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Neopatrimonialism and the Political Economy of Economic Performance in Africa: Critical Reflections

  • Thandika Mkandawire

During the past two decades, neopatrimonialism has become the convenient, all purpose, and ubiquitous moniker for African governance. The school of thought behind this research program, which the author refers to as the neopatrimonialism school, has produced an impressive literature on Africa. Its analysis informs policymakers and its language permeates media reportage on African states. While neopatrimonialism has long been a focus of development studies, in recent times it has assumed politically and economically exigent status. The school identifies causal links between neopatrimonialism and economic performance, and makes predictions drawing from what is referred to as the "logic of neopatrimonialism." Neopatrimonialism is said to account for trade policies, hyperinflation, economic stagnation, low investment in infrastructure, urban bias, andultimately, the lack of economic development in Africa. This article examines the empirical basis of predictions and policy prescriptions. It argues that while descriptive of the social practices of the states and individuals that occupy different positions within African societies, the concept of neopatrimonialism has little analytical content and no predictive value with respect to economic policy and performance.

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* I am grateful to Atul Kohli, Dwayne Wood, and three anonymous referees for insightful comments and suggestions, as well as participants at the European Conference on African Studies in Uppsala in 2011. I would also like to express gratitude to the Institute for Future Studies in Stockholm for hosting me while I wrote much of this article.

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World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
  • EISSN: 1086-3338
  • URL: /core/journals/world-politics
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