Book Reviews

Guy Martin
Africa Today, Volume 47, Number 3/4, Summer/Autumn 2000, pp. 177-181 (Review)
Published by Indiana University Press

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It is fortunate that in the same year.” “those in power intend to ‘eat’”) and of the “rhizome state” (socalled because of its metaphorical resemblance to a tangled underground root system). Africa Works is representative of the École de Bordeaux. These have been created by the restoration of authoritarian regimes. war. 30–31). through a process of economic and financial rot. First published in French in 1997 as La criminalisation de l’État en Afrique (Editions Complexe). The Criminalization of the State in Africa is exemplary of the École de Paris. capital accumulation. and Daniel Bourmaud. 126 pp. Capital. . and various illicit activities constitutes a specific political trajectory which must be viewed in a long-term historical perspective. centered around that University’s famed Centre d’étude d’Afrique noire and the journal Politique africaine. by the erosion of state . they argue that in Africa. The Criminalization of the State in Africa definitely bears Bayart’s intellectual imprint and builds on the author’s earlier seminal work. 1999.Book Reviews Bayart. 1993). Patrick and Jean-Pascal Daloz. as this review will demonstrate. this process of criminalization of politics and the state in Sub-Saharan Africa reflects the increasing normalization of patently criminal practices: “the relationship between economic accumulation and tenure of political power in Africa now exists in new conditions. following Charles Tilly’s Coercion. Jean-François Médard. Oxford: James Currey. whose chef de file is none other than France’s premier Africanist. and which includes such other luminaries as Jean-Pierre Chrétien and Achille Mbembe. 170 pp. . Oxford: James Currey. Furthermore. Chabal. in which he developed the concepts of la politique du ventre (“the goat grazes where it is tied. led (inter alia) by Patrick Chabal. The State in Africa (Longman. THE CRIMINALIZATION OF THE STATE IN AFRICA. . 1999. Stephen Ellis. According to the authors. Resolutely taking a longue durée historical perspective à la Fernand Braudel. a School which ostensibly differs from—but often agrees with—Bayart’s group in its approach to the study of African politics and society. the interaction between power. and Béatrice Hibou. the excellent “African Issues” series of London’s International African Institute gives us the best that French Africanist scholarship has to offer. the authors suggest that contemporary Africa is returning to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: “a slide towards criminalization throughout the subcontinent is a strong probability” (pp. AFRICA WORKS: DISORDER AS POLITICAL INSTRUMENT. Jean-François Bayart. and European States (1990). Jean-François.

. regionally based warlordism. Bayart goes as far as to argue that war has.’s thesis may be faulted on a number of counts. Dissidence. carefully documented. Indeed. Bayart argues that historically war was endemic to Africa: “Inasmuch as the pax britannica or the paix coloniale ever existed at all. and the privatization and criminalization of public authority.” Stephen Ellis chronicles in painstaking detail the origins and underlying causes of the wave of crime which is currently affecting the country. In an exhaustive. on the contrary. 43–4). government services. both arming their supporters in the townships in pursuit of this strategy. war and banditry . They can. and aptly argued chapter on the “ruses of economic intelligence” (by which she really means: “the economic resourcefulness of African actors”). in an informative and well-documented chapter entitled “The new frontiers of crime in South Africa. Bayart paints a resolutely pessimistic (and somewhat inaccurate and ethnocentric) picture of African history. the privatization of security. and by the multiplication of armed conflicts covering entire regions” (pp. and that the current political economy of low-intensity conflict linked to international organized crime “would be no more than an illustration of the reappearance of this mode of government” in Africa (p. . 44). 8–9). As a result. referring to “the his- africaTODAY 178 BOOK REVIEWS . all in the name of “liberalization” and “privatization. [facilitate] its centralization” (pp. namely the further erosion of the state’s administrative capacity. it was no more than a brief parenthesis in a history haunted by the specter of war” (pp. do not necessarily threaten the formation or existence of a state. the economic (Hibou). the criminalization of security forces. While presenting a fresh and intriguing perspective on African politics and society. in fact. To begin with. public administration.sovereignty. and development assistance. South Africa’s major black townships became the site of a struggle for control between the security forces of the apartheid regime and the ANC-SACP alliance. In an incisive and thought-provoking chapter strangely entitled “The ‘Social Capital’ of the Felonious State. Each of the authors then proceeds to give substance to this argument by focusing on various dimensions of the criminalization of the state in Africa: the political (Bayart). or the Ruses of Political Intelligence” (by which he really means: “the political resourcefulness of African actors”).” Finally. and South Africa as a case study (Ellis) (in my view a better sequence than the book’s outline. led to the opposite of the outcome sought. 115). . its formation . where South Africa is sandwiched between the two disciplines). but the opposite. . become the dominant mode of state formation in contemporary Africa: “Perhaps what is really at stake in these conflicts is less the disintegration of the state. Bayart et al. Hibou shows how the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) imposed on African countries have. Ellis clearly shows that from the mid-1980s to 1994. Further evidence of these disquieting developments is adduced by Béatrice Hibou. in fact. and a culture of violence have become endemic in South Africa. . 44.

and to offer “both a much sharper understanding of presentday politics in Africa and a more plausible framework for comparing Africa’s evolution with that of the rest of the world” (p. coercion. Chabal and Daloz are irritated by the absence of innovative thinking on Africa: “the motivation for our book lies partly with our impatience with existing intellectual sloth in respect of Africa” (p. Bayart’s argument that war has now become the dominant mode of state formation in Africa—echoing William Reno’s concept of “warlord politics”—does not resist closer scrutiny. and/or war in state formation. Furthermore. this work is long on theory. Bayart misinterprets Tilly’s argument (confirmed by an analysis of Africa’s precolonial history) that various European states used either capital. Botswana. 143). xv). and foreign interference” (p. (2) they use “universal” analytical tools (a Weberian conception of the state and bureaucracy) rather than Africa-specific concepts. and that while initially introduced by the French colonizers. Libya.” “to provide the analytical framework . which explains their different trajectories. In other words. and a relatively feeble amount of political and administrative centralization as a result of social struggles. which we believe can help explain the condition of contemporary Africa” (p. however. (4) they use a comparative method of africaTODAY 179 BOOK REVIEWS . that of the authors of Africa Works is far more ambitious and aims at nothing less than to “attempt to make sense of what is happening in Africa today. Mauritius.torical trajectory of a sub-continent whose main characteristics have included a limited development of its productive capacity. In a strange. a limited degree of social and cultural polarization. and Niger. ecological or demographic constraints. “the long thread of forced labor has never been completely broken South of the Sahara” (p. 42–3). Mali. and except for the richly textured case studies of Ellis and Hibou. While the objective of the authors of The Criminalization of the State in Africa was wisely modest. particularly if one takes into account the progress of democratization in such countries as Benin. in many ways. (3) they adopt a multidisciplinary approach. Ghana. . Bayart further argues that Africa’s dependence “has often been created by Africans” (pp. In particular. Africa is. . a new and improved state will rise. showing clear signs of hope and promise because out of the ashes of the postcolonial state. As they point out. Having set themselves such lofty objectives. Evidently. their approach is five-dimensional in that: (1) they stress the importance of actual events (empirical observation of contemporary realities). 42). but short on substance. And while there are grounds for an Afro-pessimistic reading of recent developments in the DRC (Congo) or Sierra Leone. they (unsuccessfully) struggle to achieve them in the book’s remaining 170 pages. and they have maintained to their benefit the hated colonial practice of forced labor! More significantly. xx). postmodernist rewriting of history. African leaders are held responsible for their own dependence (as if they were somehow dissociated from their European masters). one could also argue that far from descending into the Heart of Darkness. 45).

namely: that there prevails in Africa a system of politics inimical to development . witchcraft and religion. . The dynamics of the political instrumentalization of disorder are such as to limit the scope of reform . and (3) the productivity of economic “failure”: corruption. like Bayart et al. social.” which refers to “the process by which political actors in Africa seek to maximize their returns on the state of confusion. and sometimes even chaos. crime. . xvi–xviii). and economic ‘logics’ of contemporary Africa come together in a process of modernization which does not fit with the Western experience of development” (p. administrative. Chabal and Daloz undertake to explain why Africa “works” in the absence of proper political institutionalization or sustained economic development. adopt a longue durée . . While ostensibly adopting a neopatrimonial conception of the state. In this context. civil society. namely: (1) informal politics: the state. (2) the “retraditionalization” of society: ethnic and national identities. which characterizes most African polities” (p. There is inevitably a tendency to link politics to realms of increased disorder. xviii). witchcraft. the African elites. groups. They claim that their paradigm is distinct in that “it attempts to show how the political. . the political economy of war and crime. as I try to argue in what follows. and institutional foundations required for development. corruption. Both stress the potentially positive and systemically functional role played by such otherwise disruptive and dysfunctional factors as war.e. they argue. xix). uncertainty. Chabal and Daloz—who. There is therefore an inbuilt bias in favor of greater disorder and against the formation of the Western-style legal.analysis which integrates the experience of contemporary Africa with the rest of the world.. they put forth a new paradigm which they call “the political instrumentalization of disorder. and communities seek to instrumentalize the resources which they command within this general political economy of disorder” (p. Let us first note the high degree of analytical convergence between the approach of the authors and that of Bayart et al.” This leads them to an overly pessimistic conclusion. social. to understand African politics is “to understand the ways in which individuals. . dependence. 143). Starting from the observation that contemporary African political systems are characterized by patrimonialism and an acute degree of disorder and chaos. and (5) they ground their analysis in a long-term historical perspective. 162) africaTODAY 180 BOOK REVIEWS Alas. To do so. (p. à la Jean-François Médard. it is this reviewer’s considered opinion that Chabal and Daloz fail miserably in their overly ambitious and ill-conceived attempt to propose a new paradigm that would help us better understand contemporary African politics. and economic registers. This they proceed to demonstrate by analyzing successive political. .. and “development. and economic dependence in contemporary African politics. i. Braudel’s longue durée (pp. be it war or crime.

Eerily reminiscent of that of Bayart et al. Finally.. most of Africa is experiencing a basically peaceful transition to democratic governance. and bureaucracy as the ideal type against which African institutions should be measured. Worse still. in this regard. were understandably cautious in their theoretical ambitions. the conclusions reached by both with regard to the essentially chaotic and criminal nature of the state and politics in Africa. Guy Martin University of Virginia africaTODAY 181 BOOK REVIEWS . While Bayart et al. and thus were bound to fail. Chabal and Daloz were far more daring. beyond the merely anecdotal personal reminiscences of the authors. by taking Max Weber’s concept of law. while valid for certain parts of Africa.” but they immediately go on to indicate that they also want to use “universal analytical tools” (p. Last. failing to explain how they reconcile their empirical approach with a broader theoretical perspective. or how they marshal the empirical data to demonstrate the validity of their paradigm.” which posits that Third World/African states are bound to follow the developmental path opened by the Western states before them. Ethiopia/ Eritrea. Chabal and Daloz bring very little.e. and thus have no general validity. Congo-Brazzaville. hard empirical evidence and concrete case studies to bear on their analysis. Sudan. that war has become the dominant mode of state formation in Africa.. i. xvii). It is thus with a profound sense of disappointment at unfulfilled promises and expectations that one is left after reading both The Criminalization of the State in Africa and Africa Works. While it is true that a situation of endemic political violence now prevails in parts of Africa. And Chabal’s and Daloz’s Section III on “The productivity of economic ‘failure’” takes more than a leaf from Béatrice Hibou’s excellent chapter on “The ‘social capital’ of the state as an agent of deception” in Bayart et al. Second. Congo-Kinshasa. and Angola. if any. 8–10). are evidently not borne by the reality observable in most African countries today. Chabal’s and Daloz’s preposterous claim of theoretical and analytical innovation does not withstand closer scrutiny. Unfortunately. Burundi. state. Somalia. most notably in Sierra Leone. Chabal and Daloz make much of the fact that their approach is primarily empirical in that they want to “explain what is actually happening on the ground in Africa.historical perspective—in fact tend to adhere to the former’s concept of the “rhizome state” as a case of reappropriation and successful adaptation of the Western state model to the African context (pp. but not least. the authors fall into the trap of the modernization theories’ “unilinear evolutionism. these new approaches to the study of African politics and society run the risk of ending up on the scrap heap of the many untested and obsolete social science paradigms in African studies. the authors’ paradigm of the “political instrumentalization of disorder” posits disorder and chaos as the norm (rather than the exception) in contemporary African politics. Unless further case studies will adduce more convincing data and empirical evidence.

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