Monday, February 25, 2013

NEVIS Review No 11, Sec III ; Ref # 11.3

 NEVIS REVIEW No 11, Section III 

 Ref # 11.3

Feb 25, 2012 

African political culture and democracy- Part IV (continued)

The Intensification of Predation

By Hiwot Wendimagegn

The new African leaders who embarked to rule nations tangled with extreme poverty were neither personally wealthy nor were they experienced in protecting the economic rights of others. They succumbed to the temptation of using government power, for the accumulation of personal wealth (Rowely 1999:138). The only basis for such wealth accumulation was the diversion of resources too often provided in the form of international aid, away from processes of economic development into personal bank accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere (reports continue to indicate that billions of dollars stolen from Africa are deposited in Swiss banks. This money is neither accounted for nor recovered after their depositors, usually presidents and heads of state, are assassinated or forced out of office (Toteh, 2012) ).  Basically, African politicians established the “economy of plunder” (Bayart et al., 1999: 71).

McGuire and Olson, (1996 :72-96) and Rowley 1999, interestingly compare the banditry of the colonial era and that of the post- independence Africa by dubbing colonial powers “stationary bandits” and post- independent African political elites as “roving bandits”. The colonial powers, who systematically robbed Africa of its resources, enjoyed unchallenged monopoly. “They ensured a certain level of minimalist laws designed to protect the property rights of their subjects from Internal anarchy, to defend their monopoly of theft against potential internal and external aggressors” (Rowely, 1999:138).

To the contrary, the haphazard nature of post- independence African politics characterized by civil strife, skirmishes and recurring coups, made power uncertain which in turn made African bandits erratic or roving. “By definition, the roving bandit does not exhibit a stable and encompassing interest in the domain over which he rules. In such an environment, there is little incentive for the bandit to invest in improving future productive capacity” (ibid: 139). Moreover, when African elites discovered the root to wealth via embezzling foreign aid, the incentive as well as the necessity for pursuing mutually benefiting societal goals became minimal. To quote Bayart:

“Thus, if public enterprises in Africa have recorded such mediocre results, it is almost exclusively due to the fact that they have been systematically plundered for purposes of enrichment and accumulation of power by members of the elite. The methods used include the diversion of funds to private accounts, the failure to allocate resources to the designated target areas,, the utilization of institutional resources for private gains, the utilization of an enterprise’s borrowing capacity for improper purposes, the constitution of private clientelist networks through nepotism or the creation of unnecessary posts and so on(Bayart et al., 1999: 71).

In their insightful book, “Criminalization of the State in Africa”, Bayart et al. (1991) boldly argue that, the growth of fraud and smuggling, the plundering of natural resources, the privatization of state institutions and growth of private armies in post-independence African states has made the state an instrument for organized criminal activity (Bayart et al., 1999). By the same token, several other authors have highlighted how extreme authoritarianism and predation in the new states of Africa hindered the functional utility of formal institutions. All their researches tried to show that African politics bizarrely integrates criminalization, corruption, clientelism and patronage into the rubric of formal politics. Along these lines, Stephen Ellis, in his assessment of South Africa and how the informal and the formal integrate so well in African politics has  discovered, South Africa has the continent’s largest formal economy as well as  its largest criminal economy (Bayar et al., 1999: 49-68).
Independence therefore did not lead to major changes in the form and function of African politics. State power remained for the most part as absolute and as arbitrary as that of the colonial system. “Political behavior became even more myopic” (Rowely, 1999:139). Ironically, history repeated itself, only this time in a more anarchic setting. Throughout Africa, ordinary people started demanding a second independence, this time from the indigenous leadership whose economic mismanagement together with brutal repression made mere survival all but impossible (Ake, 1993:240). As will be discussed subsequently, the politics of plunder intensified statism and deepened informal networks.




In most instances, the ruling class in Africa is a state class because its culture, its basic values, its power and its economic base results from its tight relationship with the state (ibid, Callaghy, 1987:68, Chazan, 1994:73-78). State expansion and centralization give ruling elites the opportunity to maintain political control as well as to accrue unprecedented wealth amidst great poverty (ibid, Kasfir, 1985). Since, “the state relies on liquid revenues and interacts with transnational economic forces, state power became a prime vehicle for material accumulation, while also enhancing the position of rulers in their competition with other groups” (Hart, 1982:90).

The state in Africa is a “prize” for anyone who is lucky enough to have it. Bayart went as far as claiming, access to state power, is predominantly concerned with access to wealth that “it is a preoccupation that offers very little hope to World Bank 'privatization' projects, which promise merely to transfer resources from the formal control of the state, to the private portfolios of those who rule it” (Clapham, 1994:435). Interestingly, the obsession with state power and access to all the perks it entails, doesn’t only affect the ones who rule it but also the ones who are opting for it.  “The state and proximity to its resources emerged as a central determinant of class formation and class relations” (Chazan, 1994:74).  Therefore, those who possess state power go to great length to maintain it and those who don’t, to attain it.

In consequence, the sacrilegious obsession with state power and possessing it as if its one’s own  personal property, made governments in Africa kleptocratic at worst and neopatrimonial at best. Kleptocracy is a form of political and government corruption which exists to increase the personal wealth and political powers of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population. In its original Greek meaning, Kleptocracy simply meant “rule by thieves”. In such a system, the despots make no attempt to disguise the fact that they are bandits ( Bayart et al. 1999, Charap and Harm 1999, Fan, 2006). They may even feel like they are doing the right thing by rewarding themselves for all the pain they endured to get to the throne (Goldsmith, 2004). These kinds of governments, the classic example being Mobutu Seseseko’s Zaire, made corruption a way of life.

On the other hand, neopatrimonialism is characteristic of most of the current nations of Africa which is personal and informal rule under the guises of rationality and legality.  In other words, in this type of system, formal laws and institutions exist only to serve the personal interests of the ruling class which is to cling to power by all means. Kleptocracies and neopatrimonial systems thus buy off the loyalty of their citizens because they cannot get it through legitimacy (ibid, Hutchcroft, 1997, Szeftel, 2000, van de Walle, 2003). As Gunther Roth (1968:196) insightfully argues, “neopatrimonialism is a synonym of personal rulership as it is based on the basis of loyalties that do not require any belief in the ruler’s unique personal qualifications but inextricably linked to material incentives and rewards”. These systems thus integrate clientelism, corruption, patronage and nepotism with the formal affairs of the state.

Heretofore, the elite culture of predatory rule not only affected the elites but the rest of society as well.  The incorporation of private affairs with official affairs integrates everyone in corruption, clientelism and nepotism. Be it for a lack of options or by sharing the same sentiments as its rulers, the rest of society enhances neopatrimonial predatory rule by selling its loyalty and support, and using its profession or workplace to get undeserved benefits (Bayart et al., 1999:256).  As the famous Cameroonian adage goes, “goats eat where they are tethered”. Thus, attesting to the likelihood that the very reason predation endured for years after independence is because of a society that facilitates its perpetuation. Bayart’s book “The State in Africa: Politics of the Belly”, is filled with many enticing stories that reveal the ugly side of predation.  This article will end by reciting one such interesting story of a Zairian air force (FAZA) organization that was forced to close down due to unprecedented corruption. Here is how the tale goes:

  “Every morning, pilots and mechanics arrived at the base and towed two planes to the fuel pump of Air Zaire for a complete refueling. As soon as they had been filled up they were towed back to the hangars where their fuel tanks were emptied. The first clients of their little operation were the wives of the soldier based at the CETA training camp, who bought the petrol at half price then proceeded to resell it in Masina, Kimbaseke and especially Kisangani. It was not long before the sale of air force fuel became semi- official as no attempt was made to hide what was happening. Every day, a flood of empty barrels, big oil drums and all kinds of receptacles passed through the main entry gate to Ndjili airbus under the watchful eye of guards who, had they been above corruption, would never have allowed so many customers to pass through, let alone help them carry their barrels to and from the hangar” (Bayart, 2009:236)

(Ed’s note: The article above is a continuation, a fourth part, of the series of articles on “African political culture and democracy”. Part one to three has already been published in the previous NEVIS issues. Hiwot Wendimagegn has a Masters in International Relations at Addis Ababa University, and earned her BA degree in Political Science and minored in Public Administration again at AAU. She has worked as a lecturer, and currently works as a private consultant and event organizer)