Africa Works: Disorder As Political Instrument – Book Review

This is perhaps one of the best books I read on African politics while I was in school. The authors takes a fresh and interesting approach to the instrumentalisation of power in Africa and discuss how it impacts African societies and economies. The book provides a wonderful framework with which to analyse African politics and a new paradigm. A must read for every scholar of African politics

Published in 1999

This book is organised around three important issues and related categories.

First, according to Patrick Chabal and Jean Pascal Daloz;

The African condition can be describe in terms of a unique culture and mind-set that force its people to follow a developmental trajectory which is different from that of other countries of the world that modernised first.

Secondly, they argue that:

Sub-Saharan Africa has the problem that cuts across the whole of Africa among which are corruption and ineffective institutions that affects all sectors of the society.

Thirdly, they observe that:

While African countries and institutions seem to be in a state of disorder and corruption, this situation is active and describe Africa’s unique developmental trail.

In this book Africa is seen as a continent full of crisis. They admitted that the problem of African development has a long history and has been of topical issues after Second World War. While there have been a lot of theories and recommendations abound, progress has been limited if not static.

Sub-Sahara is seen with the reputation of being the poorest region in the world. The region has declined in the rate at which they made progress during the mid-1970s when per capita incomes in Africa exceeded those in most of the developing world, including Asia.

According to World Bank report, a series of negative facts about sub-Sahara were highlighted such as income dropping lower than it was in the late 1960s with widespread of war, diseases, corruption, unemployment and its share of global trade has been shrinking thereby contributing only 2% of the world trade.

Chabal and Daloz argue that ineffective institution and corruption are the fundamental problem facing Africa. The definition of institutional effectiveness was given in terms of ideal type Weberian type bureaucracies.

In their assumption, they are of the opinion that the effectiveness of institutions is derived by organising their structure, purposes, and resources in order to provide rule based governance that is fair, rational and predictable.

To prevent institutions from the domination of interest groups, there should be a proper and well structured bureaucracy. One of the primary problem highlighted with African leaders and institutions is patrimonialism which is the widespread use or diverting public assets or resources for personal gain by officials who manage them.

There is no distinction between public and private spheres which also is one of the reason why African institutions are ineffective. This is due to the fact that African institutions are not neutral and it raises the question, what it means for a bureaucracy to be neutral and according to these scholars bureaucratic neutrality is not possible.

As Knott and Miller observed, institutions shape outcomes by creating incentives that leads to one decision or another. They also opined that the way institutions are arranged affects decision making processes separately from the people involved.

In their conclusion they said that as long as there are different institutional arrangements that leads to different results, then those institutional arrangement cannot be seen as neutral.

They also said that the institutional structure are the output of political choices of political actors. They also argue that it is pointless to maintain institutional or administrative neutrality rather the issue is who gets what from the political system.

According to Chabal and Daloz corruption in Africa is manifested and affects all sectors of the society. There is a distinction between a manifested form of corruption in Africa and western countries less corrupt which they called horizontal corruption.

Horizontal corruption involves the exchange of favours between economic and political elites. Corruption is seen as a unique phenomenon in Africa and a major cause of Africa’s economic grief.

The argument that the level of corruption in African states in typical has been contested by other observers, according to Bayart, Ellis Hibou, they are of the opinion that it is not that African states or their political system are more corrupt than others, as it is often believed.

There is no reason to say that Japan, China, India, Turkey, Russia etc. are less corrupt, but in Africa, the interaction between the practice of power, war, economic accumulation and illegal activities of different types constitute a particular political trajectory which can be fully appreciated only if it is addressed by looking back to see what has gone wrong and how it can be fixed and improved upon.

One of the features of this trajectory is the exploitation by dominant social groups, by dominant actors and other forms of domination such as the insertion of Africa in the international economy in the name of being dependence. Some examples include rents derived from diplomatic and military alliances, from the control of exports of oil and import of all kinds, as well as management of external financial aids.

It was suggested that a distinction be made between what may be called primary level corruption which is by the elites and secondary level corruption by the average person in Africa.

Primary level corruption is of higher level or rate than the secondary level corruption and the two are informally related. Secondary level corruption occurs from the strategies that people devised to cope with the malfunctioning of institutions and service delivery systems.

For example anytime Nigeria is faced with fuel scarcity” which is often attributed to corruption by independent oil marketers and several high level executive in Nigeria oil and gas sector which lead to shortage in fuel supply resulting to the sale of fuel in black market and in addition some of the limited petrol service attendants took bribes from motorists in exchange for preferential treatment.

This shows that corruption at the retail or distribution level is secondary because it is related to corruption at the national level which means that corruption at the top results to corruption at the bottom.

There is a reason to believe that the high level of corruption in Africa is propelled by primary level corruption and much of the corruption at the lower level in Africa is a reflection of the mechanism that people use to deal with ineffective institutions.

As observed by Narayan et al this is not peculiar to Africa but other parts of the world as well. The breakdown of institutions, especially in case of state breakdown, people take such advantages to meet their needs, doing whatever necessary to survive not minding how dangerous or the unjust nature or exploitative nature of their actions which could be through active sabotage or passive resistance.

Another issue raised by Chabal and Daloz, in Africa’s corruption and disorder is functional and defines it unique developmental path, and this position determine a new paradigm.

To be continued..

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