È.Ôèëàòîâà. Àôðèêàíñêîå ãîñóäàðñòâî ïðîòèâ àôðèêàíñêîãî ðåíåññàíñà?..


Irina Filatova

(Russia- South Africa)



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 interaction.


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 example.

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 known cases.

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 “modernisational” interpretations.


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 independent countries”.9

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 incorporated.

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 variety.

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 examples).

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 seldom missed.

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 structure.21

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 historical memory.

“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 repayments.

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 example.

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 state structures.

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 previous one.


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 complications”.36

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 begins.

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 only.

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 journalists themselves.

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 system.

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. 300-304.

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. 129, 130.

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 Russian).

22 B.J.Berman. Ethnicity, Patronage…, p. 323, 325.

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. 201-202.

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.


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