Thinking the State in Africa Today

Presented by Michael Neocosmos

Monday, 22 October, 2018 - 13:00

If, as has been pointed out, there is a close subjective connection between liberalism as a political philosophy (of freedom) and colonialism, could it not also be suggested that there is, correspondingly, a close connection between neoliberalism (‘a theory of political economic practices’ - Harvey) and neo-colonialism?  After all could we not maintain that the perverted universalism of the arrogant West continues to dominate the world in some ways distinct from its original enunciation in the classics of the Enlightenment?  Of course the obvious point in any attempt to think neo-colonialism could be to focus on the far-reaching effects of rampant market hegemony and ‘financial rationality’ on thought and the new forms of exploitation by TNCs (e.g. ‘land-grabbing’) and the colonial character of NGOs.  However, here I would like to take a different tack and to stress that, as colonialism in Africa concerned a specific form of subjective state politics (militarism, ‘tribalisation’/indirect-rule, ideological domination, racism, physical extermination and national oppression in various forms inter alia), neo-colonialism also amounts to a form of state politics (still indubitably racist and oppressive of minority nationalities) for which (often the majority of) the people under its control are considered to be enemies or potential enemies.  It is these state politics that arguably enable/justify exploitation by TNCs and racism by NGOs.  Unlike imperialism that is to be understood as a socio-economic phenomenon and is clearly prevalent today in new forms, colonialism must be grasped primarily as a warped political phenomenon in which the people (those excluded from power) are seen by the state as the enemy.  As imperialism has altered, so has colonialism come to exist in new forms, some of which show continuity with older ones. I want to suggest that a useful point of departure for an analysis of the state in Africa concerns what I call different subjective (but overlapping) “modes of rule” that can be seen to structure various “domains of state politics” within which the thought governing popular resistance as well as accommodation takes place.  These various domains or spheres of state politics constitute different ‘worlds’ that remain quite distinct from each other and thus largely impervious to each other despite occasional overlaps.  Any popular emancipatory politics and Universalist thought (or ‘national consciousness’ in Fanon’s sense) must confront and begin to subjectively transcend such divisions if it is to be at all sustainable.

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