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Capsule Review

Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument

In This Review

Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument

Africa Works: Disorder as Political Instrument
By Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz
Indiana University Press, 1999, 192 pp. $39.95 Purchase

One of the most stimulating recent analyses of African realpolitik, this book joins the growing literature that challenges the premises underlying Western development assistance. Why have most African countries failed to develop, despite more than a decade of economic and political reforms tied to new aid infusions? Because, say Chabal and Daloz, the continent's informal but durable and culturally rooted "neopatrimonial" political systems do not depend on development in the Western sense -- and may even be threatened by it. As African leaders adapt to restrictions imposed by structural adjustment and declining law and order, they find ways to translate social disorder into patronage resources that shore up the loyalty of their client networks. "Modernization" is occurring, but not of the kind prescribed or anticipated by the West. It is an illusion, the authors contend, to believe that "civil society," opposition parties, or exhortations about better governance can undermine the viability of neopatrimonialism. As a system of maintaining power, however antithetical to the public interest, neopatrimonialism works. The book's brevity is a virtue, but more empirical examples would have added weight to its well-focused argument.

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