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Seen From Below: Conceptions of Politics and the State in a Botswana Village

  • Jo Helle-Valle

Based on the contentions that rules cannot determine practice, and that the state is only a composite reality that needs to be analysed as a part of a wider socio-cultural totality, this article investigates how the state, as government and political practice, functions in a village in Botswana. Consequently, lay villagers' attitudes to the state and hence the issue of legitimacy become focal points in the discussion. It is argued that what is conceptualised by most villagers as the state is not co-extensive with its formal boundaries. Rather, it is associated with that which is ‘modern’ or ‘European’ and hence seen to be alien. This means not that the state is conceptualised in merely negative terms but rather that it achieves its legitimacy less on ideological grounds than from its role as a generous patron. This is due to the state's extraordinary wealth. It is argued that this form of legitimacy to some extent defines the roles it can play and makes it in some ways vulnerable but, on the other hand, enables the state to buy time to develop a political and administrative system that steers it clear of the common miseries that most other African states face.

Cet article, qui se base sur les assertions selon lesquelles la règle ne peut determiner la pratique et l'Etat n'est qu'une réalité composite qu'il convient d'analyser dans une globalité socioculturelle plus large, étudie le mode de fonctionnement de l'Etat, en tant que pratique gouvemementale et politique, dans un village du Botswana. La discussion est ainsi centrée sur le comportement des villageois profanes à l'égard de l'Etat et done sur la question de la légitimité. Elle affirme que ce que la plupart des villageois conceptualisent comme Etat n'est pas co-extensionnel à ses limites formelles. Au lieu de cela, ils l'associent à ce qui est “moderne” ou “européen” et done considéré comme “étranger”. Ceci signifie non pas que l'Etat est conceptualise en termes purement négatifs, mais qu'il obtient sa légitimité non pas pour des raisons d'ordre idéologique mais essentiellement pour son rôle de bienfaiteur généreux. Ceci est dû à l'extraordinaire richesse de l'Etat. L'article affirme que cette forme de légitimité dans une certaine mesure définit les rôles qu'il peut jouer et le rend à certains égards vulnérable mais, d'un autre côté, permet à l'Etat de gagner du temps pour mettre en place un système politique et administratif lui permettant d'éviter les grandes difficultés auxquelles sont confrontés la plupart des Etats africains.

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