Neopatrimonialism & Political Economy in Africa

[t]he monotonic mapping of some aspects of neopatrimonialism into a definite economic policy, let alone an outcome, is based more on a leap of faith than on the existence of a tightly knit algorithm or, as advocates of the neopatriomonial approach suggest, on the impeccable logic of neopatrimonialism. The claim that neopatrimonialism provides the microeconomic foundations with which to understand the macroprocesses of Africa is unwarranted. As John Maynard Keynes argued, macroeconomy is not reducible to microfoundations. There are simply no nontrivial algorithms that will establish a one-to-one correlation between microeconomic behavior and macroeconomic outcomes. Similarly, there is simply no way that the logic accounting for the macroeconomic problems in Africa and their possible solutions can be derived from the myriad communities in the region, regardless of claims about the logic of neopatrimonialism.

…. The analytical template forged by the neopatrimonialism school has had the effect of flattening the African political and economic landscape—often rendering monochromatic the many colorful and varied characters who have taken the African political stage over the last half century. This flattening extends beyond space to time as well. There is simply no sense of conjuncture or periodization within the analysis. By neglecting the cross-sectional and longitudinal variance of the African experience, the neopatrimonialist view provides an impoverished understanding of the complexities of the continent. It also oversimplifies the many contradictions of the continent. Adverbial caveats do not diminish the essentially leveling effect of the term “neopatrimonial.” What ultimately results is not a rich tapestry of case studies but rather reportages of one damned country after another.

That is Thandika Mkandawire of LSE writing on the concept of neopatrimonialism as applied to research on Africa over the last half-century. The paper is forthcoming in World Politcs. It is destined to be required reading in Comparative Politics and Comparative Political Economy classes. I highly recommend adding it to your summer reading list.