The African State in Academic Debate: Retrospect and Prospect Martin Doornbos The Journal of Mode rn African Studies

, Vol. 28, No.2 (Jun., 1990), 179-198.
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The Journal of Modern African Studies, 28, 2 (1990), pp. 179-198

The African State in Academic Debate: Retrospect and Prospect
by MARTIN DOORNBOS*

QUESTIONS about the role and position of the African state are not new, but today they are being asked with increased emphasis. The reasons for this vary with the position and perspective of the questioner, but they often include a concern about capacity and performance, about styles and orientations of leadership, and about the measure of representativeness and legitimacy which African governments enjoy within the society at large. In short, a strong current of opinion believes that there is a problem with the African state, and this concern has recently led to much discussion as to what its proper role is or should be, as well as fostering a variety of proposed and actual interventions by international organisations and consultants to help 'solve' the problem. It would be futile to try and reverse the picture and assert that there is no 'problem' with the African state. In fact, few people today would take that position. None the less, it will be useful to try and place existing preoccupations in perspective by highlighting some aspects of the debates on African state formation in the post-colonial period. Given the scope of the subject matter, it will be necessary to limit the perspective to some observations, on some aspects, of this discussion which itself has been as much subject to change and revision as the African state itself. Thus, this article will not be discussing the role of the military, or the important question of democratisation," except indirectly.

* Professor of Political Science, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. This article is based on the author's Dies Natalis Address delivered at the Institute of Social Studies, 10 October 1989. 1 Cf. Mahmood Mamdani, Thandika Mkandawire, and Wamba-dia-Wamba, 'Mouvements sociaux, mutations sociales et lutte pour la democratic en Afrique', C.O.D.E.S.R.I.A., Dakar, Working Paper No. I, 1988, and Walter O. Oyugi, E.S. Atieno Odhiambo, Michael Chege, and Afrifa K. Gitonga (eds.), Democratic Theory and Practice in Africa (Nairobi, London, and Portsmouth, N.H., 1988).
8-2

In this connection. Both dimensions are related and problematic.African socialist. Marxist-Leninist. have together largely defined the debate about the nature and role of the post-colonial African state. and position of the African state despite great demographic and socio-economic differences. or middle of the road. Before developing further these themes of state power and identity. (ii) its a priori problematic relationship as regards its territorial jurisdiction. a few preliminary observations are needed in order to set the stage. except for the ways in which the latter has been able to infiltrate the former in order to lay claims on some of its resources. and also the questions to which this has given rise. including (i) its post-colonial status. the concept of the state in Africa must refer to a territorial entity as well as to an institutionalised expression of political power. with respect to Europe. that is the political institutions and the state apparatus. with all the implications this has for the evolution of 'civil society'. They are also basic to a better understanding of its present predicament and future options. (iv) its still relatively undifferentiated yet ethnically heterogeneous social infrastructure. The explanation is that the African state has significant common characteristics pointing to a particular configuration. (iii) its heavy involvement in a restricted resource base (usually primarily agricultural). We tend to generalise about the nature.and I have already begun doing so . as well as of the occurrence of a more or less recognisable species throughout most of the continent. (v) its salient processes of centralisation and consolidation of power by new ruling classes. the bureaucracy. Indeed. and (vi) its pervasive external context and dependency.180 MAR TIN DOORNBOS TWO MAIN THEMES Questions about state power and capacity. as well as equally notable variations in political and ideological orientation . however. Such differences in common usage are indicative of the rather special position of the state in Africa. One is simply to note the relative ease with which we tend to generalise . role. outright neo-colonial. in contrast. Each of these characteristics has significantly conditioned the specific pattern of state formation that has been taking place in Africa. for example. to the way we might mention its counterpart elsewhere in the world. we are probably less likely to refer to 'the state' in the first place.when talking about the African state. of course. The African state is highly visible. and about national identity and unity. and stands in rather marked distinction to the non-state sphere. .

growth. In retrospect. which for most African countries fell shortly before or after 1960. and to the particular manifestations of its power. state formation and integration also implies deformation and disintegration of pre-existing forms. reactions. Still. and the extent of autonomy it has left them. These processes lie at the heart of the dynamic of state-society relationships. through indirect rule and other devices the colonial state displaced and incorporated various pre-colonial formations. and raise fundamental questions about the manner in which the state in formation has set out to establish its linkages with constituent social units and categories. 1974. But in its incorporating tendencies. giving rise to continuous processes of confrontation. 4. we are basically referring to a set of ongoing processes. the nationalist front was. in various 2 Martin Doornbos. and interactions during the immediate pre-independence period than was recognised at the time. two matters appear to have been grossly underrated at that time. when discussing state formation. 'A Note on Time Horizons and Interpretations Change'. in The African Review (Dar es Salaam). groups. while today processes of incorporation by global state-like institutions are again setting definite limits and parameters to the development of state forms and functions in the postcolonial era. and the redefinition of the position of various social and political formations. One was the occurrence of a much wider differentiation in terms of social movements. 557-64. adjustment. for a discussion of changing perspectives. it therefore includes the establishment. and absorption. and with serious consequences for subsequent perspectives. pp. of African Political . Thus. is not necessarily the most appropriate time from which to begin an analysis of state formation and performance. 4. which set definite limits to the actions of the state and to a large extent predetermined the trajectories of its formation. and organisational networks within the wider state context. Specifically in the African context this points to the crystallisation of the role of the post-colonial state. as it was at the beginning of this period that an academic interest in the African state beyond the purely anthropological was first manifested in any significant way. 2 A vast and still growing literature has convincingly identified basic structural determinants inherited from the colonial era. the post-colonial years represent quite an appropriate timespan. Theoretically. which in the long run would severely curtail the social basis for long-term national (re)construction. The moment of independence. and differentiation of state structures.THE AFRICAN STATE 181 Second. In other words.

and precarious would be the efforts of African states to define and develop their role and position within and vis-a-vis the larger society.MAR TIN DOORNBOS instances. Yet. In the process. Centre for African Studies. was a profound lack of awareness of how unclear. In comparison with Asia." The other blind spot. so striking in retrospect. shedding ethnic identities and relationships that were perceived as traditional and backward. We should note. and the interventions and reactions during decolonisation were more varied and complex than has usually been recognised. secular frameworks with all the familiar functional checks-and-balances and appropriate administrative technologies. less pervasive and less unified than subsequent state ideology made it out to be. for example. uncertain.or some might say even less . this belief was not unrelated to the pervasive notion that one knew the direction in which state and society would develop in Africa: that of modern. . Occasional Paper No. demonstrated by the relative ease with which new institutions and organisational experiments were set up (though often subsequently abrogated and reconstituted as the case might be). University of Copenhagen. education. academically or otherwise. in the scope for engineering social processes. Today such assumptions might be considered erroneous and misplaced. In formulating an alternative to what soon became 3 Michael Twaddle. in the expectation that projected patterns of social interaction would soon follow as a matter of course. the burden of formulating and implementing the policies that would transform society was laid squarely with the government. there was much less . Quite fundamentally.by way of relevant historical precedent and experience from which inspiration and guidance could be derived. 'Decolonization in British Africa: a new historiographical debate?'. There were very high initial expectations about the role the state would playas the prime mover in all development efforts. In terms of ensuing paradigms. or projected only onto capitalistoriented states. 1985. The state was to pull the whole society along in an all-out development drive on several fronts. that there might be something basically problematic about the perspective as such. there was at the time a strong belief. the results of these notions were dramatic. r. shared by many scholars and practitioners alike. national citizens. Whether in agriculture. industrialisation. or other sectors. that this perspective was not the monopoly of a liberal paradigm. members of African communities were expected to develop new identities as modern. though. but at the time these destinies were seen as quite natural and self-evident: there was little awareness.

Agrarian Reform and Socialist Transitions: an argument'. and Doornbos (eds. and Patrick Chabal. By implication this laid the ground for a prolonged dialogue on the structural position of the state. through product marketing and other mechanisms. The Agrarian (!yestion in Socialist Transitions (London. Political Domination in Africa: reflections on the limits of power (Cambridge. . however. seek to extract a surplus. pp. and the role attributed to the African state changed from the prime mover of development to that of its main obstacle.THE AFRICAN STATE recognised as a 'neo-colonial' path. various Marxist scholars assigned a similarly central role to the state in the projected 'transition to socialism' of African countries.). 'Introduction: thinking about politics in Africa'. and Doornbos (eds. for example. the state was to direct the economy and. 5 This was a time when many scholars were sympathetic towards the newly independent states and their aspirations. 317-30. James S. Doornbos. 'political penetration' referred to 4 Martin R. 5 Cliffe. one of the first requirements of the state was seen to be its 'penetration' of society and the enhancement of its capacity to implement policies. the high expectations bestowed on the state could hardly be fulfilled under the prevailing conditions. which essentially amounted to state capitalism or state socialism. 1986). which it would redirect partly for the maintenance and expansion of its own apparatus. Coleman. 1977). pp. has continued until virtually the present day. cit. However. In case after case. in amended form. Ashwani Saith. They also reflected the choices made in reality. In James Coleman's much quoted definition. 1-6. 1985). 'Primitive Accumulation. Government and Rural Development in East Africa: essays on political penetration (The Hague. how government programmes could be implemented and replicated more effectively in different social contexts. They proved illfounded both vis-a-vis the state and the civil society it confronted. In either case. in Lionel Cliffe. it should be noted that they were similarly 'statist' or state-oriented in their identification of the key variables.). high expectations were followed by profound disillusionment. THREE DEBATES The concept of 'political penetration' helped to provoke an interesting controversy in East Africa during the late I g6os. in Saith (ed. 'Recurring Penetration Strategies in East Africa'. Starting from this preoccupation. and it was hoped that research itself might make a contribution to 'development' by indicating. in Chabal (ed. These opposite yet parallel perspectives naturally led to a good deal of debate with respect to the kind of society that was to be engineered. op. which. Coleman.).)." As was increasingly realised. and also for redistribution to other sectors.

and Doornbos (eds. In the years to follow these concerns became increasingly and crucially important. Many of the same conflicting premises were echoed somewhat later in the debates in Tanzania during the I970S at the University of Dar es Salaam. Coleman. pp. in particular. U. 1967. however. 8 committed neo-Marxists. The very notion of state or political penetration lent itself very well to voicing these concerns. that the same concept of penetration provided a suitable focus for other kinds of queries. cit. would be of value in providing an orientation on the mobilising role of governments in bridging the macro-micro gap. in ibid. however these may be determined. Thoden van Velzen.). . were attracted to the prospect of contributing to the clarification of policy choices in support of developing a state-led socialist strategy. 20-6.). Mazrui. 223-50. pp. Vol. Their importance lay partly in a historical conjunction of policy and research objectives. 'Staff. However. 19-50. 1972). In a sympathetic climate which came to be known in the terminology of Ali Mazrui as 'Tanzaphilia'. 'Tanzaphilia: a diagnosis'." This concept. pp. Kulaks and Peasants: a study of a political field'. John S. it was thought. questions were raised as to whose purposes and interests were being served by their penetrative efforts. Socialism in Tanzania: an interdisciplinary reader. 6 . 3. 8 Ali A. and on the dislocating effects of its interventions. 'The Concept of Political Penetration'. Initially much attention was devoted to the identification and analysis of rural class formation and to the state's responsibility in restraining this. in Lionel Cliffe and Saul (eds. and H. pp. the policy James Coleman. in ibid. E. Noting the emergence and class behaviour of new bureaucratic elites. Saul. in Cliffe. on its dominant role in the relations of production. op. 'Class and Penetration in Tanzania'. The Arusha Declaration of 1967 had inaugurated a prima facie progressive state policy and the Tanzanian leadership appeared open to a kind of policy dialogue with concerned scholars. It soon became evident. and marked a significant period in the thinking on state-society relationships in Africa. Various researchers began to have apprehensions about the role of the state and its implications for the so-called' target' populations. 31. Politics (Dar es Salaam. I. p. Lionel Cliffe.MARTIN DOORNBOS that ensemble of processes by which the political-administrative-juridical centre of a new state (I) establishes an effective and authoritative central presence throughout its geographical and sectoral peripheries. '" Penetration" and Rural Development in the East African Context'. in Transition (Kampala). and (2) acquires a capacity for the extraction and mobilization of resources to implement itspolicies and pursue its goals. 6. question marks were placed on the priority of enhancing the state's reach and control over local social and political networks." By implication. 118-26.

though not for productive re-investment. some of the basic arguments advanced can be linked to earlier positions with respect to the dichotomy between state and society. 17. when Issa Shivji and others began to point to the dominant and exploitative role which was being manifested by the new bureaucratic bourgeoisie in post-Arusha Tanzanian development. pp. 'The "Overdeveloped" Post Colonial State: a re-evaluation'. taxation. 11 Cf. cit. 677-705. January-April 1976. while 'society' stood primarily for a largely undifferentiated and vulnerable peasantry.to import substitution. Shivji. 39-48.the nature of the questions had changed from a basically forward-oriented dialogue about 'transformations' and the overcoming of 'obstacles to change'. op. Vol. however. in which the former had emerged as disproportionately powerful and central. 9 10 . and in a sense disoriented." But this policy-oriented search for appropriate interventions was seriously challenged. 12 Goran Hyden. Hyden had pointed to the limits of Cliffe and Saul (eds. Issa G.THE AFRICAN STATE 185 discourse was soon extended to many other areas . in Development and Change (London). 4. Class Struggles in Tanzania (Dar es Salaam. to a more pessimistic and retrospective questioning of' what went wrong'? (One might wonder. but that some unanticipated variable caused the process to be detracted from its proper course. I. pp. 1986. Colin Leys. and whether those of the peasants were being subordinated rather than promoted in the process. 1975)).P In the light of the new situation .) At any rate.). in Review of African Political Economy (Sheffield). as it would seem to presume that the foundations for African development were basically sound.!" Exponent and embodiment of the' overdeveloped state' /1 this class was viewed to be syphoning off an increasing share of the surplus created by peasant agriculture. the theme of debate had essentially shifted to that of 'state versus society'. Policies. A third instance of a debate on this theme has been the more recent discussion in Development and Change (London) around the work of Goran Hyden. Again. 2. 'The Anomaly of the African Peasantry'.out of concern for developing proper socialist strategies and instruments. and in this new perspective the state lost its relatively autonomous and progressive image. Debates on the strengthening of its capacity and effectiveness were thus qualified and countered by questions as to which class interests were being served by government policy.the severe crisis in which Africa found itself in the I g80s . 5. and education. and Vol. whether that in itself is the right question. State and class formation came to be seen largely as twin processes reinforcing each other. for example -. In two widely-read books.

the focus was always on the state. 18. and No Shortcuts to. in ibid. their argument is that African peasants have been squeezed too much. in Development and Change.2.4. and have had little to offer by way of positive inducements and recognition of popular interests. figured as two opposite poles. and Gavin Williams. 'The Debate on African Peasantries'. Ig86. Lionel Cliffe. pp.186 MARTIN DOORNBOS socialist societal engineering. 18. In their critiques. Put more plainly. In Hyden's view. then.4. as Hyden might maintain. pp. Beyond Ujamaa in Tanzania: underdevelopment and an uncaptured peasantry (London. Ig87.l" In their interpretation of the crisis confronting state-peasant relationships. in Hyden's analysis.P this particular debate. pp. However. and notwithstanding different appreciations of its role each position 13 Goran Hyden. in ibid. Ig87. Berkeley. 'Primitive Accumulation: the way to progress?'. unless it develops a capacity to 'capture' the peasantry and extract a surplus from it in order to strengthen its own position. These constraints have severely restricted the scope for possible alternative interventions. pp. For all their varying emphases and preoccupations. Ig83). 17. Under present circumstances the African state is too weak and too 'soft'. 625-35. Hence. In turn.I" the core of his argument being that serious objective constraints militate against state efforts towards economic transformation. 661-7· . Still. and certainly not too little. their relatively secure access to land gives the African peasants an 'exit option' from market incorporation (a position epitomised by his phrase' the uncaptured peasantry'). Ig87. especially the debt burden and the deteriorating terms of trade. 4. 'Are African Peasants Self-Sufficient?'. and Los Angeles. has as yet remained basically unresolved. 14 Nelson Kasfir. which creates a basic impediment for state-led (or any other) transformation. Lionel Cliffe. 1980). in ibid. stagnation will continue to prevail. and the obstacle state actually obstructing its own ambitions. 637-59· 15 Goran Hyden. these three debates shared some important common ground: the prime-mover state meant to engineer development. and Gavin Williams pointed to the manifold ways in which the peasantry in Tanzania and other African countries have already been ensnared by national and international market forces. 335-57. the state's weakness and the developmental impasse could partly be attributed not to its inability to overcome the defences of the peasants. and as familiar landmarks. 18. Nelson Kasfir. they emphasised external determinants. as others. Progress: African development management in perspective (London. to overcome this constraint. as regards Hyden's question in his final rejoinder in Development and Change as to what. in the discourse on state and society in Africa. 'Final Rejoinder'. not on society. but to its own inroads into their agrarian resource basis. should be an alternative programme of action.

for example. Here. some significant shifts appear to have been introduced into the positions concerned. the African state's' most favoured' status appears today to have been eclipsed in the eyes of donors by a veil of assumed obsolescence. superficially. and privatisation. no doubt. it appears that the global organisations and the donor community have now embraced wholesale the critique of the 'overdeveloped state' which was earlier espoused by radical scholars (often. In an age of structural adjustment. in the implied policy debate on giving priority to improving governmental capabilities versus responding to popular demands. Another debate appears to be in the making. we might note that the crisis of the African state has not gone unnoticed by the main global organisations and the international donor community. Formerly the exclusive recipient. There had already been a heavy external involvement in African policymaking for many years. To apprecia te this. Until recently. as its chief linkage and counterpart. appear an almost anarchistic route. of course. Oflate this picture has changed. So much of development planning. the autonomy of the African state is increasingly being bypassed and eroded by the international community in several critical ways: . Aside from the chains of the debt burden. the international community has undergone a major reversal in its appreciation of the role of the African state. liberalisation. the collective weight of the external variable was biased squarely towards strengthening the interventionist powers of the state. where external involvements are concerned. and indeed into the discourse itself. reflecting a changing context. a brief digression in to the 'real world' will be useful.THE AFRICAN STATE perceived the state as central. but since the mid-r qdos a qualitative difference appears to have manifested itself in this area. partner. SHIFTING POSITIONS Recently. public and private. and rationale of international aid and attention. these particular emphases wee not restricted to the African context but followed directly from the nature of the whole development discourse. would be inconceivable without a central role for the state as object and rationale of analysis and intervention or. To a large extent. to the irritation of those same organisations). From policy statements as well as actions. and now seems to have opted for what might. the relative absence of big landowners and industrial interests in many African countries made this emphasis on the state even more pronounced than in other regions of the Third World. Still.

to make use of insights gained through experience. . 405--34. No doubt many of the individual policy initiatives and adjustments concerned are motivated by earnest desires to raise the effectiveness of aid programmes. and (7) the introduction of highly advanced and sophisticated monitoring and evaluation methodologies.I" facilitating a gradual shift of policy-preparation activities to European donor headquarters. including earlier mistakes. with corresponding national counterpart' front' organisations. and complexity of all these incremental contributions by the collective international community tends to be an overwhelming weight on the policy-making processes of individual African countries. Given the limited financial and staffing resources ois-a-uis this collective external expertise. 15. which have begun to assume major policy roles in. in World Development (Oxford). for example. Morss. magnitude. 1984.188 MARTIN DOORNBOS (I) advocacy of privatisation. 12. and William Smith and Adrian Wood. Institute of Social Studies. The Hague.4. for which the national expertise available is often insufficient to constitute an effective counterpart in the policy discussion and implementation concerned. R. (5) donor preferences for working with autonomous' non-bureaucratic' corporate statutory bodies. 1984. thereby gaining direct influence . 'Institutional Destruction Resulting from Donor and Project Proliferation in Sub-Saharan African Countries'. 17 Marc Wuyts. for the totality of which nobody takes responsibility. in Development and Change. and considered attractive because external agencies can establish close working relationships with them. the role of the national government often becomes necessarily limited to accepting - 16 E. 465-70. believed to combine the advantages of public jurisdiction and private discretionary powers. pp. and of increasing involvement of private enterprise in aid arrangements. the combined impact. 'Patterns of Agricultural Development and Foreign Aid to Zambia'. (3) the formation of donor co-ordinating consortia. (4) the rapidly growing donor specialisation and involvement in selected sectors and/or regions within African countries.17 (6) the detailed specification of external parameters and prescriptions in national budgetary and policy processes. away from national sectoral co-ordinating ministries or organisations. pp. and generally to improve performance and outputs. 'Economic Management and Adjustment in Mozambique'. Still. 3. 52. Working Paper Series No. the planning and disbursement of food aid. (2) a significant diversion of aid funds via non-governmental organisa tions and channels. 1989.

2. in New Left Review (London). 'Policy dialogue'. 20 Robert H. and insisting on the state's right at least to be able to make its own policy judgements and misjudgements. questions of national sovereignty are involved. or already agreed upon by the main donors. 'The State in Post-Colonial Societies: Pakistan and BangIa Desh'. 21 Cf. an inevitable shift in the theoretical positions concerned can already be discerned. now arguing the case of societal interests.f" True as this might be for some cases. the question is whether a critique on state performance justifies the far-reaching interventions.:" In the final analysis. verging on custodianship. Rosberg. cit. may in the end turn the discussion about the African state into a very academic debate. 19 john RavenhiIl. 1-24. RavenhiIl. pp. loc. Behind these shifts in position loom the larger questions of the choice between state18 Hamza Alavi. 26. notwithstanding all the problems involved. there is as yet no alternative. Robert Jackson and Carl Rosberg have put forward the thesis. 'Why Africa's Weak States Persist: the empirical and the juridical in statehood'. However. 74.june 1988. 179-210. 'Adjustment with Growth: a fragile consensus'.ready-made policy packages prepared elsewhere. In this connection. Some governments have sometimes managed to give a fresh meaning to Hamza Alavi's concept of 'the relative autonomy of the state' by skilfully playing off one donor against another. .l" but increasing insistence on donor co-ordination is now making this more difficult and closing off this limited room for manoeuvre. in The Journal of Modern African Studies (Cambridge). 1972. 1. that ifit were not for the de jure recognition of their status by the international community. the international donor euphemism. pp. its earlier radical critics are now more likely to come to its defence by maintaining that. 35. in World Politics (Princeton).a process which is based less on equal status of discussion partners than the name may suggest. With these changing contextual conditions. many states would have collapsed as a result of internal conflicts. one wonders whether a point might not also be reached where the state as the nerve centre for national policy-making may risk collapse under the collective weight of the international community's well-intentioned involvements and interventions.jackson and Carl G. Out of impatience with the poor formulation and implementation of plans by African states. pp. 59-81.P! While some of the former international supporters of the African state are turning into its chief fault finders. various donor organisations and governments have sought engagement in 'policy dialogue' . which are presently being made into the policy determination of African states.THE AFRICAN STATE 18g or possibly refusing to accept . in their discussion of African statehood. October 1982.

however. Terrains et theories (Paris. Village Communities and the State: changing relations among the Maka of Southeastern Cameroon since the colonial conquest (London. Over the past three decades. 1972). have received attention mainly in their reaction to interventions from' above'. What I have in mind here is not the withering away of the state in a fashion as yet neither foreseen nor intended by the main authors of the idea. in both rural areas and urban centres. . An intriguing but unexplored question is.190 MARTIN DOORNBOS led and market-led development. Denmark. Mazrui. 23 One important exception to the relative neglect of' grassroots' organisations from a wider political perspective has been the French 'articulation of the modes of production' school of analysis led by Emmanuel Terray and Claude Meillassoux . to what extent village-based communities in West Africa. 'Privatization versus the Market: cultural contradictions in structural adjustment'. What has been happening. While the complexities and failures of state-led development are sobering and manifold. Roskilde. International Conference on 'Uganda: Structural Adjustment and Revolutionary Change'. a meaningful answer is unlike to be forthcoming. CIVIL SOCIETY The realities of state performance and 'policy dialogue' must ultimately lead to closer consideration of the' non-state' sphere. What was lacking. See Emmanuel Terray. socio-economic relationships and institutions at the' grassroots'. it is striking just how much the discussion on African state-society relations has focused on the state per se.F it still remains to be seen whether privatisation might not prove a greater impediment to the releasing of market forces than the state. and Peter Geschiere. in this vision. through their very structure. or even possible. and hardly considered the formation of new kinds of interaction. at least under conditions of a certain 'balance of power' between them. namely. Claude Meillassoux. as Ali Mazrui has recently remarked.who have sought to understand how West African village communities experience 'development' from within. is almost the opposite. that is. between state and civic institutions. and new balances of power. which instead have often been noted to exhibit a greater degree of' elusiveness '. It is perhaps worth noting in this connection that studies reporting on grassroots 'resilience' have usually emanated from West Africa. 1982). By the same token. 20-23 September 1989. than the scattered communities in many parts of Eastern Africa. the state institutions. by and large. was closer 22 Ali A. 1977).represented among Dutch Africanists by the work of Peter Geschiere and others . state formation essentially equalled formation of state institutions. the seat of power (and who occupies it).23 Thus. In retrospect the implications of this neglect seem to be far-reaching. Marxism and 'Primitive' Societies (New York and London. the prolonged withering away of African civil society from academic and policy attention. might have had a greater capacity for resilience ois-a-ms the state. and the nature of state interventions. In the polarised fashion in which these questions are currently being posed. as it were. rather.

State and Class in Africa (London. also. without access to the state. and many other informal and traditional groupings such as the Ghanaian asafo companies. the Parallel Economy. tracing continuities and discontinuities in non-state institutions. that attention was drawn to a myriad of ways in which local and regional groups or networks tried to cope with their situation and developed novel. and the Changing Structure of Patronage Systems'. But civil society is and becomes also. fraternities. Reginald H." Thus' state' and' civil society'. it was particularly in those instances where the state had come to a virtual breakdown.. military officers and all others who are. and Rene Lemarchand. 1981. op. Nelson Kasfir. Institute of Development Studies. of the non-state sphere as represented by potentially autonomous institutions such as the judiciary. Discussion Paper No. consists not just of what is obviously not part of the state but also of all who may have become powerless or disenfranchised: not just villagers. 'The State. 1984). and in other parts of Eastern Africa. 149-}0. farmers' organisations. in deeply polarised situations can become each other's opposites and opponents. and kinship associations. nomads.). experienced. pp. cit. intellectuals. professional bodies. 24 25 . politicians. p. members of different age groups. religious and cultural bodies. 'Magendo in the Political Economy of Uganda: pathology. unions. in this connection.). such as the innovative work of John Lonsdale and Jean-Franc. colonial. 15. 1988). 'non-state' forms of social organisation. and dealt with. mutual-aid societies. and in the changing ways in which the state has been perceived. important advances have been made in historical sociological research. or feel they are. Brighton. fishermen. priests and mullahs. The Precarious Balance: state and society in Africa (Boulder and London.). which in other contexts can be strongly interwoven and complementary. It is quite conceivable that several of these institutions might have acquired more significant civic functions had it not been for the increasingly encompassing dominance of the state. is deepening our understanding of the evolution of social processes and of Chabal (ed.ois Bayart. or slum dwellers. 25 In recent years. what is not of the state: Civil society . 'State. and Class Formation in Uganda'. with shifting boundaries between them. Research linking the analyses of state-society relationships in the pre-colonial. University of Sussex.. Green.THE AFRICAN STATE 191 consideration and understanding. such as Uganda in recent years. but also professionals. autonomous. in Donald Rothchild and Naomi Chazan (eds. Significantly. village councillors. Magendo. from the side of the populace. 64. parallel system or dominant sub mode of production?' . in Patrick Chabal's words. in Kasfir (ed. and post-colonial periods. Civil society is a vast ensemble of constantly changing groups and individuals whose only common ground is their being outside the state.

to sketch a picture which recognises a certain pulsating element in these dynamics. and shrinkage of state functions. marked by the progressive incorporation of different social groups and strata into the state's programmes. in discussing phases of growing state involvement and ascendancy. It is possible. A broader historical view can also provide a better perspective on the longer-term dynamics in African state-society relationships.t" Ultimately. 24. a tendency towards disengagement has been manifest in various countries under the influence of the general crisis within which the African state and economy have found themselves.). both economic and political. or vice versa. in either case. 2-3. in the sense that phases of state ascendancy. No less important is the fact that throughout the continent there are a number of local history societies through which groups and individuals seek to illuminate their own past and present. or be taken to reflect the state's own incorporative designs and strategies. that have been brought to 26 John Lonsdale. it can thus be argued. and 'Political Accountability in African History'. thereby prompting the detachment of certain social categories as a result of its choice of actiona" Similarly. as Victor Azarya has done recently.MAR TIN DOORNBOS alternative organisational forms that have been developed over time. as Kwame Ninsin has argued on the basis of the Ghanaian experience. whether in such instances It IS societal forces which have been seeking to disengage themselves from the state. 'incorporation' and' engagement' could refer to the extent to which various groups and interests sought association and involvement in the state's programmes and structures. It is a matter of debate. cit. however.). 'States and Social Processes in Africa: a historiographical survey'. 126-57. and penetration into the society. op. pp. such as in the first years after independence. 139-225. in Rothchild and Chazan (eds. pp. in Chabal (ed.1981. 1989). However. and Jean-Fran~ois Bayart. Ninsin. and their association with its ideological thrust. 'Reordering State-Society Relations: incorporation and disengagement'. or whether. in African Studies Review (Los Angeles). L'Etat en Afrique: La politique du ventre (Paris. 'Three Levels of State Reordering: the structural aspects'. it will be evident that the processes concerned cannot be perceived as operating in a vacuum but must be understood in the light of the pervasive external pressures and inducements. in ibid. may be followed by periods of relative disengagement. it has rather been the state which has been selectively disengaging itselffrom popular demands. 27 Victor Azarya. aggrandisement. 265-81. retreat. 3-21. pp. op. pp. cit. such studies may also provide crucial support in the search for cultural revitalisation of African forms of social organisation. 27 In recent years. . 28 Kwame A.

such as in constitutional preambles. such as in the years immediately before and after independence in several African countries. 29 30 . 'The Invention of Tradition in Colonial Africa'. and in the process to develop stronger self-identification as members of the new national state. national identity and unity has invariably been given strong emphasis during most of the post-colonial period. in van Binsbergen and Hesseling (eds. and Gerti Hesseling.I" or be based on selective neo-traditionalisation. both at the level of the state and of popular groups. op. Aspecten van Staat en MattschappiJ in Afrika (Leiden. 'Constitutional Form and Ideological Content: the preambles of French-language constitutions in Africa'. 31 Terence Ranger.P but they Rothchild and Chazan (eds. Martin Doornbos. then this may also help explain some of the changing manifestations of ethnicity. The ideological claims made by the new ruling elites in support of national unity might allude to some very general universal values. CHANGING IDENTITIES It is interesting to see the implications of these trends on changing identities. various groups in the society might be seen to identify more closely with the aims and objectives of the new national political centre.the title of Donald Rothchild and Naomi Chazan's insightful volume on evolving state-society relationships in Africa29has been critically affected throughout by the external factor. Wim van Binsbergen. The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge. At the level of the state itself. or of the party in power.). growing popular disillusionment with the central state would cause various social groups to turn away from it. and lead to their re-emphasising ethnic.THE AFRICAN STATE 193 bear on the African state and society.). or other communal identities. Its domination was reflected in a heavy stress on nation-building. this 'precarious balance' . often all the stronger as different social movements began to question the centrality of the state. as well as of ethnic and cultural pluriformity. which might have allowed or encouraged recognition of the positive aspects of nationality. 1983).). in Eric Hobsbawm and Ranger (eds. 1984). African Studies Centre. In times of relative disengagement. Specifically. and some of the new interpretations of it. 22. and from this perspective ethnic pluralism was almost by definition suspect. regional. cit. at least in terms of ideological identification. In periods of expanding state involvement and high expectations about its mobilising role and capacity. Indeed. if there is a basic validity to the incorporation and disengagement thesis. in contrast. Re-generation of civil society. that have been occurring over the past few decades. Research Report No. was virtually nowhere on the agenda.

not much could be expected by way of any substantive dialogue. for example. or a purely surface reflection of more basic.i" Many Marxist scholars. The debate then was more in the nature of a long-distance battle. conceptually akin to Clifford Geertz. either a misunderstood or false consciousness. But both main perspectives have been shifting. almost by necessity induced a special interest in ideologies and strategies of national unification and identity. Other questions were essentially normative. and through the growing understanding of identity as a kind of multi-layered. however. viewed ethnic identity as a primordial. first thought to be 32 Clifford Geertz. first considered ethnicity as no more than an epiphenomenon. on the other hand. With such a priori distance in the theoretical positions involved. 'The Integrative Revolution: primordial sentiments and civil politics in the new sta tes " in Geertz (ed. and turning nation-building projects by definition into almost insurmountable. any such expectations were closely related to the role and position one saw for the state. the search for identities on the part of states as well as popular movements has generated its own share of academic interest and debate. While any adequate coverage is not possible now. and more important class variables. there have been some notable shifts in analytic perspectives on the questions of popular and national identity. and more meaningful exchanges are possible today. multifaceted phenomenon. that is. a deep-rooted existential given. not least in response to changes in the actual situation. Existing ethnic identities.). On the liberal side.194 MARTIN DOORNBOS were often remarkably silent on the question of the cultural basis of the new national society and thus usually carried more rhetoric than in trinsic weigh t. heroic challenges. I should like to point to at least a few instances of such changes. the primordial thesis was first criticised and qualified through recognition of much greater flexibility and variability of popular identities than was previously assumed to exist. pp. Various liberal scholars. Interestingly. Some of the discussion concerned boiled down to questions of understanding as to what kind of phenomena one was observing in the first place. in other words. At the outset. Clearly. Postulating a primacy for the central state. with opposing arguments not too sharply targeted. Naturally. differences in understanding of the ethnic phenomenon could hardly have been greater. 1963). !O5-57. but making a lot of noise. infusing tradition with meaning. and were based on a priori notions as to the direction in which it was thought political identities should evolve. Old Societies and New States: the quest for modernity in Asia and Africa (New York and London. .

pp. serious attention has been aa For example. and Martin Doornbos. and (4) a minority veto on the most vital issues' (p. emotionally as well as in terms of basic social networks.THE AFRICAN STATE 195 deep-rooted and immovable. a reverse process seemed superficially to be occurring. in Civilisations (Brussels). and may have the effect of reinforcing rather than bridging various incompatibilities. op. where migrants from different origins found themselves placed in common social situations and could thus develop new collective self-images. 1985). 6). a4 See Arend Lijphart. Ethnicity also came to be viewed as offering an important protective shield. 24. Lijphart's propositions would guarantee a constitutionally fixed representation of ethnic categories in African power-sharing arrangements. pp.:ois Bayart. (2) a high degree of internal autonomy for groups that wish to have it.). 1975). 22.2. 'Civil Society in Africa'. 'Ethnicity as the Resilient Paradigm for Africa: from the 1960s to the 1980s'. 263-83. been incorporated into the consociational electoral proposals of Arend Lijphart. Increasingly. voicing locally-specific grievances against dominant and demanding states and ruling classes. Berkeley. Underdevelopment in Kenya: the political economy of neo-colonialism. In critical analysis. 1972. the expression of ethnicity was seen to follow rather than to determine social action and. . they fail to grasp the essentially dynamic quality of ethnicity and ethnic configurations. University of California. p. Although his ideas have been getting a hearing here and there in (especially South) Africa.4. Colin Leys. 587-605.especially class and the competition for resources and positions controlled by the state. in Chabal (ed. however. neo-Marxist analysis recognised ethnic protest as an important form of class or peasant protest.:" On the Marxist side. a Dutch political scientist. were seen to acquire fresh meanings in response to new situations and challenges. cit. Shaw. consequently." Moreover. Institute ofInternational Studies. Jean-Frano. in Development and Change. a. 1964-1971 (London. it shifted from an independent to a dependent variable in the analysis. 'Some Conceptual Problems Concerning Ethnicity in Integration Analysis'.33 Accordingly.for example. the importance of contexts in fully appreciating the role of ethnicity was increasingly stressed . in times of economic and political crisis. Power-Sharing in South Africa (Policy Papers in International Affairs No. 17.F' Modelled on his (often contested) interpretation of the denominational division aspect of Dutch politics (verzuiling). pp. Nor do they recognise that many basic interests may not get a voice through channels of ethnic representation. while some studies began to report on new' ethnic' identifications which were emerging where they had not existed before . 124. These growing insights have not. a.1986. His proposals are based on:' (I) executive power-sharing among the representatives of all significant groups. 198-206. Timothy M. (3) proportional representation and proportional allocation of civil service positions and public funds.

" As far as the analysis of ethnicity is concerned.196 MAR TIN DOORNBOS given to the rediscovered position of continuing nationalities within the post-colonial African states. 36-54. and the implications of this for a proper understanding of the national question.based. one wonders in retrospect whether the stress on nation-building and national unity at the time reflected a genuine desire to create a new' national' society. Basically. Denmark. . would seem to come surprisingly close to the notion of primordial ties. instead of being eroded. Roskilde. however. or whether it constituted the beginnings of an ideological defence of the colonial heritage which had become the state system. with its implicit recognition of continuity and stable boundaries in nationality consciousness.i" or many of the ethnically or nationality-based liberation movements in the Horn of Africa. and might amount to putting ethnicity back on the cards as a semiindependent variable. pp. nationality. 1983. I. Hamza Alavi. 1527-34. and what can they tell us about the nature of the state? For example. or religiously-inspired protest and revitalisation movements in several African countries brings us back to the role and position of the post-colonial state. in Economic and Political Weekly (Bombay). in Mauiazo (Kampala) 5. this concept. If that is what has been happening. International Conference on 'Uganda: Structural Adjustment and Revolutionary Change'. 'Was Alice Lakwenya a Witch?'. 38 Heike Behrend. With respect to the uncertain search for state identity that drew so much attention in the early days after independence. then the notion of national identity may be said to have had a remarkable career: from' nationalist' rationale for replacing 37 Mahmood Mamdani. threatening role of the state vis-it-vis groups who feel their position to be weak and vulnerable. 1987). passim. How should we understand these developments. 20--23 September 1989. and the extent of its dominance. 8 July 1989. pp. 'The Nationality Question in a Neo-Colony: an historical perspective'. and that posing the question in simple either / or terms can only result in unproductive debate. and the question might not have arisen iflocal non-state infrastructures had been allowed a chance to develop. The renewed attention being paid to the emergence and significance of ethnic." be taken as a sign of the 'weakness' of the state and of its incapability to handle dissent and keep law and order? Or should they instead be seen as an indication of the' strength' and the overwhelming. should the Holy Spirit movement of Alice Lakwenya in Northern Uganda. with little defence but their ethnicity? The answer is probably both. 'Nationhood and the Nationalities in Pakistan'. 39 John Markakis. National and Class Conflict in the Horn of Africa (Cambridge. Cf. it should be quite evident that consciousness of nationality / ethnicity and class can be related in a variety of significant ways.

O.s) and donordependent corporate bodies. there was a certain logic to the search for socialist. all of them in their different ways intent on capturing some of the political space in the non-state sphere. Filip Reyntjes. Denmark. Ghana: politics. Whether they will actually be able to do so remains to be seen. 41 See Piet Konings.).g. Will they open up new scope and channels for empowerment and democratisation. State and Local Community in Africa (Brussels. Brett. op. Similarly. culminating in autonomous organisations with effective popular participation? Or 40 E. 17. but also of social and religious protest and revitalisation movements and liberation fronts. and Gerti Hesseling (eds. " In some instances. March 1988. 'The Politics of Government NGO Relations in Africa'. 20-23 September 1989. and Mahmood Mamdani. A. 'The Resistance Council System and Local Administration in Uganda: a background'. though still state-centred. 1986). Ray. Makerere University.J' With regard to all these actions and initiatives. 'The Uganda Elections of 1989: populism and democratisation'. 1981-84'.4. the important question is whether their collective impact will change the balance of power and the historicallyestablished relationship between the post-colonial state and civil society. E. economics and society (London and Boulder. Public Lecture. and is a matter of prime interest to observers of the African political scene. International Conference on 'Uganda: Structural Adjustment and Revolutionary Change'. and Michael Bratton. there is a logic to the conceptual exploration of the non-state sphere for possible alternatives or supports. in Wim van Binsbergen. Kampala. Donald 1. when the first contradictions became apparent. 1989. the state itself has sought to relate to this new drift by initiating defence committees and resistance councils which theoretically are to provide for novel means of decentralisation and local representation. It was virtually inevitable that the initial emphasis would be on the new state institutions and the performance of the political leadership. in World Development. 'The State and the Defence Committees in the Ghanaian Revolution.G. alternatives. Today again. Also. 1986). CONCLUDING REMARKS Looking back over the discussion on the post-colonial African state there appears to have been a kind of internal logic to its evolution and changing focus. Roskilde. Mamdani et al. . 569-87. cit. 'NRA/NRM: two years in power'. as the African state is under increasing internal and external stress. pp. it has become the successor state's line of defence of that very inheritance. This search parallels the rapid emergence and proliferation of numerous non-governmental organisations (N. and in what direction. and Nelson Kasfir. now being used against the rising demands and protests of dissatisfied and dissenting nationalities and ethnic popular movements. such as in Ghana and Uganda.THE AFRICAN STATE 197 the colonial presence.

. anarchic. and patterns of domination and participation emerging in the non-state sphere. by the same token. therefore. make the state less all-embracing and omnipresent? Or will they. It does not seem too difficult. open the door for more direct external intervention and domination? These appear to be some of the more crucial and central questions facing Africa today.O. institutional arrangements.s. to hazard a prediction as to where the focus of debate will lie in the years to come: on the predominant nature and role of new political formations. through a seemingly new consensus between grassroots social movements. or civic. N. and international corporate interests on the desirability of an 'autonomous' alternative.nco-corporatist.198 MARTIN DOORNBOS will they eventually lead to novel forms of control by dominant classes or the state. or both? Will they. and on the quality of society-state relations that may result from them .G.

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