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BAYART AND MAMDANI: THE STORY BEHIND AFRICAN AGENCY

BAYART AND MAMDANI: THE STORY BEHIND AFRICAN AGENCY

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Charlotte P. Goyer. Originally submitted for Modern African History at McGill University, with lecturer Jon Soske in the category of Historical Studies & Archaeology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Charlotte P. Goyer. Originally submitted for Modern African History at McGill University, with lecturer Jon Soske in the category of Historical Studies & Archaeology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
ABSTRACT
 The following essay is an historical analysis of two famous authorsspecialized in African history.
Jean-François Bayart and Mahmood Mamdani bothdiscussed the importance of postcolonial politics and the African response to such colonialinfluence, by giving us two different insights on the subject. Even though the widespreadWestern perception of Africa is generally centered around famins, diseases, civil wars, and otherunderdeveloped issues, both authors demonstrated that there were no simple solution or onesimply agency to Africa that can be addressed in today’s International Institutions. The failure of postcolonial democracy is seen as the deepest form of racism in African politics that deeplyaffected the relationship between the state, identity, and the economy. On one hand, Bayartdescribed this issue as a “democracy of transformism” which joggled between internallegitimation and international norm, and was seen as an “anti-politics machine”, which explainswhy Africa has limited cultural advancements and a social polarization. On the other hand,Mamdami argues that democracy is not only a political concept of who governs and how they arechosen but more about how they govern and through which institutions. For this reason,Mamdami explains that the reason why colonial institutions were unstable and caused internalconflicts was because the racial prejudice in Africa prevented democracy from unifying theethicized minority and the majority into steady institutions.As Bayart is analyzing postcolonialism politics in a top-down approach, Mamdani is trying todemystify the problem by suggesting bottom-up responses: one of his possible answers to thiscrisis is Pan-Africanism. The dialogue between these two historians allows us to understand bothperception through different lenses. Mamdami argues that rethinking institutional legacy of colonialism would help define political identity, rights and justice and their relation toindigeneity. Indeed, the language of modern state was defined by the language of law and order
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,which was enforced by the state and thus reproduced by institutions that shaped citizenparticipation within the state. In a complete different direction, Bayart focuses on the “politiquedu ventre” and extraversion, two concepts crucial to his understanding of postcolonialism.Their conceptualization of colonialism on world’s capitalism does leave a certain place forAfrican agency, however limited this place is. A state coordinates a number of different kinds of agencies, and we live in a complex world with no easy solution to this question of “agency”.African elites have pursued different strategies of extraversion that entrenched their powerlocally and internationally. However, one cannot simply return to tradition by copyinginstitutions of the West and by expecting complete independence. This dilemma is deeply rootedin the hypothesis of African agency since colonialism had strongly shaped African politics and itis a very complex situation to overcome. Since the idea of “agency” was in the hands of institutions, historians have failed to analyze the concept of agency properly.
1
Ibid., 653.
 
It is clearly understood that colonial powers came to Africa in order to transform the continent totheir own benefits but it is more rare to analyze the way Africans influenced colonizers.Surprisingly, there were many Africans who adhered with the greatest integrity and openness tothe life-styles imposed by colonialism. These adapted changes, no matter how ambivalent, werealways profoundly influenced by the “politique du ventre” and colonial politics, which gave riseand subjection to the economical and cultural practices of extraversion.
INTRODUCTION
African agency is a starting point in modern African history. Indeed, one of the mainquestions addressed regarding this period is: how deeply ingrained the denial of African agencywas in most of the images about Africa? As analyzed by Mamdani in his article
The Politics of  Naming: Genocide, Civil War, Insurgency
, the majority of Western society believe that Africanconflicts are due to a lack of development and economic marginalization. Furthermore, someconflicts, such as the Darfur Genocide, disappeared into a simple and racist image of ethnicconflict that transformed Western perception into one and only pessimistic agency. However,there is no simply African agency and no simple African solution. In order to evaluate the issueof agency in colonialism and postcolonialism in Africa, I am going to compare two authorsspecialized in African politics and culture, Jean-François Bayart and Mahmood Mamdani, onthree different questions: how did colonialism shape their understanding of postcolonial politics?How do they analyze the relationship between the state, identity, and economy? Does theirconceptualization of colonialism and/or world capitalism's legacy on the continent leave anyroom for African agency? Despite the fact that there are no right or wrong answers to thesequestions, Mamdani and Bayart analyzed the meaning of agency by relating to colonialism,
 
postcolonial state, and the international economy in two different ways: Mamdani’s article
 Beyond Settler and Native as Political Identities: Overcoming the Political Legacy of Colonialism
theorizes the relationship around the idea of how the native sat on top of a politicalworld designed by the settler in an internal perspective as Bayart, in his article
 Africa in theWorld: A History of Extraversio
n, focused on the role of extraversion in an external point of view.
COLONIAL AND POSTCOLONIAL POLITICS
Both authors argue that there was not one single response to colonialism andpostcolonialism politics. As explained by Bayart, Africa’s resistance of adaptation to colonialreforms was a response to colonial intervention.
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Even though the colonial regime mobilized asignificant amount of societies, their imposition on African societies differed from one group toanother, one region to another, depending on their interests and their implications. This variety of reactions engendered a radical hostility between the colonizers and the colonized that was latertransformed into a relationship of dependency that interlinked the state, the economy andsociety.
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In the same vein, Mamdani affirms that the impact of colonialism on postcolonialAfrican politics was reduced to a central assumption mainly based on political economy since itwas the most useful tool to analyze colonial legacy and thereby, construct a colonial market.
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2
Jean-François Bayart, “Africa in the World: A History of Extraversion,” 223.
3
Bayart, “Africa in the World,” 222.
4
Mahmood Mamdani, “Beyond Settler and Native as Political Identities: Overcoming thePolitical Legacy of Colonialism,” Comparative Studies in Society and History

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