Ethnicity, Patronage and the African State: The Politics of Uncivil Nationalism

Recent research has revealed that modern African ethnicity is a social construction of the colonial period through the reaction of precolonial societies to the forces of colonialism. Ethnicity is the product of a continuing historical process. This article first sketches the principal components of a ‘constructivist’ approach to the analysis of ethnicity and examines aspects of ethnic community and identity in precolonial Africa. The author then examines the construction of ethnicity under colonialism, including the role of the colonial State and political economy, and of missionaries and anthropologists. He discusses the African response to colonial changes through the concepts of moral ethnicity and political tribalism that describe the complex internal and external processes of the development of ethnic consciousness, and shows how the unique linkage between bureaucratic authoritarianism, patronage and ethnic fragmentation emerged. The continuity of these institutions in postcolonial States has shaped the character of State-society relations in Africa and the ‘politics of the belly’. These coalesce in the uncivil nationalism that undermines the legitimacy of the State, inhibits the formation of trans-ethnic national identities and determines the prospects of current efforts at democratization. Notes, ref., sum.

Title: Ethnicity, Patronage and the African State: The Politics of Uncivil Nationalism
Author: Berman, Bruce J.
Year: 1998
Periodical: African Affairs: The Journal of the Royal African Society
Volume: 97
Issue: 388
Period: July
Pages: 305-341
Language: English
Geographic term: Africa
External link: https://www.jstor.org/stable/723213
Abstract: Recent research has revealed that modern African ethnicity is a social construction of the colonial period through the reaction of precolonial societies to the forces of colonialism. Ethnicity is the product of a continuing historical process. This article first sketches the principal components of a ‘constructivist’ approach to the analysis of ethnicity and examines aspects of ethnic community and identity in precolonial Africa. The author then examines the construction of ethnicity under colonialism, including the role of the colonial State and political economy, and of missionaries and anthropologists. He discusses the African response to colonial changes through the concepts of moral ethnicity and political tribalism that describe the complex internal and external processes of the development of ethnic consciousness, and shows how the unique linkage between bureaucratic authoritarianism, patronage and ethnic fragmentation emerged. The continuity of these institutions in postcolonial States has shaped the character of State-society relations in Africa and the ‘politics of the belly’. These coalesce in the uncivil nationalism that undermines the legitimacy of the State, inhibits the formation of trans-ethnic national identities and determines the prospects of current efforts at democratization. Notes, ref., sum.