Political Legitimacy in Middle Africa

Political Legitimacy in Middle Africa

Father, Family, Food
Michael G. Schatzberg
Distribution: World
Publication date: 11/1/2001
Format: paper 312 pages, 1 b&w photos, 1 index
6.125 x 9.25
ISBN: 978-0-253-21482-9
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A Choice Outstanding Academic Book of 2003
2002 Herskovitz Award Nominee
". . . refreshing and provocative . . . a significant addition to existing literature on African politics." —Stephen Ellis

"It opens up a whole new field of investigation, and brings into focus the pertinence of an interdisciplinary approach to African politics." —René Lemarchand

In this innovative work, Michael G. Schatzberg reads metaphors found in the popular press as indicators of the way Africans come to understand their political universe. Examining daily newspapers, popular literature, and political and church documents from across middle Africa, Schatzberg finds that widespread and deeply ingrained views of government and its relationship to its citizenry may be understood as a projection of the metaphor of an idealized extended family onto the formal political sphere.

Schatzberg’s careful observations and sensitive interpretations uncover the moral and social factors that shape the African political universe while showing how some African understandings of politics and political power may hamper or promote the development of Western-style democracy. Political Legitimacy in Middle Africa looks closely at elements of African moral and political thought and offers a nuanced assessment of whether democracy might flourish were it to be established on middle African terms.

Author Bio

Michael G. Schatzberg is Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is author of The Dialectics of Oppression in Zaire (Indiana University Press) and Mobutu or Chaos? He is editor of The
Political Economy of Kenya, The Political Economy of Zimbabwe, and co-editor (with I. William Zartman) of The Political Economy of Cameroon.


"Excavating in the cultural context of authority relations, Schatzberg (Univ. of Wisconsin) adds fuel to the long-simmering debate over the peculiarities of African politics—and the assumed universality of explanations of Western social science—by demonstrating that legitimate rule in Middle Africa rests on a moral matrix of key premises: the father—chief; the importance, yet limits of consumption; the role and limits of inclusion and exclusion (largely women); and the organic alternation (generational rotation) of power. Space permitting, a fifth premise, on communal aspects of African life, could also be demonstrated. This review cannot do justice to the rich discussion and varied evidence from popular culture that Schatzberg adduces. This remarkable evocation of the politics of ordinary beliefs discusses what is politically thinkable, suggesting a cultural logic differing from the supports of states and institutions in the West. This is the realm of subjacent politics, an arena of implicit models that guide and condition political behavior. While the mundane implication is that the practices of bureaucracy and democracy in Africa will be interpreted in a special way, i.e., patrimonial and communal, the overall thesis fits within a Weberian and Tocquevillian tradition of the importance of culture and ideology in the exercise of power. This courageous book could form the basis of symposia for years to come." —H. Glickman, Haverford College, Choice , June 2002

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Table of Contents

Preliminary :

1. Metaphor and Matrix


Paternal and Familial Metaphors

The Moral Matrix of Legitimate Governance

Subjacency, Legitimacy, and the "Unthinkable"
2. Representations of Power

Power Defined

Local Faces of Power

3. Parameters of The Political

The Elision of Church and State

The Elision of State and Civil Society

4. Alternative Causalities

The Banality of Sorcery

The Perils of Explanation in Congo/Zaïre

Other Visions
5. Matrix I-The Father-Chief: Rights and Responsibilities

Nurture and Nourishment

Punishment and Pardon

Corruption and Its Limits
6. Matrix II-Gender and Generation: Women, the Paternal Order, and the Alternation of Power

Women and the Paternal Order

Women as Counselors

Evolving Norms

Generational Rotation
7. Democracy and the Logic of Legitimacy

Epistemological Issues

The Matrix Revisited

Legitimacy, Democracy, and "Democratization"
Selected Bibliography