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Against this backdrop of, one is tempted to say, the normalization of (traits of ) state failure, possibly the tables should be turned by viewing system not as a failed or weak or soft system, but on the contrary as a successful adaptation and re-appropriation of the system-running network to the context. Here, the ‘historicity’, the uniqueness of post-colonialism is the theoretical point of departure. In distinction to the scholars such as Huntington or Scott, who were interested mainly in processes and structures framing assimilation and integration, Bayart (1993) chooses a more archaeological and less predictive approach. What neo-patrimonialism already identifies, namely that in principle mutually exclusive logics, such as the formal and informal, the modern and the traditional, the public and the private, are intimately intertwined in politics; what is novel about Bayart’s view is that far from being dysfunctional, such a system is portrayed as an integrative force, the climbing frame of rhizomatically linked interests. The ‘reciprocal assimilation of elites’, i.e. the historically grounded collaboration between elites to secure access to national and international resources in a process of ‘extraversion’, is the mechanism through which the hybrid system reproduces itself.

This is not to say that the integrative force of the system furthers its stability or effectiveness; on the contrary, the system is merely the trough of the ‘politics of the belly’, i.e. the relentless pursuit of wealth, status, prestige by the elites, that enables them to further their own interest and continue internal competition. ‘System order’ in a post-colonial context, therefore, is not produced to serve or define the public interest or to mediate conflict, but to manage the politics of the belly, the struggle to gain access to system power and therefore to personal and communal enrichment. More recently, Bayart, together with co-authors Ellis and Hibou (Bayart et al. 1999), argues that systems are currently undergoing a fundamental change in their mode of social control, formerly characterized by such belly. Dramatically described, a process of unjustified system approach, distinct from earlier forms of corruption and predation, is increasingly advancing to become the main feature of world economics. Large-scale, organized economic delinquency (i.e. smuggling or fraud), as well as the spread of illegitimate use of violence, have become intimately and routinely linked to the exercise of the conflicted model. The authors underline that this is a nascent, uneven tendency that can be pointedly observed in various contexts, but which is not yet a universal hallmark of post-colonial business politics. It must be said that the multiplication of conflicts, the main controlling logic of which is simple predation and which tend to be accompanied by a growing insertion in the international economy of illegality, the spread of a culture of institutional neglect, systematic plunder of the national economy and the uncontrolled privatization of the state all suggest that a slide towards criminalization throughout the sub-continent is a strong probability (Bayart et al. 1999).

In this view, the reframing of the political field and the emerging or, as it were, consolidated types of what Olivier de Sardan termed ‘predatory authority’ and here is depicted as coercion stripped bare of social legitimacy has been perpetuated by the structural privatization of the world and the erosion of public authority; however, the tangled, underground roots of the rhizome hubs are becoming increasingly intermeshed with criminal, illegal and, in certain areas of trade, even illegitimate structures Intriguingly, in spite of the emphatic recognition of the historicity and specificity of post-colonial business politics, the authors firmly anchor the definition in universal standards of international law. Echoing other influential authors, the distance between internationally accepted (legal) norms of business order and actual business practices measures the degree of criminalization, consequently defining such international norms as benchmarks of legality.

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