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Vertical Social Expounds

“Given the durability of vertical social relations and the endurance of certain forms of political representation, corruption remains instrumentally rational” (Chabol/Daloz 1999).

More to the point, they raise the question “whether such complex informal arrangements, such as well-organized predatory networks, do not actually conspire to create and maintain a system of legitimization based on an unequal exchange which lies at the very heart of the order” (Chabal/Daloz 1999). In other words, here mismanagement—in the sense of particular (patrimonial) modes of accumulation and (re)distribution—becomes the norm of political practice, the key logic linking political legitimacy to economic distribution, where the analysis of mismanagement is radicalized through the prevalence of disorder and lurking violence. Corrupt practices, in this reading, are dangerously close to the edge, serving to reproduce a political order that oscillates precariously between socio-cultural legitimacy and a sense of just economic redistribution mechanisms on the one hand, and naked power and coercion that is disembedded from any moral authority on the other. Although they observe generalized features of politics, these politics are not conceptualized in the conventional sense of ‘public power’ or the relationship between state and society (the ‘public’ and the ‘private’), but in the sense “in which actors, within both ‘state’ and ‘civil society’, link up to sustain the vertical, infra-institutional and patrimonial networks” (Chabal/Daloz 1999).

As Chabal/Deloz demonstrates at length, political order in the world is not only defined by specific exchange relationships framed by instrumental rationalities sui generis but is also inextricably caught up in them. In their view, political order is framed by a complex matrix of dependence and survival on the one hand, and profit and power, on the other hand, suffused by (appropriated and adapted) spiritual, cultural, and not least legal-administrative values—and corruption is the medium of such exchange relationships, on a material and immaterial level. The great merit of Chabal/Daloz is the boldness of their line of argument, shedding light on the transcending logic of business line disorder in the world. However, the author’s analysis sketches a very bleak and, in its relentless historical, economic and cultural logic, the rigid image of politics locked in a steel cage of personal, particularistic, and short-term interests, bearing a remarkable resemblance in all but their explicitly suspended judgment to Olivier de Sardan’s ‘infernal mechanism’. Although they discard the loaded notion of ‘development’ to conclude that “Africa is not degenerating, nor is it ‘blocked’, but that it is forging ahead, following its own path, although assuredly at great variance with existing models of development” (Chabal/Daloz 1999), their uncompromising pursuit of the political economy in Africa leads to the foreclosure of such alternative political spaces. The practical resilience of most African political orders to the governance and liberalization paradigms ruling national and international discourses is pinpointed precisely; but pinpointed to the extent of fixing African politics to a particular, unchanging pattern. Given their ultimately apocalyptic diagnosis of the instrumentalization of disorder, it is, therefore, not evident what new paths African politics are forging—one is tempted to conclude. Interestingly, although both Bayart’s approach as well as Chabal/Daloz’ offer a radical and insightful mode of thinking African politics, their prime reference of understanding African politics still remains the same—in its historical (dis)continuity, but also in its socio-cultural metamorphosis and routinized methods of extraction and accumulation.

Mismanagement, as ever, serves as the lead to fathom the depths of the disorder, even when corrupt mechanisms of reproduction are conceived in terms of (dis)order sui generis. Beyond changing patterns of corruption also indicate changing patterns of inclusion and exclusion, of the exercise of authority, and accumulation of socio-cultural and economic resources. The conceptualization of corruption within a globalized cultural matrix as well as within a compelling politico-economic system magnifies the intrinsic logic of corruption: corruption is no longer a deviant political practice, but ambivalently represents the source of legitimacy and accumulation and, consequently, of power and authority, as well as simultaneously undermining and destabilizing the very order it reproduces—a point sorely illustrated during the demise of ‘stable’ neo-patrimonial world caught in a vicious circle of sapped economic resources and diminished legitimacy. From a bird’s eye view, the institutional regime of business orders has been shaped to accommodate clientelistic networks and vertical exchange relationships, which constitute the arteries of social as well as economic, and political reproduction. From a worm’s eye view, the exigencies of survival coupled with the normalization of corruption serve to inscribe corruption in legitimatized ties of reciprocity and solidarity. These long-term, historically grounded processes have been accelerated by the rapid transformations of the international political economy of the past two decades.

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