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A Tradition Co-opted: Participatory Development and Authoritarian Rule in Sudan

  • Anne-Laure Mahé (a1)
Abstract

The concept of participation is a cornerstone of development and democracy discourses, but studies on participatory development rarely examine the political regimes those policies are embedded in. Yet, in authoritarian contexts, participation is ambiguous, potentially threatening—as it can be connected to democratic ideals—and it also can be used as a resource, a tool for domination. Through an analysis of participatory development projects implemented in Sudan, I explore how power relations are renegotiated at the local level. Relying on data collected during fieldwork in Khartoum and the state of North Kordofan, where the projects are located, I highlight the disconnect between the discourse surrounding the participatory devices, which establishes an horizontal relationship between citizens and the local government, and the actual practices that strengthen the latter's power. In doing so, the article challenges a linear, top-down conception of authoritarian power and reveals the tensions that exist between institutional levels.

Le concept de participation est la pierre angulaire des discours sur le développement et la démocratie, mais l'analyse des politiques de développement participatif s'intéresse rarement aux régimes politiques au sein desquels ces dernières prennent place. Les pratiques participatives sont pourtant particulièrement ambiguës dans les contextes autoritaires. Elles peuvent en effet être une menace–étant donné leur lien avec la notion de démocratie–ou une ressource utilisée pour reproduire la domination. A travers l'analyse d'une politique de développement participatif mise en place au Soudan, j'explore comment les relations de pouvoir sont négociées au niveau local. En utilisant les données collectées lors d'une enquête de terrain à Khartoum et dans la province du Nord Kordofan, où les projets sont situés, je met en évidence la déconnexion entre un discours qui décrit les dispositifs participatifs comme relevant d'une relation horizontale entre les citoyens et le gouvernement local et des pratiques concrètes qui renforcent le pouvoir de ce dernier. L'article questionne ainsi les conceptions linéaire du pouvoir autoritaire, qui s'appliquerait du haut vers le bas, du dirigeant à la population, et révèle les tensions qui existent entre les différents niveaux institutionnels.

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Corresponding author
Department of Political Science, Pavillon Lionel-Groulx, 3150, rue Jean-Brillant, Montréal QC, H3 T 1N8, email: anne-laure.mahe@umontreal.ca
Footnotes
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The author wishes to thank the Centre for Social, Legal and Economic Studies in Khartoum for its financial and logistical support during the fieldwork this article is based on.

Footnotes
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Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
  • ISSN: 0008-4239
  • EISSN: 1744-9324
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