P074 – Beyond Exoticism. How Specific are “African” State-Society Relations?
8 July, 17:30 – 19:00

Philipps Joschka / Centre for African Studies Basel (CASB)
Lar Jimam / BIGSAS – University of Bayreuth


The study of state-society relations in Africa has received renewed attention in recent years. Many debates seem to have overcome earlier analytical problems, as they go beyond both the dichotomy and the conflation of state and society in Africa. The less exotic perspective now begs the question of how specific and how general ‘African’ state-society relations really are. What characteristics do African cases share with and non-African cases, and what can we learn from the former about the latter? Can we understand ‘African’ specificity in non-geographical terms? And finally, what are the respective potentials and risks of contextualizing, generalizing, or comparative approaches?  In addressing these questions, this panel discusses possibilities of linking Africanist insights into state-society relations with theoretical debates in other disciplines and with similar phenomena outside of the African continent. The individual presentations provide empirical starting points for such discussions: they address vigilantism in central Nigeria, the public transport sector in Uganda, transnational communities and identities, and riots in Conakry, Kampala, and London. The subsequent debates then focus on the respective phenomena’s local specificity and trans-local generalizability. This endeavour aims at making African Studies useful for cross-continental research and other academic disciplines.

Après l’exotisme. Dans quelle mesure les relations Etat-Société sont spécifiques en Afrique ?
L’analyse des relations entre Etats/ sociétés en Afrique a récemment bénéficié d’un regain d’intérêt. De récents débats semblent avoir dépassés les problèmes heuristiques d’avant anciens qui étaient liés à une conceptualisation des relations Etat-société soit comme étant dichotomique soit comme étant strictement convergent. La nouvelle perspective moins exotique exige maintenant de se demander dans quelle mesure les relations Etat-société sont spécifiques à l’Afrique ou peuvent s’inscrire dans des problématiques plus généralistes. Quelles caractéristiques les cas africains partagent-ils avec des cas non-africains. Que nous apprennent les cas africains sur les dynamiques socio-politiques et économiques dans le monde en général ? Peut-on analyser la spécificité ‘Africaine’ en termes non-géographiques ? Et finalement, quels sont les potentiels et risques associés aux approches comparatives, contextualisantes et généralistes ? Afin d’aborder ces questions, ce panel discutera les possibilités de lier les études africaines avec d’autres disciplines et de les appliquer aux phénomènes similaires au-delà du continent africain. Les présentations individuelles fourniront des points de départ pour ces discussions. Elles aborderont les groupes d’auto-défense au Nigeria, le secteur des transports publics en Ouganda, les communautés et identités transnationales et les émeutes à Conakry, Kampala et à Londres. Par la suite, nous nous concentrerons respectivement sur la spécificité locale et la généralité translocale de ces phénomènes. Cet effort vise à augmenter l’utilité des études africaines pour la recherche transcontinentale ainsi que pour d’autres disciplines académiques.

Paper 1

Goodfellow Tom / University of Sheffield

Who captures whom? State, party and the “transport mafia” in Uganda

This paper uses a case study of Uganda’s informal public transport sector to explore questions of state-society relations and the ‘elite capture’ of organisations. Public transport can be an extremely profitable sector and is strategically important in maintaining territorial domination and control over key means of political mobilisation. In exploring the trajectory of the Uganda Taxi Operators and Drivers Association over almost three decades, the paper reveals the complexities of organisational power in a context of partial democratisation, and provides scope for reflecting on some of the limitations of existing theoretical approaches that treat interest group organisations as distinct from the state, or posit collusive relations between firms and government in terms of the ‘capture’ of one organisation or group by another. Instead, the paper argues that the ‘capturing’ of rents and control within the urban public transport sector was much more dynamic. It argues that there was a complex ‘double bind’ between the informal transport organisation and government politicians, which problematises conventional ways of thinking about state-society relations in Africa. It also considers the Ugandan experience in comparative light, showing how different it has been from that of many other African states, revealing limitations in attempts to generalise about African socio-economic phenomena that might look similar on the surface.

Paper 2

Philipps Joschka / Centre for African Studies Basel, University of Basel

The economic politics of the now: riots in Conakry, Kampala, and London

This paper analyses three cases of riots in Africa and Europe that share significant similarities: their intertwining of politics and economics (e.g. in instances of looting), the informal nature of participating groups, as well as the political elites’ reactions to the public disorder. Three theoretical interpretations of these phenomena are to be assessed: first, do riots in London (or Paris or Ferguson) signify that Euro-America is indeed evolving toward Africa in terms of the insecurities and instabilities caused by neoliberalism—as the Comaroffs (2012: 48) assert? Or do riots always unfold in similar situational and macro-sociological patterns (Collins 2008; Tilly 2003)? Alternatively, don’t riots mean entirely different things in their respective geographical-historical contexts, as Africanist political sociology has stressed for a long time (see Chabal and Daloz 2006; on protests and riots see Branch and Mampilly 2015)? Based on fieldwork in Guinea (2009-12), Uganda (2012-14) and referring to empirical research on the 2011 England riots, I assess these different heuristic lenses to carve out their respective merits and shortcomings for cross-continental analysis. The paper thereby reiterates the panel’s interest in clarifying how African and non-African units of analysis relate to one another and what we can learn from African cases about revolts and riots in general.

Paper 3

Van Bekkum Dirck H.J / Moira CTT

First and Second Nations: Reframing State-Society Categories by Analyzing Nasjaro’s Vicissitudes as Member of a Transnational African-Maroon family-community

This paper reframes state-society conceptions from an anthropological-systemic angle. It is also dedicated to Nasjaro who was one of 500 young men in a research sample of my clinical fieldwork in the Dutch nation-state. Being raised in an Afro-Surinam-Maroon extended ‘indigenous peoples ’ family, who migrated to the Netherlands when he was three, his skin-color wasn’t the only ‘out of place’ feature in Dutch national contexts. From 13 to 21 Nasjaro was incarcerated in juvenile state-institutions and became an exemplary case in my anthropological-systemic analysis in how individual (male) agency and dominant-dependent positions of aboriginal Dutch (regional) and migrant minorities could be compared in multicultural nation-state contexts (Van Bekkum 1994; 1995; 2010). Introducing First Nations (indigenous peoples) and Second Nations (nation-states) concepts, dramatic ‘coming of age vicissitudes’ of Nasjaro could be researched, analyzed and described in a more parsimonious and reflexive manner (Van Bekkum 2014). This twin concept was constructed by combining conceptions of Michel Foucault’s ‘nation-state’s disciplining power’ (1979; 1982), of James Scott’s ‘art of not being governed’ (2009) and of Krishan Kumar’s ‘nation-states as multicultural experiments’ (2010). Reframing of state-society relations offers an makes Nasjaro’s confrontations intelligible by mapping the incompatibilities of both human ‘cybernetic’ systems (Bateson 1972; Juarrero 1999; Deacon 2011; Weber 2013).

Paper 4

Lar Jimam T. / University of Bayreuth

The State, Society and “Global” Conceptions of Vigilantism: Insights from Central Nigeria

Amongst Africanist scholars, the conceptual notion of ‘vigilantism’ has been widely invoked to refer to actions taken to control behaviour deemed to be ‘deviant’, outside the purview of the official justice system (Abrahams 1987, 1998). More recently, our understanding of this phenomenon as it manifest in varied African contexts has been further broadened with the very important argument that vigilante groups can change their rationale from filling a gap and responding to a quest for order by the society to acting as agents of state power and legitimating the authority of the state (Kirsch and Gratz 2010). While vigilantism has had a contemporary manifestation in countries of the northern hemisphere, the aforementioned conceptual analyses are not readily offered as explanations. In this paper, relying on methodological and contextual insights from my study of vigilante groups in central Nigeria, I make a case for understanding global vigilantism as processes of statecraft beyond a state-centric notion. I argue that while each cross-continental and country context may present unique dynamics, the notion of vigilantism as a manifestation of state-craft from below is a phenomenon that can be generalised beyond African cases. I seek to go beyond an understanding of my ethnographic context; the ambition is to draw comparative value in the focus of questions and conclusions we draw in our understanding of social phenomenon.

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