Analysts of modern-day sub-Saharan Africa have argued that its “neopatrimonial regimes,” descending from pre-colonial polities, translate badly to the scale of the nation-state and hinder democratic accountability. In this paper, I argue by contrast that the problem with today’s failed or failing states is that they are not patrimonial enough, if we understand patrimonialism in classic Weberian terms as a system based on traditions of reciprocal interdependence between rulers and citizens, and characterized by personal but malleable ruling networks. I make this argument by showing how the Asante Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries shifted from a working model, incorporating both patrimonial and bureaucratic forms of authority, to an exploitative one that reneged on its traditional commitments to the wider public. The cause of this shift was the expansion of exchange with European nations as a rival avenue to power and wealth. This problem continues today, where African rulers are incentivized by the demands of global banks, the United Nations, and G20 governments rather than internal authority traditions, thus limiting their ability to establish locally effective and publically accountable hybrids of patrimonial and bureaucratic governance.
I am grateful for the indispensible feedback of Mounira M. Charrad and Julia Adams on earlier versions of this manuscript. I also thank Alexander A. Weinreb, Jenny Trinitapoli, Javier Auyero, Ann Swidler, and Susan Watkins for being excellent conversation partners on the topic of politics and social life in modern-day Africa. Finally, I thank Francis Nii-Amoo Dodoo and everyone at the Regional Institute for Population Studies (RIPS) for being such warm and welcoming hosts during my visit to southern Ghana in 2009, which provided essential context for the analyses presented here.
Manglos-Weber, N.D. (2015), "Innovations in Trust: Patrimonial and Bureaucratic Authority in the Asante Empire of West Africa", Patrimonial Capitalism and Empire (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 28), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 217-240. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0198-871920150000028009
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