The Post-Developmental State in Africa Today: A Preliminary Re-thinking

By Michael Neocosmos.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Today, it is no longer clear what development names in Africa. This was not always so. During the National Liberation Struggles (NLS) in Africa and immediately after independence - during the late 1960s and early 1970s - development was the name of a national liberation project led by the state. Development was the centrepiece of the construction of a nation. Even though it named a statist project, it probably constituted the main distinctive feature from the colonial state in that it had a national character, and as such was the main plank of what was known as nation-building. This was also probably true insofar as the states which were mere extensions of imperialism from an early stage (eg. Zaire, Gabon) were never developmental. As state politics gradually became hegemonic within the nation and popular politics were de-legitimised, development became more and more a state project whereby the ‘national’ in development was replaced by ‘compradorial politics’, ie. subservience to empire. By 1980 the collapse of statist development meant the collapse of the developmental state on the continent. Today, not only does development no longer name a state project, its status within society is unclear. Given the disappearance of development from hegemonic political discourse, are NGOs and social movements today - organisations based in society among the people - to be considered as the (unique) bearers of a politics of development? Is this politics to be conceived in partnership with the state? Can the universality of development be re-captured, or is development condemned to be thought outside the parameters of state politics within a renewed community (communitarian?) politics? Is it possible today to rethink a “democratic developmental state” which would overcome the problems of its undemocratic predecessor, the developmental state, by being more inclusive? In order to begin to answer these questions among others, I believe that the character of the new state, development and social movements in Africa must be thought politically, ie. in terms of their political prescriptions and statements. In particular, we need to begin by rethinking the developmental state politically rather than in terms of its policies.

Keywords: Development, State, Politics, Subjectivity

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 3, Issue 12, pp.119-126. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 511.942KB).

Prof. Michael Neocosmos

Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa

Graduated B.Sc. (1972, Loughborough University UK), MA (1973, Wye College, University of London UK), Ph.D. (1982, Bradford University UK). Taught Sociology and Development Studies at various universities in Britain and in Africa, most especially the University of Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania, the University of Swaziland, the National University of Lesotho and the University of Botswana. Main fields of research have included rural sociology in both Latin America and Africa; development and development studies, migrant labour, ethnicity, citizenship, state and civil society all in Southern Africa, as well as issues of social theory concerning development and democracy. Main publications include: Social Relations in Rural Swaziland (editor) 1987, The Agrarian Question in Southern Africa (1993), From ‘Foreign Natives’ to ‘Native Foreigners’ (2006) as well as numerous articles in learned journals. Recent research has included a comparative analysis of elections and rural politics in Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland; collaborative work on ethnic and gender identity in South Africa; citizenship and migrant labour in Southern Africa; the state, democratisation and popular democracy in Southern Africa, explaining citizenship in Africa and Xenophobia in South Africa. Currently working on a book on Rethinking Politics in Contemporary Africa.


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