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African mid-sixties

In the mid-sixties, Leys discussed the identical problem of a “corrupted society” (Leys 1965) in new African states and came up with a highly Weberian solution

There are perfectly plain differences to be seen between one developing nation and another in terms of the public spirit and devotion to duty shown by their elites, and the idea of a society economically stagnating in the grips of a self-seeking and corrupt élite is not pure fantasy. The line of escape is also fairly clear. Typically, a nucleus of ‘puritans’—drawn from groups such as an independent business class, professional groups, or small farmers—begins to exercise effective pressure to apply the official but disregarded public code of ethics (Leys 1965).

In the meantime, Leys’ cautious strand of hope with regard to ‘progressive’—here: in Weberian tradition ‘puritan’—forces, as well as the more confident predictions by other authors about the facilitative function of corruption, have been proven wrong by the political and economic reality of subsequent decades. With the benefit of hindsight and even after the democratic revolution in Africa the conclusions reached by Bratton/ van der Walle have been overtaken by the realities of seemingly ‘unproblematic’ countries such as Kenya or the Côte d’Ivoire. Ultimately, in both cases, their political breakdowns can also be traced back to the dominating politics of neo-patrimonialism and social cleavages entrenched by particularistic and vertical modes of redistribution. Hence, given the historicity and theoretically contested universality of the administrating players, the most prominent weakness may well be the precedence accorded to the normative distinctions and elevations inherent in definitions and imaginaries that even differentiated and sophisticated neo-patrimonial approaches fall prey to. The conceptual dichotomy of ‘modern’ business-legal and ‘traditional’ patrimonial order, on which the concept by definition rests, makes it if not blind then blinkered to new formations and figurations of social order that do not necessarily reproduce this dichotomy. Before however, we turn to socio-business orders that go beyond such established frameworks, the second line of thought about boundaries in Africa needs to be explored. This takes us to a hitherto underexplored dimension of corruption: the cultural embeddedness of social and harmful business practices observed in the introductory remarks.

Networks of patronage and clientelism are not exclusively informed by power relations, but evidently have specific cultural roots; they are nurtured and legitimized by specific social values, practices, and norms. Cartier-Bresson terms this phenomenon aptly “social exchange corruption” (Cartier-Bresson 1997), where corruption is organized by social networks and becomes institutionalized through long-term relationships and community-like structures based on trust, reciprocity, and solidarity. It is these relationships and their structuring principles that need to be understood more clearly to render a more complete picture of the economy of corruption, which shall be sketched out.

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