Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

The Problematic of the State in Africa


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For the 2004 session of the Annual Social Science Campus, the theme that has been selected is: The Problematic of the State in Africa. For over two decades now, the African state has been at the heart of intellectual and policy debates touching on virtually all aspects of the experiences and prospects of the continent. The reasons for this preoccupation are diverse, some associated with well-founded concerns about the origins, structure and record of the state, others motivated by a narrow and tendentious anti-statism that sometimes tallies with and/or reinforces a condescending attitude towards everything African. Easily, the African state will qualify for the record of having perhaps the highest number of epithets ever deployed to describe an institution. It has variously been characterised as “overdeveloped”, “prebendal”, “patrimonial”/“neo-patrimonial”, “rentier”, “crony”, “unsteady”, “kleptocratic”, “sultanist”, “convivial”, a “lame leviathan”, an “international Bantustan”, “shadow”, “criminal”, “omnipotent but hardly omnipresent”, etc. Although the bulk of these epithets have been associated with the public choice approaches and the so-called new political economy school that dominated the discussions on Africa in the 1980s and 1990s, it is equally true that their deployment transcends disciplinary boundaries and their use has been shared by other schools of thought, including those associated with notions of the post-colony. Indeed, arguably, the problematic of the African state is one area of scholarly interest where the lines among the different theoretical approaches for the study of politics, economy and society have been blurred the most. Not a few scholars have noted that this state of affairs reflects the depth of the conceptual and theoretical confusion which exists and which is in urgent need of being redressed. It might also be a measure of the extent to which instrumentalist, market-based policy concerns driven by the World Bank and the IMF have come to dominate the terrain of thinking about the state. The 2004 Session of the Annual Social Science Campus is designed to encourage theoretically-grounded reflections on these questions, with the accent placed on new thinking that can help to advance the debate on the place and role of the state in Africa.

Among the issues which it is hoped that the Campus will cover are:

  • A critique of the dominant approaches in the literature to understanding the contemporary African state;
  • A (re-)reading of the historical processes and forces that shape the modern African state;
  • A critique of the logic that drives the African state, makes sense of its workings, and accounts for its performance;
  • The processes by which the state mobilises consent and legitimacy and the contexts in which both consent and legitimacy are eroded and lost;
  • A re-thinking of the state in Africa beyond the parameters set by the dominant discourses; and
  • A reflection, in a comparative frame, on the African state and states in other regions of the world.
December 28 2009