic regimes that emerged after the end of the Cold War.54 But the
world is one, and the acceptance of “illiberal democracies” as a norm in one part of
it, erodes the norms of “liberal democracies” themselves. Quoting an American analyst,
Michael Vlahos, Robert Kaplan wrote: “We are not in charge of the environment and the
world is not following us. It is going in many directions. Do not assume that democratic
capitalism is the last word in human social evolution”. 55
Africa does not follow Western patterns but this does not mean that its
historicity is for ever locked in an undemocratic vicious circle. There are signs of
changes which may be more significant than semi-democratic elections themselves. One of
these is the end of the “struggle syndrome” when all problems in the society have to
be blamed on the outside world, on the external enemy. Two decades ago it was difficult to
believe that Nyerere really said that Africa has the right to have its own tyrants. Now
Museveni easily calls the whole OAU “a trade union of criminals”.56
Internalisation of the vision of “non-democracy” is the first step to changing the
Célestin Monga argues that African societies have created a civil society
of their own — violence and anger as a response to abnormality of the state order.57
Civil society does not necessarily need to be institutionalised to express itself. It was
completely non-institutionalised in Eastern Europe (except Poland) but it was very vibrant
and diverse during the last decades of the Soviet regime. It expressed itself through
songs and anecdotes, through the Aesopian language of cinema, literature, theatre, etc.
— through the invisible tissue of public opinion and public mood — to culminate in the
powerful symbol of the destruction of the Berlin Wall. The same is true about Africa. The
popularity of the Nigerian singer Fela Kuti whose house was burnt down by the military
because in one of his songs he called them “zombies is one of many examples.
Finally, the new global order has begun to erode the “inverted” social
structure, at least politically. Not only do African countries directly participate in all
its proceeds but they create new centres of political power which would facilitate this
process even further. The state in Africa muddles through a process of readjustment —
even though some concrete African states may disappear on the way. And whether the rest of
the world likes what it sees or not, does not really matter, for Thabo Mbeki’s African
renaissance is already happening: the influence of African legacy on political behaviour
of the world is becoming a norm.
* An earlier version of this text has been published under the
title “Democracy versus State. The African Dilemma?” In: Consolidations of
Democracy in Africa. A View from the South, ed. by H. Solomon and I.Liebenberg,
Aldershot, Berlington: Ashgate, 2000, pp. 11-44
1 R.Jackson, C.Rosberg. The Political Economy of African
Personal Rule. In: D. Apter & C. Rosberg, eds. Political Development and the New
Realism in Sub-Saharan Africa. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994, p.
2 A.Maja-Pearce. Army Arrangement. London Review of
Books, 1 April 1999, p. 10.
3 J.Iliffe. Africans. The History of a Continent.
Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 263.
4 D.Simpson. Afterword: The Best Hope for Now. In: M.
Ottaway, ed. Democracy in Africa.., p. 165-166.
5 The fact that the nature of the last two was,
obviously, different, the Congolese Denis Sassou Nguesso having overthrown the
democratically elected president and the Zairian Laurent Kabila's forces having toppled
one of the most notorious African dictators, only confirms the universality of the
existing mode of political behaviour.
6 For the detailed critical analysis of the
“underdevelopment and dependency” theory see, for example: C.Leys. The Rise and
Fall of the Development Theory. London: James Currey, 1996; B.Berman. Controle and
Crisis in Colonial Kenya. The Dialectic of Domination. London, Nairobi, Athens: James
Curray, Heinemann, Ohio University Press, 1990, chapter 1.
7 P.Chabal, ed. Political Domination in Africa.
Reflections on the Limits of Power. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986, p. 2.
8 J.-F.Bayat. The State in Africa.., p. 14.
9 D.Olderogge. Epigamy. Selected Articles (in
Russian). Moscow, 1983, p. 182. Olderogge borrowed the term “colonial society” from
French anthropologist Georges Balandier (see, for example: G.Balandier. The Colonial
Situation: A Theoretical Approach to Social Change. New York, London, 1966) but he
used it in a different meaning.
10 For example: J.-F.Bayart. The State in Africa...;
M.Mamdani. Citizen and Subject...; C.Young. The African Colonial State in
Comparative Perspective. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1994.
11 B.Berman. Controle and Crisis in Colonial Kenya...;
B.Berman & J. Lonsdale. Unhappy Vally. Conflict in Kenya and Africa. London, Nairobi,
Athens: James Curray, Heinemann, Ohio University Press, 1992; B.Berman. Ethnicity,
Patronage and the African State: the politics of uncivil nationalism. African Affairs,
no. 97, 1998.
12 I.Filatova. History of Kenya. Moscow: Nauka
Publishers, 1985; I.Filatova. The People of the Green Hills of Africa. Kenya African
Society between Past and Present. Moscow: Nauka Publishers, 1993. (Both in Russian).
13 G.N.Mungeam. British Rule in Kenya, 1895-1912. The
Establishment of Administration in the East African Protectorate. Oxford, 1966, p.
14 The role of force in the colonial “social
engineering” is stressed by all authors who studied this problem. See, for example, B.
Berman & J. Lonsdale. Unhappy Vally…, chapters 1-4; M. Mamdani. Citizen
and Subject…, chapter 5; G. Mungeam. British Rule…, chapter 1.
15 A high salary associated with a position in the
colonial or “native” administration was the most important factor in the process of
social stratification during the colonial period. See G. Kitching. Class and Economic
Change in Kenya. The Making of an African Petit Bourgeoisie, 1905-1970. London, 1980.
16 G.S.Mutiso. Kenya Politics, Policy and Society.
Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1975.
17 G.Kitching (op. cit) has shown that by the time
“asomi” emerged as a group, i. e. 1940s -1950s, the process of social stratification
in the African societies was far advanced.
18 J.-F.Bayart. The State in Africa…, p. 25.
19 For example, his The Colonial Situation...
20 J.-F.Bayart. The State in Africa…, p. 21-23.
21 L.E.Kubbel. Africa. Primitive Periphery of Class
Scieties before Geographic Discoveries. Moscow: Nauka Publishers, 1978; L.E.Kubbel.
Pre Colonial Political Culture in Colonial and Modern African States. In: Ethnographic
Studies of the Development of Cultures. Moscow: Nauka Publishers, 1985 (both in
22 B.J.Berman. Ethnicity, Patronage…, p. 323,
23 B.J.Berman. Ethnicity, Patronage…, p. 312.
24 T.Sono. Dilemmas of African Intellectuals in South
Africa: Political and Cultural Constraints. Pretoria: University of South Africa
Publishers, 1994, p. 7.
25 J.Lonsdale. The Conquest State in Kenya. In: Colonial
Warfare. London, 1986, p. 13.
26 J.-F.Bayart. The State in Africa…, p. 27.
27 K.Marx. Future Results of British Rule in India. In:
K. Marx, F. Engels. Collected Works (in Russian), 2nd ed. Moscow, vol. 9 p. 225.
See also K.Marx. British Rule in India. In the same volume.
28 L.Trotsky. The History of the Russian Revolution.
Vol. III, London 1933, p. 378.
29 L.Wolff. Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of
Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment. Stanford (Calif.): Stanford University
Press, 1994, p. 9.
30 J.Rosenberg. Isaac Deutscher and the Lost History of
International Relations. New Left Review, No. 215 (January/February 1996), pp. 8-9.
31 For example, A.Gurov. The Red Mafia. Moscow:
Samotsvet Publishers, 1995 (in Russian); V.Soloviov, Ye.Klepikova. Conspirators in the
Kremlin. Moscow: Moscovskii Tsentr Isskustv, 1991 (in Russian).
32 R.Cornwell. The Collapse of the African State. In: J.
Cilliers, P. Mason, eds. Peace, Profit or Plunder? The Privatisation of Security in
War-torn African Societies. Johannesburg: Institute for Strategic Studes, p. 62.
33 M.Ottaway. From Political Opening to Democratisation?
In: M. Ottaway, ed. Democracy in Africa. The Hard Road Ahead. Lynne Rienner, Boulder,
London, 1997, p. 3-4.
34 L.A.Villalón. The African State at the End of the
Twentieth Century: Parameters of the Critical Juncture. In: L. Villalón, P. Huxtable,
eds. The African State at a Criticl Juncture…, p. 10.
35 M.Ottaway. Africa's “New Leaders”: African
Solution or African Problem? Current History, May 1998, p. 210-211.
36 The Sunday Independent, 12 July 1998.
37 Y.Museveni. What is Africa's Problem? Speeches and
Writings on Africa by Yovery Kaguta Museveni. Kampala: NRM Publications, 1992, p.
186-187; Y. K. Museveni. Sowing the Mustard Seed. The Struggle for Freedom and
Democracy in Uganda. London, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1997, p. 201-203; Museveni's
interview to the Sunday Independent, 1 June 1997.
38 M.Ottaway. Africa's “New Leaders”…, p. 211.
39 Business Report, 10 October, 1997.
40 L. A. Villalón. The African State at the End of
the Twentieth Century…, p. 16.
41 A.Maja-Pearce. Army Arrangement...
42 R.Kaplan. The Coming Anarchy. The Atlantic Monthly,
vol. 273, no. 2 (Feb. 1994), p. 72.
43 J.-F.Bayart. The State in Africa…, p. 221.
44 F.C.Schaffer. “Demokaraasi” in Africa. What
Wolof Political Concepts Teach us about How to Study Democracy. Ph.D. thesis,
University of California at Berkeley, 1994 — quoted in D. B. Cruise O'Brien. Does
Democracy Require an Opposition Party? Implications of Some Recent African Experience. In:
H. Giliomee and C. Simkins, eds. The Awkward Embrace. Dominant Party Rule and Democracy
in industrialising Countries. Cape Town: Tafelberg, 1999.
45 Y.K.Museveni. Sowing the Mustard Seed…, p.
46 The candidate who was widely believed to have won the
1993 elections and was imprisoned after the “annulment” of these. He died almost
simultaneously with Sani Abacha before the 1999 elections.
47 A.Maja-Pearce. Army Arrangement.., p. 11.
48 Maja-Pearce's bitter article is one of many examples.
49 SABC, 5 March 1999.
50 M.Ottaway. From Political Opening..,p. 11.
51 R. Joseph. Oldspeak vs. Newspeak. Journal of
Democracy, vol. 9, no. 4 , (1998), p. 55-61.
52 Quoted in T. Longman. Rwanda: Chaos from above. In:
L. Villalón, P.Huxtable, eds. The African State at a Criticl Juncture.., p. 77.
53 T.Longman. Rwanda: Chaos from above. In: L.
Villalón, P. Huxtable, eds. The African State at a Criticl Juncture…, p. 90.
54 F.Zakaria. The Rise of Illiberal Democracy. Foreign
Affairs, vol. 76, no. 6 (Nov./Dec. 1999).
55 R.Kaplan. The Coming Anarchy…, p. 63.
56 Sunday Independent, 1 June 1997.
57 C. Monga. The Anthropology of Anger. Civil Society
and Democracy in Africa. Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder, London, 1996.
* * *
Â äîêëàäå ðàññìîòðåíû èñòîðè÷åñêèå
ýìàíàöèè èíñòèòóòà ãîñóäàðñòâåííîñòè â Àôðèêå, à
òàêæå åãî ñîâðåìåííàÿ ñïåöèôèêà. Ãëàâíûé òåçèñ
äîêëàä÷èêà çàêëþ÷àåòñÿ â òîì, ÷òî íà âñåõ ýòàïàõ
ñóùåñòâîâàíèÿ ãîñóäàðñòâåííîñòè â Àôðèêå ýòà
ñïåöèôèêà îïðåäåëÿëàñü íå âíåøíèìè âëèÿíèÿìè
(“èñêóññòâåííîñòüþ” ñîâðåìåííûõ ãîñóäàðñòâ) è
íå âíóòðåííåé “òðàäèöèåé”, íî ñèíòåçîì îáîèõ,
îòðàæàþùèì “èñêàæåíèå” ãîñïîäñòâóþùåãî
ìèðîâîãî ïîðÿäêà ìåñòíûìè óñëîâèÿìè. Äîêëàä÷èê
ïîä÷åðêèâàåò, ÷òî â äåéñòâèòåëüíîñòè ýòî
“èñêàæåíèå”, à íå ñóùåñòâóþùèé èäåàë è ÿâëÿåòñÿ
ìèðîâûì ïîðÿäêîì — îáðàçîì ñóùåñòâîâàíèÿ
áîëüøèíñòâà íàñåëåíèÿ ïëàíåòû è, êîíå÷íî,
Îãëàâëåíèå Ñëåäóþùàÿ ñòàòüÿ