From patronage to neopatrimonialism: Postcolonial governance in Sub-Sahara Africa and beyond
Van Gool, Bas
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Even if ‘good governance’ goals have dominated public policy in postcolonial polities in the last decades, their politics and public administration often continue to be marked by authoritarianism, nepotism and corruption – the very practices good governance policy was to eradicate. In this article, we try to account for this apparent intractability of ‘poor’ and, occasionally, outright ‘bad’ governance. First, we argue that what appears as ‘bad’ governance to those embracing conventional, essentially Weberian, ‘good governance’ conceptions, may in fact be ‘good’ governance after all. Practices of political clientelism or patronage may reflect and accord with widely shared cultural beliefs about good and legitimate governance. Second, we show that the predominance of personalism and unofficial relationships that characterizes political clientelism may combine with modern bureaucracy in ways that drastically subvert the type of ‘good governance’ embodied by traditional moral economies of patronage. We dissect the logics of neopatrimonialism, a type of regime in which ruling elites use the state for personal enrichment and profit from a public administration that is patently unstable, inefficient, nontransparent and that fails to distribute public resources to large segments of the population. Third, we argue that the pragmatic survival strategies to which ‘ordinary’ citizens resort in response to such neopatrimonial neglect often, and ironically, entail the direct engagement with – rather than an outright distancing from – neopatrimonial politics.