The second part of my review of Patrick Chabal, Africa: The Politics of Suffering and Smiling, is posted at African Arguments. In this, I try to trace some of the key features of rule by the Sudanic kingdoms, arguing that they present a special case of patronage/clientelism, which both vindicates and elaborates Chabal’s thesis, and that this is of interest not only to historians, but to contemporary policy as well.
This is the second in a two-part review of Patrick Chabal’s book, Africa: The Politics of Suffering and Smiling. This posting applies the account to an area of the continent that the author deliberately neglects, namely Ethiopia and the Sahelian-Sudanic states, including Sudan itself. I have a confession to make. As series editor for African Issues in 1998-99, I read and reviewed the manuscript of Chabal’s earlier book (co-authored by Jean-Pascal Daloz), Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument. I advised that his analysis did not travel well to Ethiopia and to states such as Sudan and the historic Muslim kingdoms on the southern edge of the Sahara desert. Chabal included a disclaimer in his introduction to the effect that he was dealing with Africa south of this zone. This reflects a strong tendency within Africanist political science to see the Sudanic belt and especially Ethiopia as belonging to a different political tradition to equatorial Africa (this is also true of Bayart’s The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly). I was wrong. It was an error to endorse this dichotomy. There are distinct differences between the political traditions of Equatorial Africa and those of the peoples who live north […]
I have published the first part of a two-part review of Patrick Chabal’s Africa: The Politics of Suffering and Smiling, on the African Arguments website. The first part is a general review of Bayart’s book, focusing on his treatment of patronage and clientelism. The second part will seek to explore the relevance of the analysis to Sudan.
This is the first in a two-part review of Patrick Chabal’s book, Africa: The Politics of Suffering and Smiling . Part one is a general review, part two applies the account to a part of the continent that the author neglects, namely Ethiopia and the Sahelian-Sudanic states, including Sudan itself. Chabal’s book is an essay more than a monograph, its aim is insight rather than theoretical argument or empirical demonstration. In this is succeeds superbly. The essay is a provocation and a perspective, the kind of book that only a scholar with a career’s experience can write. It is replete with straw men and gross generalizations, and Africanist political science is repeatedly caricatured. The book’s title is also somewhat misleading as there is not much about smiling, nor indeed suffering. It is more about what it means to be an ethical ruler in Africa, drawing upon the moral archive of pre-colonial socio-political systems. Central to this approach, more common among Francophone political scientists, emphasizes what Africa is rather than how it falls short of what it ‘ought’ to be according to an external normative matrix. On issues such as corruption, rent, and democracy, Chabal excoriates the political science approach (implicitly, […]
This is the final installment of a five part critical review of Jean-François Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly (2009). Bayart’s thesis is provocative, deliberately shorn of moralism and disrespectful of any political correctness. He doesn’t allocate blame because he doesn’t diagnose failure. He does not agree that “Africa south of the Sahara is being marginalized economically and … that the subcontinent is therefore subject to a political decay which is undermining the foundations of the state.” (p. xxxviii) To the contrary, what appears to be decay is just how things have always been. Taken together, the elements of the ordinariness of politics, extraversion, the reciprocal assimilation of elites, the rhizome state, political entrepreneurs and the factionalized struggle for patronage, constitute the “politics of the belly.” This phrase would verge on the offensive were it not for the way in which it resonates with the political vernacular. Moreover: “The expression ‘politics of the belly’ must be understood in the totality of its meaning. It refers not just to the ‘belly’ but also to ‘politics.’” (p. 242) My main quarrel with Bayart is that, in his historicity, he downplays history. As Clapham argued in his review, with […]
This is the fourth in a five part review of Jean-François Bayart’s The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly. In this part, I address the questions of democracy, war and the internationalization of African governance. In the first (1989) edition, Bayart argued that experiments in breaking free from the grip of African governmentality have “either not lasted a long time or have in their turn been absorbed by its practices.” (p. 268) Two decades on, in the new preface, he argues that his analysis is confirmed, and “the mirages of revolution and democracy have disappeared.” (p. xix) Bayart has little time for the pious hopes that democratic elections heralded a new beginning for Africa. Rather, he prefers to see “democratization” as the resurgence of old forces temporarily suppressed by one party states, and writes, “this venting of popular feeling was rapidly countered by the strategies of power-holders intent on restoring their authoritarian regimes with an artful combination of dexterity and brutality.” (p. xx) Where democracy made progress, he writes, it merely reconfigured the established grammar of politics: “The multi-party system was widely construed in terms of a form of seating around a table. ‘For me, that is democracy. […]
This is part three of a five part expansive critical review of Jean-François Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly (2009), focusing on the moral dimensions of African governance—in the sense of how ethics and legitimacy are adduced in support of political practice. As well as the acquisition of resources, Bayart also applies the concept of extraversion to the “moral economy”, through the institutions which formed the ethical foundations of colonial society, namely the school, hospital, trading post, public administration, and mission. These institutions created the salaried class that came to control the state, setting in motion their primitive accumulation through the formal and informal powers associated with office and salary. But colonization was simultaneously a “total defeat”, which on the one hand inspired widespread practices of deception, and on the other prompted efforts to recapture indigenous ethics of “dignity”. The parallel success of these two projects—each of them a component of the “grammar of extraversion”—led to the ambiguities of flag independence. We see the same drama being played out in current-day abrogations of sovereignty, as manifest by policy conditionalities for loans and grants, peacekeeping missions, humanitarian operations, and the ICC. African political elites draw upon external […]
This is part two of a five part critical review of Jean-François Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly (2009), analyzing and applying the concept of “extraversion” and examining the historicism of regional political-economic orbits. Another major element of Bayart’s analysis is “extraversion” of African states, defined as “mobilizing resources derived from their (possibly unequal) relationship with the external environment.” (pp. 21-22). According to this, external orientation, especially in the ruling elites’ access to resources, is merely the contemporary manifestation of a long history of extraversion, which dates to pre-colonial times. It arises less because of the weakness of African states vis-à-vis the external, and more because of the failure of internal consolidation in the face of factional strife—and in turn means that states do not need to exploit domestic production in order to obtain sufficient resources to rule. Pre-colonial states managed their unequal relationship with external powers in such a way that they were able to derive sufficient resources to manage their interior populations. Bayart also observes that extraversion gave particular symbolic political value to imported luxuries. While few colonial and post-colonial territories map onto their predecessors in a geographical sense, Bayart identifies a lineage of […]
The republication of Jean-François Bayart’s classic book-length essay, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly, is an opportunity to reflect on the hypotheses he raises and their application to Sudan and especially Darfur. Bayart’s book mentions Sudan only in passing but the scope of his ambition is certainly relevant to Sudan in general and to Darfur in particular. This is the first part of a five part review which takes Bayart’s themes and method, applies them to Sudan and Darfur, and provides both critique and elaboration. Bayart focuses on the persistence of deeply-embedded patterns of African statecraft and insofar as he deals with colonialism and the formal institutions of the modern state, it is to the extent to which Africans shaped the outcomes and appropriated modern governmental institutions to pursue long-established strategies. (In this respect his is the antithesis of Mahmood Mamdani’s argument—and therein lies the major critique of his position. For example, while noting that colonial occupation represented a “total defeat” for Africa, he expands little on what this might entail.) Bayart stresses the ordinariness of African societies: “they are ordinary and (particularly) ordinary in their politics.” (p. 1). He sees patterns of normality where others may […]