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The Postcolonial State

Interweaving History, Politics, And Culture

Jean-Francois Bayart points out that the notion that the state was an external structure does not recognize the ways in which Africans quickly re-appropriated the new state forms and the accompanying colonial political culture. Similar perspectives (e.g., Mbembe) point to the re-appropriation taking place not only in the institutional sphere but also in the material and cultural spheres. State power creates its own world of meanings through administrative and bureaucratic practices. It also attempts to institutionalize this world and turn it into people's everyday understanding as well as the consciousness of the period.

The historicity of the postcolonial state is at the center of Bayart's analysis. His focus is on the genesis of the state, the strategies of the actors, the procedures of accumulation and the world of political make-believe, all of which contribute to social inequality. Bayart's evocative phrase, "the politics of the belly," refers to desires and practices associated with interrelated themes: poverty and food scarcity; accumulation, corruption, and sexual excess. These are all understood as changing patterns of historical action, that are located in a network of tensions and interdependence, and that act upon one another. Bayart highlights the ways in which authoritarian regimes have managed to retain control over security forces and economic rents whilst maintaining the support of Western powers and international financial institutions. African postcolonial states rested on indigenous social bases whilst simultaneously being connected to the international system. Bayart's approach counters the conception of African states and societies as lacking history, and of African politics as absent or inexplicable. These prevailed in colonial historiography, in philosophy, and continue today in mainstream Western sociology and political science.

From the 1980s onward, considerable scholarly attention across the social sciences has been paid to the "crisis" of the African state. The literature has also examined the shifting orientations of international financial institutions, from initially increasing the interventionist powers of the state to reversing that position by the mid-1980s. In an ideological climate defined by neoliberalism and marked by structural adjustment programs, scholars of diverse ideological orientations are united in their fierce criticism of international financial institutions, their appropriation of the concept of the "overdeveloped state" and the effects of their policy impositions on diverse categories of people. The literature has characterized the activities of international financial institutions as "rolling back the state" and bypassing the autonomy of the state in several critical ways through policy prescriptions and financing patterns.

Achille Mbembe's poststructural analysis of the "postcolony" draws attention not just to the historical strength and purpose of the state but also to questions of power—its manifestations and the different techniques of enhancing its value to either ensure abundance or scarcity. Before and after colonization, state power in Africa magnified its value by establishing specific relations of subjection that were informed by the distribution of wealth and tribute, and that shaped modes of constituting the postcolonial subject. Postcolonial states were strongly influenced by the modalities of their integration into world trade, such as reliance on one or more key resources for export, and whether they were financed through the peasantry, aid, or debt. Their modalities of integration shaped the forms taken by postcolonial states; the ways in which their ruling elites were inserted into international networks; and the structuring of relations among state, market, and society. Mbembe highlights the significance of the links that the postcolonial state in Africa forged among interrelated arenas. These were the production of violence, the allocation of privileges and livelihoods, and systems of transfer, such as the reciprocities and obligations comprising the communal social tie. The state's systems of allocations and transfers were significant in underpinning social and political cohesion and, thereby, the state's legitimacy.

Mbembe also draws attention to the present erosion of state legitimacy since the concentration of the means of coercion by the postcolonial state is difficult to achieve given the acute lack of material resources. Instead, autonomous power centers proliferate within what used to be a system. This is a consequence of the growing indebtedness of local rulers and trading elites, thus leading African polities to lose external power and exposing them to the risk of internal dissolution. The violence and predation required by the new form of integration into the international economy has led not only to the militarization of power and trade, and to increased extortion, but also to serious destabilization of the trade-offs that had previously governed the relationship between holding state power and pursuing private gain. The idea of the state as a general mechanism of rule and as the best instrument for making possible the exercise of citizenship is thus being seriously threatened.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Positive Number to Propaganda - World War IiThe Postcolonial State - From Structural Functionalism To Marxist Structuralism, Interweaving History, Politics, And Culture, Feminist Analyses Of The Postcolonial State