Researching the practical norms of real governance in Africa

Researching the practical norms of real governance in Africa Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan Discussion Paper No. 5 Dec, 2008 DISPONIBLE AUSSI EN FRANÇAIS. Copyright: The author. Published on behalf of the
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Researching the practical norms of real governance in Africa Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan Discussion Paper No. 5 Dec, 2008 DISPONIBLE AUSSI EN FRANÇAIS. Copyright: The author. Published on behalf of the Africa Power and Politics Programme (APPP) by the Overseas Development Institute, 111 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7JD, UK ( The APPP Discussion Paper series is edited by Richard Crook, Director, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, Russell Square, London WC1B 5DS, UK The Africa Power and Politics Programme is a consortium research programme funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), with additional support from Irish Aid, for the benefit of developing countries. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of DFID, Irish Aid or the Programme as a whole. Researching the practical norms of real governance in Africa Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan All social-science researchers recognise that in Africa a particularly significant discrepancy exists between the official norms of the state and the public services on the one hand, and the behaviour of political elites and officials on the other. Terms like clientelism, neopatrimonialism and informality are used to characterise this discrepancy. But beyond what these terms convey the everyday operation of African states (what we call here real governance ) remains poorly understood, particularly at the level of the delivery of public or collective goods and services. We propose to use the concept of practical norms to focus attention on the question, to be addressed without value judgements, of what rules actually govern the actions of public actors. Examples of such practical norms suggest they are as far removed from the values and codes of precolonial Africa as from the injunctions and expectations of Northern development partners. The exploratory concept of practical norms signals the need for empirical research that is capable of capturing the complexity, variety, ambiguity and modernity of the behaviour of state agents in Africa. 1 Introduction In current literature on Africa, the overall characterisation of African socio-political realities is often treated as self-evident, and as having been already extensively documented. 1 States and public services operate in clientelist mode, the general model is neopatrimonial in nature and most practices fall into what is called the informal realm. It might appear therefore that there is a consensus about the main features of what we may call real governance on the continent. 2 In our view, however, the suggestion that African countries exhibit a single type of real governance does not make good sense. On the contrary, it should be one of the main objectives of social science research in Africa to conceptualise the various modes of (real) governance that are actually being practised. 3 Consider the Africa Power and Politics Programme (APPP). 4 Its research is underpinned by three premises: Laboratoire d études et recherches sur les dynamiques sociales et le développement local (LASDEL), Niamey et Parakou, and Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Marseille. I am grateful to Thomas Bierschenk, David Booth and Richard Crook for their comments and suggestions on a first draft of this paper. The English translation was done by Vickki Chambers and David Booth. Real governance is taken in this paper to refer to the manner in which public goods and services are really delivered. It includes the manner in which the State is really managed and how public policies are really implemented. This is in contrast with the normative definition of good governance promoted by the World Bank and the main development partners. Alluding to the dichotomy once proposed by Maurice Godelier (1978), the latter might also be referred to as ideal governance. Cf. Olivier de Sardan (forthcoming) for an attempt to define the main modes of local governance in Niger. This is a consortium research programme funded by the British Department for International Development (DFID) and led by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), of which LASDEL is a consortium member ( Olivier de Sardan, Practical Norms 1 1) Real governance in Africa is not taken into account by development organisations, which are obsessed with the desire to instigate ideal governance, based on Western criteria. They don t work with the grain. 5 2) In contrast, researchers are quite familiar with this real governance, on the basis, in particular, of the concepts of neopatrimonialism, clientelism and informality. 3) What is much less known among researchers, and is also of concern to some policymakers in the North who are interested in opening up alternative approaches, is the response to the following question: what are the positive effects of different aspects of this real governance (in terms of pro-poor economic growth and public policies)? Stated differently, what aspects of real governance should be assisted, supported, and encouraged? Can an effort be made, using comparative analysis, to identify those real governance sectors or areas that produce more developmental effects? What is the grain that needs to be taken into account with a view to producing pro-poor developmental outcomes? This is the central research question of the APP programme. The first point is the basic premise of the programme, upon which there is a definite consensus among the participating researchers and in the wider research arena. Interest in the research problem indicated by the third point is undoubtedly also shared by all the APPP researchers as well as by others, and is a question frequently raised in development organisations. It is thought-provoking but involves high stakes, because responding to such a question is extremely difficult and complex, a point we shall come back to in conclusion. In contrast, the second point, concerning the knowledge taken as already acquired, is not quite as obvious as might appear. It merits closer examination, in particular because the answers we give to this second question may have important implications for how we respond to the third. The apparent consensus on the clientelist, neopatrimonial and informal aspects of real governance in Africa in fact obscures very divergent assessments and the controversies surrounding certain points of view. In other words, there are definitely significant disagreements among Africanist researchers as to what the specific grain of African forms of power consists of. For example, the theses advanced by Schatzberg (1993) and Chabal and Daloz (1999) are based on notions of African culture and tradition which we find highly questionable. On this view, the specificities of African societies can in large part be explained by reference to common familial, religious, social or moral patterns, which in turn have their origin in an ancestral past. This interpretative slant is also to be found, albeit in a more occasional, casual or secondary manner, in many other publications, with frequent mentions of African culture, socio-cultural traditions, the pre-colonial legacy, conceptions inherited over a long period, cultural determinants, shared values or systems of meaning, or even fatalism, to explain the special modus operandi of current African administrations and their failure to observe official norms. 6 Emphasis is often placed on the central role of occult forces, kinship or ethnicity. 7 However, this line of reasoning does not take into account the drastic changes undergone by African traditions, nor the weight of the colonial legacy, the perverse effects of development assistance, or the innovations particular to African modernity. Our experience and that of This expression refers to the grain that the carpenter must take into account in working with wood. The key features of the social grain in Africa today flow from a tradition, rooted in an economy that is thousands of years old (Kelsall, 2008: 3). This pre-colonial past provided the foundation for ideas about power, accountability, morality and society that remain terrifically powerful in Africa today (Kelsall, 2008: 8). Tim Kelsall, in his APPP think piece (2008), places special emphasis on the role of hidden forces (world of doubles, supernatural sanctions), family ties ( Africans do not first and foremost think of themselves as individuals, they think of themselves as members of limited extended families ) or ethnicity (political tribalism, moral ethnicity). Olivier de Sardan, Practical Norms 2 LASDEL, based on a longstanding practice of socio-anthropological research, is at odds with the culturalist-traditionalist argument. 8 Every time we have carried out empirical work on apparent survivals from pre-colonial times (such as the family, ethnicity or magico-religious practices) we have found them to be profoundly ambivalent, and out of line with the usual clichés, having been significantly altered and transformed over more than a century, and sometimes even in part invented. 9 Above all, such traditions tend to be very closely intertwined with socio-cultural traits inherited from the colonial period or produced after independence (see our work on possession cults, or on the forms of rivalry specific to family ties). The metaphor of the grain is dangerous. It is vital not to take it too literally, because that opens the door to a culturalist-traditionalist explanation in which modern-day African societies are treated as if they were still shaped by their pre-colonial history or framed within predetermined cultural/ancestral patterns, or as if their history had a meaning (a grain) derived from the distant past. 10 Such a stance inevitably underestimates the diversity, ambiguity, innovations, syncretism, contradictions and conflicts which we consider to be actually the typical features of the current situation. Another perverse effect of the culturalist stance is that it homogenises and amalgamates societies ( communities, values or meanings ) and transforms what is merely a convenient fiction (culture) 11 into an essentialised entity. One argument that is frequently advanced and complements the culturalist-traditionalist stance is that which minimises the weight of legacy the colonial period, treating this as merely a formal interlude. The thinking is that the rules and procedures ushered in by colonial regimes certainly extended into the independence era, but that they have been stripped of their original values and meaning. It is argued that the forms (procedures) were retained, while the substance (bureaucratic ethics and values) was jettisoned in favour of a restoration of the precolonial substance (culture). 12 We would argue, on the contrary, that the real norms and values of colonial bureaucracy were very far removed both from the values and norms of 8 More generally, evidence to the contrary abounds at the micro-sociological level. At the macrosociological level, it should be noted that, first and foremost, modern-day African States all have in common their colonial past, along with a number of strong post-colonial currents, such as the ways their elites have been formed, their modes of insertion into the global economy or the role played by development assistance and aid dependency. Pre-colonial societies, in contrast, were extremely diverse. 9 Ranger (1986, 1993). In a sense, the invention or reinterpretation of traditions is much more normal and commonplace than their preservation. When, in 2008, we encounter a pre-colonial trait, what merits explanation is the surprising fact that it has survived! 10 The culturalist stance typically tends to infuse rigidity into the natural metaphors of African languages. We need only examine how the metaphors of eating or kinship, which are certainly ubiquitous in natural discourse, are taken literally, in a way that reflects little thought and much excess (Schatzberg, 1993, exemplifying this tendency particularly). For an analysis of natural metaphors, see Lakoff and Johnson (1980). For a critique of the hardening of natural metaphors by some anthropological currents, see Keesing (1985). An interesting (although sometimes excessively polemical) critique of the culturalist ideology of Chabal and Daloz is provided by Meagher (2006). (This critique also applies, paradoxically, to Bayart, 1996, who, though he has declared himself to be anti-culturalist, accords paramount importance to the role of occult forces in African political history). For a critique of the culturalist ideology of Schatzberg, see Bierschenk and Olivier de Sardan (1998). 11 Sapir (1967). 12. For example, Hyden views the legacy of the colonial era as being purely formal: It remained in form, not in substance. The formal rules that had been introduced by the colonial powers were largely kept intact after independence, but the values and norms that underpin a purposive bureaucracy were brushed aside (Hyden, 2008: 15). Olivier de Sardan, Practical Norms 3 European bureaucracies and from pre-colonial African values, and that they are still present, in both form and substance, in modern-day African administrations. 13 We will not, however, dwell on controversies of this nature in this paper, but will focus on identifying the methods that are likely to prove the most supple and empirically productive for approaching reality as it is. Nevertheless, we shall see that the problem of culturalisttraditionalist explanation tends to resurface of its own accord. Our point of departure here is this. Real governance is indisputably infused with numerous neopatrimonial, clientelist and informal characteristics. But it is not homogenous. It is composed of multiple dimensions, some convergent and others contradictory; it is also the product of local, sectoral and individual microdynamics; and lastly, it faces on every front a pluralism of forms of action. Furthermore, these different dimensions, these microdynamics, and this pluralism in terms of action, are not all that well understood, and have not been the subject of much in-depth empirical analysis. It is precisely by studying them in greater detail, that we may find it possible to distinguish some positive outcomes, which, hopefully, might prove susceptible to inspiring public policy changes. It is from this vantage point that the exploratory concept of practical norms (or any other notion that conveys the same idea) might be useful in our comparative work, by providing us with a different way of posing the basic research question mentioned above. What are the practical norms in play in the various forms of every-day public action that would be most favourable to development outcomes? The different variants of the term norms (official norms, social norms, professional norms and practical norms) have, inter alia, the advantage of being situated at the mid-point between two other key terms, namely, values and interests. These key terms are widely used to explain the regulation of the individual or collective practices of actors, and each defines an extreme point of view about social life. Reasoning in terms of values is to fall into culturalism, the attribution of a common system of values to the members of the same society, whilst reasoning in terms of interests entails privileging the calculating rationality of individuals Divergences between norms and practices: the limitations of the concepts of neopatrimonialism, clientelism and informality One area of consensus in the sea of literature on African States, governments and public services is the significant divergence between the official norms that govern these institutions and the actual behaviour of their employees, 15 regardless of whether the literature emanates from the field of political science, anthropology, sociology or administrative science, and regardless of the theoretical currents present and scientific positions. Across the board, there is acknowledgement that the legislation and regulations, procedures, specifications and organisational structures, all of which have largely been patterned on Western models, are rarely adhered to, in the letter or the spirit, by government officials and users alike See Olivier de Sardan (2004) on the decisive role of the colonial legacy in the functioning of modern-day African bureaucracies. Cf. Chauveau, Le Pape and Olivier de Sardan (2001). Official norms are not reducible to rules of law. For example, they may involve particular conventions, local regulations, professional or administrative procedures; however, in the sphere of public action or professional practice, they are by necessity formalised or codified, and set forth as recommendations or instructions. In other words, in this field, official norms are fairly close to the meaning ascribed by neoinstitutionalists to the word institution (rules of the game). Olivier de Sardan, Practical Norms 4 There is no doubt that in any social institution, in any country and at any time, divergences exist between norms and practices. 16 However, the scope and forms of these divergences vary considerably depending on the context. 17 In the case of public sector jobs in Africa, the extent of the divergences is particularly significant. As for the modalities of the divergences, they are in the subject of a variety of conceptualisations. Most of these assessments are normative and evaluative. The divergences are understood in the context of value judgments. Poor governance is condemned, as are corruption, ethnic allegiance and clientelism, implicit reference being made to the democratic and technocratic model of Northern countries, which is often idealised. However, apart from this openly critical and Western-centric type of treatment, divergences between norms and practices among African government officials are also the object of various scholarly theories all of which attempt to summarise, in one concise expression, how public institutions really operate in Africa, in contrast to their official functioning. Beyond debates over semantic nuances or contested formulations ( politics of the belly, imported state or economy of affection ), a broad consensus seems to have developed around three relatively neutral and descriptive terms, which are found within the APPP programme and have been widely used in the think pieces, neopatrimonialism, clientelism and informality. At this juncture, we will focus on the first two and will return to the issue of informality at a later stage. The expression neopatrimonialism, which originated with Eisenstadt, 18 was introduced into French Africanist literature by Jean-François Médard. 19 It clearly draws on the concept of patrimonialism as described by Max Weber, for whom certain forms of traditional legitimacy (which preceded rational bureaucratic legitimacy) such as sultanism 20 were characterised by an absence of distinction between the State s and the Sovereign s property. In other words, there was an officially recognised confusion between public resources and those of the ruler. This applied not only to goods but to persons: thus, access to public office was inseparable from allegiance to the person wielding authority. 21 Within the patrimonial model, at least as far as the political authorities are concerned, the official norm is a lack of distinction between public and private property, and more broadly, between public and private duties, and public and private interests. The key difference between the concepts of patrimonialism and neopatrimonialism is that in neo-patrimonial models official norms are based upon a clear distinction between public and private property, which is nevertheless not observed in practice. This brings us to the divergence mentioned earlier: the concept of neopatrimonialism is one way of capturing it conceptually. The term clientelism has been around for much longer
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