The Postcolonial African State in Transition

I have had Amy Niang's 2018 "The Postcolonial African State in Transition: Stateness and Modes of Sovereignty" in my to-read pile for too long, and I am glad I finally got to it. This is a heavy book, but one that makes really interesting contributions and raises thought provoking questions. In the opening, the author explains: "A leitmotif of this book is therefore a productive doubt about an established obsession, in political theory, with the Westphalian common sense of stateness and the relative disregard not only of other species of state but also of what statehood means to the entities that must give it its legitimacy." (p. 2) Drawing on detailed studies (beyond possibility of summary here), spectrums of stateness are exemplified, without judgement. Dr Niang concludes the book noting: "Despite scepticism toward the state form, it is clear by now that what is being presented here is less a critique of a regime (colonial) or a model (nation-state) and more of forms of violence than deny people the means of, and the capacity for, self-constitution. In doing this, I'm certainly not suggesting that we reject the state as an organizing framework but that we keep it open as a possibility of governance." (p. 184)


"Un-understanding the state thus means that we suspend prevailing justificatory, normative accounts of the state in the form of rigid categories that inevitably create 'proper' states as opposed to underperforming, incongruent, inchoate and inadequate ones. In this vein, commonly established accounts of the role of the state as the provider of law and order must be revised." (p. 19)

"…constitutions were framed in a foreign language and idioms inspired by the European experience in Europe. In fact, it would not be controversial to say that postcolonial constitutions were 'conditional' concessions that ensures colonial continuity, therefore dependency. They consecrated an original divide between state and society. What this orientation does is to obscure the fact that constitutions are not abstract institutions but rather 'the product of social practice' (Nugent 2010). The omission of the African experiential past and moral orders further marginalized their systems of values and the allocation of entitlements, rights and obligations of social inheritances and solidarities." (p. 193-194)

"The goal of this book has therefore been to offer accounts of different forms of sociality and accounts of community-making in diversity. To avoid confining these accounts to those interested to things 'African', I have tried to engage foundational concepts and arguments of liberal political thought particularly as they relate to discussions of sovereignty, community, sociality and moral constitutions. These accounts of being together or being-in-the-world tout court should therefore be taken seriously as useful openings for a more critical political philosophy and history. I'm not suggesting here that precolonial constitutional and institutional structures were consistently inclusive and progressive, that they were always examples of accountability and virtue for all constituencies… My concern, throughout this book, has been to show that we need to look at the intellectual tradition of 'other' peoples if we are to understand the way they relate to each other and the way they relate to things and their environment." (p. 202-203) 

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Ending the Crisis of Capitalism, or Ending Capitalism?

I have covered several of Samir Amin works, including Unequal Development (1976), Capitalism in the Age of Globalization (1997) and The Liberal Virus (2004). This post covers his book Ending the Crisis of Capitalism, or Ending Capitalism? (originally published in French in 2009, and the translation I have was published in 2011 by Pambazuka Press). An longer set of notes:

"The principle of endless accumulation that defines capitalism is synonymous with exponential growth and the latter, like cancer, leads to death." (p. 1)

"The fundamental questioning of capitalism - which our contemporary thinkers in their overwhelming majority deem neither possible nor desirable - is nonetheless the inescapable condition for the emancipation of the dominated workers and the peoples (those of the peripheries, that is 80 per cent of mankind). And the two dimensions of this challenge are inextricably linked with one another. There will be no exit from capitalism solely by way of the struggle of the people of the North, or solely by the struggle of the dominated people of the South. There will only be an exist from capitalism if and when these two dimensions of the challenge combine with one another. It is far from certain that this will occur, in which case capitalism will be overcome by the destruction of civilization." (p. 16-17)

"And are the progressive social forces strong enough to impose such a transformation? In my humble opinion, they are not. The real alternative involves overturning the exclusive power of the oligopolies, which is inconceivable without finally nationalising them for management that is in line with a progressive democratic socialisation. The end of capitalism? I don't think so. I think, on the other hand, that new patterns of social power relationships can force capital to make adjustments in response to the claims of the popular classes and peoples, this on the condition that the social struggles - still fragmented and on the whole defensive - succeed in drawing up a coherent political alternative. If so, the beginning of the long transition from capitalism to socialism becomes possible." (p. 36)

"Historical capitalism must be overtaken and this cannot be done unless the societies in the peripheries (the great majority of humanity) set to work out systematic strategies of delinking from the global system and reconstructing themselves on an autonomous basis, thus creating the conditions for an alternative globalisation, engaged on the long road to world socialism." (p. 58)

"Niger is a textbook example of this. This country receives aid that covers 50 per cent of its budget. This aid is 'indispensable' for its survival although it is perfectly ineffective: the country remains close to the bottom of the list of the poorest countries in the world. But Niger is the third largest exporter of uranium in the world. Situated between Algeria, Libya and Nigeria, it could be tempted, through nationalism, to recover control over this wealth. Areva, the French firm that exploits the uranium mine, knows this very well. It is not difficult to believe that aid to Niger has no other objective than to maintain the country as a client state." (p. 137)

"Liberal globalisation wants to build another world which is in the process of emerging, based on an apartheid at the world level, still more barbaric than what we have experienced since the end of the Second World War... This pursuit, against all odds, by the oligarchy of the imperialist Triad to continue their domination over the world system involves the recourse to permanent, armed violence through the military control of the planet." (p. 185)

On food and land:

"The United States and Europe have well understood the importance of food sovereignty and have successfully implemented it through systematic economic policies. But, apparently, what is good for them is not so for others! The World Bank, the OECD, and the European Union try to impose an alternative, which is 'food security'. According to them, the Third World countries do not need food sovereignty and should rely on international trade to cover deficit - however large - in their food requirements. This may seem easy for those countries which are large exporters of national resources (oil, uranium, etc). For others, the advice of the western powers is to specialise, as much as possible, in the production of agricultural commodities for export (cotton, tropical drinks and oils, agrofuels in the future). The defenders of food security (for others, not for themselves) do not consider the fact that this specialisation, which has been practised since colonisation, has not made it possible to improve the miserable food rations of the peoples concerned (especially the peasants)." (p. 107)

"What the dominant discourse at the moment means by reform of the land tenure system is the exact opposite of what is required for the building of an authentic alternative based on a prosperous peasant economy. What this discourse, conveyed by the propaganda instruments of collective imperialism - the World Bank, many development institutions, but also a number of NGOs that are richly endowed - means by land reform is the acceleration of the privatisation of land, and nothing more. The aim is clear: to create the conditions that would enable some modern islands of agribusiness (foreign and local) to take over the land they require to expand." (p. 121-122)

" is not possible to accept that agricultural and food production, as well as land, should be treated as ordinary 'goods' and thus allow them to be integrated into the project of globalised liberalisation promoted by the dominant powers and transnationalised capital. The World Trade Organization agenda must just be rejected, pure and simple. Opinion in Asia and Africa must be convinced of this, and particularly the need for food sovereignty, beginning with the peasant organisations but also all the other social and political forces that defend the interests of the popular classes and of the nation." (p. 124)

On Marxist critique:

"Being Marxist in this spirit is to begin with Marx and not to stop with him, or Lenin or Mao, as conceived and practiced by the historical Marxists of the previous century. It is to render unto Marx that which is owed to him: the intelligence to have begun a modern critical thinking, a critique of capitalist reality and a critique of its political, ideological and cultural representations. A creative Marxist must pursue the goal of enriching this critical thinking par excellence." (p. 18)

"...Nor is 'social justice' a scientific concept. It is vague, imprecise by nature, and the means for achieving it go no further than listing measures that are not integrated (and are incapable of being integrated) into a coherent strategy. The contrast with the language of revolutionary France and of Marx, who called for equality and emphasised its contradictory complementarity with liberty (itself also associated with property) shows how our thinking has regressed with this discourse on social justice. The nonsense of the North American jurist John Rawls, the sermons of Amartya Sen (a Nobel prize winner) and the 'practical' proposals of Joseph Stiglitz (the rebel of the World Bank) cannot save this miserable non-thinking." (p. 133)

"Debt reduction, presented almost as a charitable act (as is clear from the diplomatic jargon in which the decision was couched) certainly does not merit being included as aid. The legitimate response to this question, and not only from the moral viewpoint, should lead to an audit of all the debts in question - private and public, on the side of the lender and on that of the borrower. The debts recognised as immoral (among others, because of their association with corrupt operations on one side or the other), illegitimate (poorly disguised political support, as for the South African apartheid regime), usurious (rates fixed unilaterally by the so-called markets, by integral reimbursement of their capital - and well beyond it): all these debts must be annulled and the victims, the debtor countries, recompensed for having overpaid." (p. 140)

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War and Democracy in the Age of Empire

This "thought provoker" presents views on political philosophy and democracy from Hardt and Negri's "Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire" (2004). Some have criticized the book as lacking concrete data to support its claims, however it is essentially a work of philosophy, and thus that is necessarily expected of it. For those interest in democracy and democratic processes, this book is an important one to read.

On the multitude and political action:

  • "Political action aimed at transformation and liberation today can only be conducted on the basis of the multitude. To understand the concept of the multitude in its most general and abstract form, let us contrast it first with that of the people. The people is one. The population, of course, is composed of numerous different individuals and classes, but the people synthesizes or reduces these social differences into one identity. The multitude, by contrast, is not unified but remains plural and multiple. This is why, according to the dominant tradition of political philosophy, the people can rule as a sovereign power and the multitude cannot. The multitude is composed of a set of singularities – and by singularity here we mean a social subject whose difference cannot be reduced to sameness, a difference that remains different. The component parts of the people are indifferent in their unity; they become an identity by negating or setting aside their differences. The plural singularities of the multitude thus stand in contrast to the undifferentiated unity of the people." (p. 99)

Proliferating proliferation of war…

  • "The tradition of tragic drama, from Aeschylus to Shakespeare, has continually emphasized the interminable and proliferating nature of war. Today, however, was tends to extend much farther, becoming a permanent social relation. Some contemporary authors try to express this novelty by reversing the Clausewitz formula that we cited earlier: it may be that war is a continuation of politics by other means, but politics itself is increasingly becoming war conducted by other means. War, that is to say, is becoming the primary organizing principle of society, and politics merely one of its means or guises." (p. 12)
  • "…war against a concept or set of practices, somewhat like a war of religion, has no definite spatial or temporal boundaries. Such wars can potentially extend anywhere for any period of time. Indeed, when the U.S. leaders announced the "war against terrorism" they emphasized that it would have to extend throughout the world and continue for an indefinite period, perhaps decades or even generations. A war to create and maintain social order can have no end. It must involve the continuous, uninterrupted exercise of power and violence.In other words, one cannot win such a war, or, rather, it has to be won again every day. War has thus become virtually indistinguishable from police activity." (p. 14)
  • "We are living in a system of global apartheid. We should be clear, however, that apartheid is not simply a system of exclusion, as if subordinated populations were simply cut off, worthless, and disposable. In the global Empire today, as it was before in South Africa, apartheid is a productive system of hierarchical inclusion that perpetuates the wealth of the few through the labor and poverty of the many. The global political body is in this way also an economic body defined by the global divisions of labor and power." (p. 166-167)

To reform or revolt?

  • "There is no conflict here between reform and revolution. We say this not because we think that reform and revolution are the same thing, but that in today's conditions they cannot be separated. Today the historical processes of transformation are so radical that even reformist proposals can lead to revolutionary change. And when democratic reforms of the global system prove incapable of providing the bases of a real democracy, they demonstrate even more forcefully that a revolutionary change is needed and make it ever more possible. It is useless to rack our brains over whether a proposal is reformist or revolutionary; what matters is that it enters into the constituent process." (p. 289)

On sovereignty and democracy:

  • "Sovereignty, although it was based on the myth of the one, has always been a relationship grounded in the consent and obedience of the ruled. As the balance of this relationship has tipped on the side of the ruled, and as they have gained the capacity to produce social relations autonomously and emerge as a multitude, the unitary sovereign become ever more superfluous. The autonomy of the multitude and its capacities for economic, political, and social self-organization take away any role for sovereignty. Not only is sovereignty no longer the exclusive terrain of the political, the multitude banishes sovereignty from politics. When the multitude is finally able to rule itself, democracy becomes possible." (p. 340)
  • "We need to create weapons that are not merely destructive but are themselves forms of constituent power, weapons capable of constructing democracy and defeating the armies of Empire. These biopolitical weapons will probably be more similar to Lysistrata to overcome the Athenian men's decision to go to war than those put in circulation by ideologues and politicians today." (p. 347)
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