Saturday, August 30, 2008

China, and democracy in Africa

"Western-style democracy simply isn't suited to African conditions but rather it carries with it the root of disaster. The elections crisis in Kenya is just one example."

These words from the Chinese government were greeted with the usual derision by the western media, including the Economist (from which they have been taken, February 9th 2008, p. 41).

Interestingly, two highly respected and intelligent anthropologists – Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz – made the same observation in their contemporary classic "Africa Works" (Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz, Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument, (Oxford: James Currey, 1999))

Chabal and Daloz say: “Indeed, the wholesale adoption of a political vocabulary issued from the Western democratic experience is eminently misleading: the words do not correspond to the realities which they are supposed to embody...The vote is not primarily a token of individual choice but of a calculus of patrimonial reciprocity based on ties of solidarity. ”(pp. 38 – 39) (Emphasis added.)
Again: “Democracy...simply has no proper role for political losers in Africa....Politicians are expected to represent their constituents properly, that is, to deliver resources to them. It is, therefore, comprehensively useless to be an opposition politician....” (p. 56).
The individual is part of the patron-client nexus.
It should be natural – and rational – for Mwai Kibaki to rig the election for himself; similarly for Robert Mugabe. In a personal e-mail to the author, Patrick Chabal observed that the breakdown of the neo-patrimonial state in Africa has dire consequences.
The Chinese would agree.

No comments: