Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Is GOS a dictatorship or a patrimonial state?

Obviously one doesn't have to choose; a state can be both. But how would we know whether a state tilted towards one end rather than the other? What are the defining or key characteristics of each? Tow recent articles in the African Studies Review help illuminate the idea of a "patrimonial state".

Anne Pitcher, Mary Moran and Michael Johnston, in "Rethinking Patrimonialism and Neopatrimonialism in Africa" (ASR, April 2009) take issue with the overuse of patrimonialism, and the need to distinguish between patrimonialism as a mechanism for creating and sustaining authority in a variety of political regimes (from democracies to dictatorships). They note that Botswana, arguable the "best" country on the continent, and a democratic regime, easily meets the Weberian notion of patrimonialism as a source of authority for politicians. In concluding, they suggest "scholars might be better served by calling them [African states] what they are: authoritarian regimes, dictatorships, or democracies with adjectives."

Aaron deGrassi, likewise, in "'Neopatrimonialism' and Agricultural Development in Africa" (ASR, Dec 2008) chides scholars on the empty and overused phrase. His is more a survey of the literature, indicating heavy users and noting how meaningless the use of the word usually is.

It occurs to me that this issue of the relative importance of sources of political authority/legitimacy are terribly relevant for Darfur. There are multiple rebel groups, and they have double authority issues. Within Darfur, are some rebel hierarchies going to emerge with more command and control authority, and will that authority be based on identity, fear, cash, expectation of cash, ideology, charisma, emotional evocation through semiotic texts, etc.? All are possible. Then, as the Darfur rebels negotiatiate with GOS, the authority of GOS itself, and of mediators, will come into play. Authority is easily conflated with power in places like Darfur and Sudan more generally, where legitimacy has been eroded in the North, and so it is no wonder that al-Bashir exercises power (expulsion of aid groups) as a mechanism to enhance authority ("next time they will do what I say").

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