Rethinking the Post-Developmental State in Africa Today
Today, it is no longer clear what development names in Africa. This was not always so. During the National Liberation Struggles (NLS) in Africa and immediately after independence - during the late 1960s and early 1970s - development was the name of a national liberation project led by the state. Development was the centrepiece of the construction of a nation. Even though it named a statist project, it probably constituted the main distinctive feature from the colonial state in that it had a national character, and as such was the main plank of what was known as nation-building. This was also probably true insofar as the states which were mere extensions of imperialism from an early stage (eg. Zaire, Gabon) were never developmental. As state politics gradually became hegemonic within the nation and popular politics were de-legitimised, development became more and more a state project whereby the ‘national’ in development was replaced by ‘compradorial politics’, ie. subservience to empire. By 1980 the collapse of statist development meant the collapse of the developmental state on the continent. Today, not only does development no longer name a state project, its status within society is unclear. Given the disappearance of development from hegemonic political discourse, are NGOs and social movements today - organisations based in society among the people - to be considered as the (unique) bearers of a politics of development? Is this politics to be conceived in partnership with the state? Can the universality of development be re-captured, or is development condemned to be thought outside the parameters of state politics within a renewed community (communitarian?) politics? Is it possible today to rethink a “democratic developmental state” which would overcome the problems of its undemocratic predecessor, the developmental state, by being more inclusive? In order to begin to answer these questions among others, I believe that the character of the new state, development and social movements in Africa must be thought politically, ie. in terms of their political prescriptions and statements. In particular, we need to begin by rethinking the developmental state politically rather than in terms of its policies.
Keywords: Development, State, Politics, Subjectivity
Prof. Michael Neocosmos
Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology