Table of Contents

'Functional' and 'Dysfunctional' Communities: The Making of National Citizens

Author(s): Ivor Chipkin (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research [Wiser])
Source: Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Mar., 2003), pp. 63-82
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Accessed: 24-05-2020 14:40 UTC

This article argues that ‘development’ is not simply about the delivery of a range of social goods, or about the building of public infrastructure. Instead, it presupposes an ethical norm, a moral register, such that development is about the capture of those being ‘developed’ into a certain normative conception of the good citizen. The article attempts both to describe this ethical imaginary and to consider the limits to its realisation in South Africa.


If we scan government documents, White Papers and reports, we will frequently find a cluster of metaphors describing the state. It can be ‘captured’ or ‘seized’ and has ‘levers’ that can be pulled, ‘instruments’ that can be ‘wielded’. What is at stake is the state as some sort of machine. The state as machine-tool implies all sorts of instrumental causalities – push this lever, pump that pedal, pull this knob, flick that switch. The state is a mechanism, a device, an instrument. Today, perhaps, there are more modem allusions – biometric instruments and cyber connections, e-mail transmission and cyber connectivities. The so-called problem of the so-called ‘African State’ is that it simply does not work. Its conductors and machinists (politicians) are ill equipped to the task of driving and steering. Its parts and components are, at best, faulty, if not altogether broken. This is precisely the question that informs a growing literature on the crisis of the African State or the State in Africa (to allude to Bayart’s famous ambivalence). Something (neoliberalism, globalisation, corruption, patronage politics, ethnicity) is corroding the ‘machinery of state’. Construed in these terms, ‘development’ becomes an outcome that results from the appropriate engineer- ing of state instruments (or the harnessing of other, private machines), the repair or recrafting of state machinery (capacity-building). It depends on replacing some components (affirmative action, democratisation) so that they respond correctly to those that operate the state equipment. Here, ‘development’ is construed as an exercise in administration or management. What is obscured by such an understanding is precisely the moral-ethical politics that it advances. In this article, I intend to draw out the moral-ethical presupposi- tions of development precisely to demonstrate that they are not simply about the provision of housing and services. What is really at stake is the making of the nation in South

Different Notions of Development

In his foreword to the White Paper on Local Government (henceforth the White Paper) Pravin Gordham, then chair of the political committee overseeing the writing of this document, proposed that the urgency of local government transformation followed from two world-historical processes: globalisation and the redefinition of the nation state, ’emphasis’ on decentralisation. In fact, his short remarks do not begin to establish the relationship between these processes, although he contrives to use a phrase that is deeply telling. ‘The White Paper’, he explains, ‘is the expression of the belief that our decentralis- ation of a special type can work’ (emphasis added).’ What the latter refers to, Gordham tell us, is a unique system of co-operative governance established to mediate relations between the respective spheres of government (national, provincial and local). Yet his choice of adjectival phrase is by no means neutral or merely descriptive. It is resonant with allusions to the theory of National Democratic Revolution (NDR) and, more precisely, to the theory of Colonialism of a Special Type (CST). But what should we make of its usage in such an unfamiliar context? Here, it certainly lacks the political and theoretical weight of its parent phrase. I presume the content of this to be familiar to the reader and hence unnecessary to discuss further. Given, however, that the paper was published in 1998, two years after the adoption by the national government of the Growth, Equity and Redistribution Strategy (GEAR), a strategy that privileges the role of the market and the private sector as the motors of economic growth and development, does Gordham intend by his neologism a nostalgic allusion to anti-capitalist struggle, waged this time through the local state? It seems more likely that his surreptitious reference to NDR and CST is intended as a warning or a refrain. In discussing what is required for the policies discussed in the White Paper to succeed Gordham remarks: ‘It will require our participation and rolling up of sleeves, our acting like citizens, as opposed to mere atomised consumers of municipal services’.2 This is not simply a broadside at GEAR, although it may well be that as well, but a call to vigilance in the face of local government reform. It is a warning, reminiscent of the Reconstruction and Development Programme, but by no means identical, that local government will not realise its developmental role simply by relying on the private sector and the market. But let us note too a certain a curiosity of phrase in his remarks. What should we make of the conditional tense in which his words are framed? Certainly for Gordham it may only have been a stylistic preference, but it nonetheless points to what is the potential novelty of the developmental approach discussed in the White Paper: that it demands of ‘role players’ to act as citizens. It does not assume, in other words, that they already do; indeed, Gordham worries that they might not. There is an implicit distinction here between a citizen in right and a citizen in practice, where the developmental role discussed in the White Paper ‘requires’ a movement from the one to the other. We might say that Gordham is alerting us to the fact that those with de jure rights and duties might not exercise them in practice, and that the success of development will be measured by the extent to which they do. Now, this was, in part, the critique made of ‘formal’ democracy by the theory of CST, or more precisely it was the critique made by the political and theoretical sources from which it derived. Even if it were not Gordham’s intention to pose the problem in these terms, it is nonetheless valuable to discuss the developmental role of local government with the following question in mind: under what conditions does a ‘citizen’ behave as a citizen? We will see that the developmental role of local government defined in the White Paper begs precisely this question and that its ability to realise such a mandate means providing practical, concrete answers to it. It requires, in other words, that realisable measures are taken to assist ‘citizens’ to act as such in the face of globalisation and the redefined role of the nation state. We will see that the White Paper departs radically from hitherto defined notions of development in South Africa in suggesting that the rights of the citizens are not simply those of ‘basic needs’, where this refers to the provision of a range of social products (a house, a serviced site, etc), but include furnishing the conditions for individuals and households to sustain themselves socially and economically. In considering the work of the Department of Community Development (Devcom) in the City of Cape Town, what will be evaluated is the way in which such a developmental vision has been implemented, its institutional consequences and the obstacles to its realisation. A distinction shall be entered between an administrative and a theoretical limit, where the former refers to managerial, financial and budgeting obstacles to development, while a theoretical limit is one produced by the concept itself. We will see through a case study of Manenberg on the Cape Flats that the difficulty of intervening in the area has as much to do with the institutional limits of Devcom as with the normative presuppositions inherent in the notion of a developmental local government. At stake is the production of a virtuous community, deemed by Cape Town to be one that reproduces itself in a way that is deemed ‘functional’ as opposed to ‘dysfunctional’. Now, the moral norm that informs the work of Ahmedi Vawda and his team is not merely contingent on their personalities, their religious and/or political beliefs, but follows necessarily from the ‘idea’ of development they seek to accomplish. We will see, therefore, that the limit of development is the capacity of local government, depending on the circumstances, to transform real communi- ties into ‘good’ communities, i.e. communities that reproduce themselves without recourse to crime or any other activity deemed ‘inappropriate’ by the state. This is precisely the dilemma in Manenberg. In an area where a gang-controlled drugs-based economy is increasingly prevalent, where unemployment affects 42 per cent of men and women older than fifteen, where less than 7 per cent of residents have a matric and/or post-matric qualification, where those sectors from which residents of Manenberg have traditionally found employment are in decline (chiefly manufacturing and the textile industry), what is an appropriate developmental intervention? It is certainly less about providing services and housing stock in an area where most residents have access to formal accommodation, water and electricity. What does it mean, therefore, to assist households to secure their economic and social needs in a sustainable way? In a community more and more precariously linked to the formal economy and where a growing drugs-based sector provides economic and social support for the vast majority of households, does a developmental role for local government – if we take the White Paper at its word – mean better assisting residents to participate in crime? The question is rhetorical given its patent absurdity for government. What this article will argue is that a developmental role for local government is less a technical, managerial task than a political-moral one. It implies necessarily that local governments grapple with the questions raised in Devcom: what constitutes ‘good’ sustainability and what municipal interventions are required to provide for it? Development is driven by a moral aesthetic and, as such, is necessarily repressive: it implies supporting and consolidating activities deemed ‘acceptable’, ‘honest’, ‘legal’ and negating those deemed not, ultimately to realise a state of community that accords with the image of the ‘good society’, the ‘moder’. Now, in the case of Manenberg it is precisely this moral order that is in question, and it is precisely this ‘other’ moral3 order that is being consolidated by trends in the global and the national economy. We will see, therefore, that the limits to development in Manenberg have less to do with ‘efficiencies’ and ‘flexibilities’ in the administration of Cape Town, than with the obstacles to realising a certain idea of the ‘virtuous’4 community. This said, we shall see that the citizen is, above all, an ethical figure and that the precondition for citizenship in a national context is the production of moral communities!

The RDP and Integrated Development

What is at stake in the White Paper is the granting to local governments of their proper autonomy as political bodies, elected by, and responsible to, their citizens. Now, this marks an important departure from previous conceptions of local government in two respects. Research done for the White Paper research process dealt with this more fully, but we can summarise some of its conclusions as follows: in the first instance, the Reconstruction and Development Programme cast third-tier government as the ‘hands and feet’ of delivery initiatives; that is, essentially as administrative bodies charged with the execution of tasks mandated from above. In the second instance, development was conceived primarily as a state-institutional task where the ostensibly political role of municipalities was limited to ‘change management’ or ‘transformation’ to realign their institutional capacity to the RDP tasks at hand. I have considered this more closely elsewhere,5 but very briefly we can say the following: it presupposed that residents became citizens when their needs were satisfied – where needs were defined, essentially, as a house and a serviced site. Now the novelty of the White Paper lies in the way that this relationship is reconceptualised. In the section dealing with a developmental local government, such a role is defined as follows: Developmental local government is local government committed to working with citizens6 and groups within the community to find sustainable ways to meet their social, economic and material needs and improve the quality of their lives.7 What is striking about this formulation is what is not said. If we compare it, for example, to the task of local government as defined in the Urban Development Strategy, the difference becomes more apparent. The 1995 document states: The primary responsibility of local authorities is to ensure the delivery of services at a community level within an agreed planning framework. In support of this, local authorities will be responsible for development and physical planning as well as the preparation of 5-year infrastructure investment programmes.8 Now, whereas the UDS is emphatic that the primary role of municipalities is that of service delivery, the White Paper does not even mention it! This is not simply because the term ‘development’ is used as a synonym for service delivery; nor does it mean that the provision of household infrastructure and services is somehow neglected in the document. It does mean, however, that service delivery is no longer judged an end in itself, but is subordinated to another objective: finding sustainable ways to meet the social, economic and material needs of communities. In other words, ‘development’ in the White Paper is measured not against how many homes are built or sites are serviced but against the degree to which ‘citizens’ are able to sustain themselves and their households. This implies a radical reworking of how local government works. If, during what is termed the ‘interim’ phase, municipalities have been chiefly preoccupied with ‘deracialising’ their institutions and installing effective management and financial systems to deliver services – they tended to be inward looking. The ‘final’ stage envisaged by the White Paper implies that local governments will have to grapple not simply with the ‘how’ of development but, just as importantly, with the ‘what’. In other words, they are asked to address the following question: what public interventions will assist residents in the area under their jurisdiction to sustain and improve their material needs and the quality of their lives? Now, despite a superficial resemblance, this is a different kind of question to that one hitherto posed: how can public services be deployed to meet the needs of communities? Indeed, despite the fact that they employ a common vocabulary – nearly all discussion documents, legislation and White Papers refer to ‘community needs’, ‘citizens’, ‘participation’ and so on – they nonetheless imply distinct notions of development. In the first place, the notion that is driven by standard indicators is predicated on the assumption that service delivery satisfies local governments’ developmental mandate. For convenience, let us call it the RDP approach (although this is intended with a little irony). It follows that institutional design and performance management are undertaken with a view to delivering most effectively a number of products seen as ends in themselves: housing units, serviced sites, etc. In the second instance, I will consider the notion of development as Integrated Development (ID): these standard outputs are judged as, at best, means of realising development. In other words, for a developmental local government, a house is not a product unless it contributes to development! The measure here is a ‘sustainable community’, where the indicators that follow from this objective are neither self-evident nor knowable in advance. Indeed, what the first calls a developmental product may, according to the second, be either non-developmental or, worse, profoundly anti-developmental. When a house and/or serviced site does not grant to residents a resource with which they may access further opportunities or, even worse, burdens them with a product they cannot afford, the results may be considered ineffectual or even harmful. Let us note too the institutional consequences that follow from the ‘RDP’ and ‘ID’ approaches. In the case of the former, what is paramount is the delivery of a range of goods, discernible in advance. In the original RDP conception, housing stock and municipal services were intended to be the products of a government-driven programme of investment, where state institutions were cast as the leading agents of implementation. I have already touched on this but, very briefly, we can say that this privileged the importance of building the capacity of state institutions to execute their RDP-given obligations. Now, following the reassessment of state capacity that informed and followed from the GEAR strategy9 – more shall be said about this in the concluding remarks – what has been strongly muted, especially in the Municipal Structures Bill (MSB), is the role of ‘alternative service providers’. At stake is the deployment of a range of agencies, other than the municipality strictu sensu, to execute certain functions traditionally performed by local governments themselves.’1 Notes prepared for the Urban Governance Elective at the Graduate School of Public and Development Management (P&DM) at the University of the Witwatersrand discuss these proposals according to the following tripartite division: in-council ring-fenced operations (‘corporatised’ units, agencies, utilities), contracting out (service contract, management contract, leases, concessions, build-operate-transfer contracts) and full privatisation of services.



The Discourse of Popular Sovereignty

We can better understand the phenomenon of One-Party States in Africa if we treat ‘self-determination’ as a discourse which generates a set of immanent questions. What are these questions? If we turn to the Charter of the United Nations (UN), affirmed, as we saw above, at the Bandung conference in 1955, we see self-determination related to several other terms. In Chapter One, for example:

  • Article 1 of the Charter states, inter alia, that the purpose of the UN
    is ‘to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for
    the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and
    to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace’.
  • Article 55 states, inter alia, that the United Nations shall promote
    ‘economic and social progress and development’ as well as respect
    for human rights and fundamental freedoms ‘[w]ith a view to the
    creation of conditions of stability and well-being … based on respect
    for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples’.
In the famous Article 76 on decolonization, the Charter tells colonial powers that their trusteeship must serve ‘to promote the political, economic, social, and educational advancement of the inhabitants of the trust territories, and their progressive development towards self-government or independence’.
In these clauses self-determination is related to ‘nations’, to ‘rights’, to peace’, to economic and social progress’, to ‘human rights’. The master concept underlying these articles is given in the first chapter of the Charter, however:
‘The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members’ (United Nations 1942; emphasis added).
The centrality of the concept of sovereignty to the principle of self-determination is much clearer in the Atlantic Charter of 1941, which strongly
informed the UN Charter signed a few months later. In the Declaration of Principles, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill stated that they wanted to see ‘no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned’ and that they respected ‘the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live’. They wished to see ‘sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them’ (cited in Burri and Thürer 2008, paragraph 5). This marked a paradoxical conjunction of legal terms. The notion of ‘sovereignty’ had historically been used in international legal jurisprudence to legitmise colonial domination, by  distinguishing between civilized states that were sovereign and uncivilized states that were not. International law as European law only applied to sovereign states. In the post Second-World War period, and especially during the period of decolonisation in the 1960s and 1970s, the notion of self-determination was developed precisely to make it possible, at least from the perspective of international law, for colonial territories to become sovereign states (see Anghie 2007, p.35).
Even if there is not much sympathy for the concept of sovereignty today (Kalyvas 2005, p. 223), it is the foundation stone of the International system after 1945 and it animated the political dreams and struggles of Third- World movements opposing colonialism and Imperialism. In other words, Third World movements were not simply vectors of modernity, they operated within the discourse of sovereignty. As such they were called upon to meet its challenges practically.
Bodin, from whom modern conceptions of sovereignty derive, called sovereignty ‘the highest power of command’. He defined its conditions as perpetual rule and absolute power (Bodin 1992, p. 1; p. 7; p. 24). There is a third quality of sovereignty. It is always singular, that is, embodied in an entity, one with itself. It is the first of these qualities that has given the concept a bad reputation as an ‘an arbitrary, limitless act of command, still carrying the traces of its martial origins, not subject to anything and anybody, beyond the law, stubbornly seeking to enforce obedience’ (Kalyvas 2005, p. 225). Even if contemporary theories of sovereignty are able to overcome its ‘absolutist’ features, it remains difficult to escape the third characteristic of sovereignty:
that the sovereign is singular. Consider Kalyvas’ notion of sovereignty as ‘constituent power’ and his attempts to reconcile to the concept to democracy. ‘In a word’, he writes, ‘the sovereign is the constituent subject. For this reason I define the sovereign as the one who determines the constitutional form, the juridical and political identity, and the governmental structure of a community in its entirety’ (Kalyvas 2005, p. 226; emphasis added). The reference to the sovereign as singular is not just stylistic. It is inherent in the concept. Kalyvas wants to reconcile sovereignty with democracy by positing the constituent moment as a creative, ‘co-instituting act’. He describes it as such: ‘The con-instituting act is acting in concert, an act of a plurality of actors who engage with each other in creating the higher laws’ (Kalyvas 2005, p. 236). It is democratic because these actors are nothing less than citizens who are ‘jointly called to be the authors of their constitutional identity and to decide the central rules and higher procedures that will regulate their political and social life (Kalyvas 2005, pp. 237-238).
We are not very far from the ‘society doctrine’ of the nineteenth century.
It held that sovereignty only applied in properly constituted societies, discounting colonies from the prescripts of International law because they were deemed uncivilized, that is, not really societies at all. As Anghie notes, ‘the sovereign European state was established through reliance on the concept of society’ (Anghie 2007, pp. 99-100). Absolutist and democratic conceptions of sovereignty the idea of the social as always already reconciled as a single society. Hence, for any kind of sovereignty to exist, so must society.

The One-Party State and the Constitution of Society

What if citizens would not come together spontaneously to ‘act in concert’. What if they belonged to diverse communities, were subjects of kingdoms or lived in acephalous societies arbitrarily circumscribed into common States by colonial powers? What if they were peoples of different languages, religions, ethnicities, dispersed across different geographies, organized through different polities and articulated in and across multiple class structures? What if some citizens did not affiliate with the state and even sought their own? What if the challenge of sovereignty confronted an existential problem, that society itself did not exist? What if, in other words, sovereignty was pursued by governments
in Africa after independence and elsewhere in the Third World? What would it take to establish a sovereign government under these conditions?
Nothing less than the establishment of society itself. Similar questions were confronted by Marxist parties at the end of the nineteenth century working in the context of European Empires. The difficulty was that Marxism set itself up against nationalism in fundamental ways. Proleterian solidarity was international. Nationalism was the ideology of the dominant bourgeois class that worked to split the working class (see Lenin´s Critical Remarks on the National Question). In Austro-Hungary, however, prominent social democrats like Otto Bauer had started working on
the ‘national question’ where it was unavoidable. Class unity regularly came up against ‘national’ allegiances (Štiks 2015, p.39), which showed no sign of abating soon.
Bauer developed a theory of the ‘national character’, expressing a shared history based on community of education, work and culture and a territorial principle, a ‘common area of habitation’ (Bauer cited in Štiks 2015, p. 39).
His formulations would be decisive to the history, not just of the region but to developments in the Soviet Union too. In 1913, Stalin was sent to Austro- Hungary to study Bauer’s work. His definition of the nation drew extensively from the latter. Lenin too reconciled himself to nationalism by distinguishing between ‘oppressing nations’ and ‘oppressed nations’—insisting on the right of self-determination for the latter in the context of Imperialism. These principles found concrete expression in the creation of ‘national soviet republics’ and triggered ongoing debates about how to reconcile political centralism with territorial autonomy for self-determined nations (Štiks 2015, p. 40). What was at stake in these debates was the relationship between the ‘social question’ and the ‘national question’. That is, what political arrangement was best suited for advancing the interests of the working class, while also accommodating the interests of particular nations and tribes? In Yugoslavia after the Second World War, the answer to the social/national question was found in the formula, ‘federal socialist’. The 1974 Constitution distinguished between nations  (narodni), consisting of the Slav nations that made up the Yugoslav people (literally the Southern Slavs) and nationalities (narodnosti), consisting of nations that were minorities in Yugoslavia but who had their own states outside, including Albanians, Slovaks, Romanians and Italians. As Várady notes, these definitions only became significant in the 1990s as the State began to disintegrate (Várady 1997, p. 10). Instead theCommunist Party went very far to propogate ‘national equality’, permitting and supporting several languages in schools, theaters and media. There were ‘very strict’ prohibitions on any attempt to mobilise on ethnic or national terms at all. It was the Communist Party that insisted on a monopoly in identifying and addressing ethnic grievances.
What unified the social? Firstly, there was an appeal to a Pan-Slav identity as ‘South Slavs’ (literally the meaning of Yugoslavia in Serbo-Croat). Second was the appeal to socialism. Hence, the state was federal in that it accommodated the principle of nations and it was unified under the leadership of the Communist Party as the guarantor of supra-national solidarity and socialism.
The influence of the Soviet and Yugoslav models is a historical given, through the Communist International and, in the case of Yugolsavia through
the Non-Aligned Movement. It is also not difficult to understand their conceptual appeal. They were developed in relation to a critique of Imperialism and they confronted the most pressing problem of newly independent African states: constituting Sovereignty in places home to a multiplicity of peoples. If not all countries adopted federal solutions, though many did, what proved especially influential was the example that unity could be achieved through a One-Party state.

The People as One

In the sixty six years since the founding of the United Nations the number of member states has grown from the original 51 in 1945 to 193 in 2011. It represents a near fourfold increase in little more than half a century. In contrast, in the period between 1919 and 1946 membership of the League of Nations never exceeded 63 members. The difference between the two periods is partly explained by the different relationships these bodies had to Imperialism and to nationalism respectively. The first, despite its name, sought to re-establish the principle of Imperial sovereignty—a logic of integrating large geographies and multiple peoples in single states. Indeed, the Treaty of Versailles tried to shore up the Imperial system by re-allocating to those that won the war (Britain and France) the territories formerly held by the losers (Germany, the Ottoman Empire). In Lord Acton’s terms, we might say that the nineteenth and early twentieth century were periods of nations and ‘great powers’.

The United Nations is the expression of a different logic. The principle of popular sovereignty on the basis of nations may have its origin in republican ideals of the French Revolution, yet it is only in the period after the Second World War that this model became the norm. That the world should be organised on the basis of sovereign nation-states animated the vast majority of anti-colonial struggles. European Empires after the Second World War and especially in a short burst during the 1960’s shattered into so many new states.
In 1956 Morocco, Tunisia and Sudan joined the UN as sovereign states. In 1956, they were accompanied by Ghana and the Federation of Malaya. Then in 1960, 17 new states appeared (Cameroun, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Leopoldville), Cyprus, Dahomey, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Malagasy Republic, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Togo, Upper Volta). By the end of the 1960’s a further 27 countries had become independent— the vast majority of them in Africa, as Britain and France relinquished their colonies and dominions.4 In the 1970’s, the Portuguese Empire collapsed, throwing up even more new states, including Mozambique and Angola. Then in the 1990’s, the Soviet Union dissolved. By 1994, there were 185 member states of the UN, up from 166 just three years earlier. The vast majority of these states have been cut out from the fabric of European empires. ‘The British Empire has, in the course of the last few decades’, noted one legal scholar in 1960, ‘glided quietly and decorously into the “British Commonwealth of Nations” and the “British Commonwealth of Nations” has slipped unobtrusively into the “Commonwealth of Nations”’ (Schwelb 1960, pp. 164-165). That this was an untroubled process was a uniquely metropolitan perspective, yet the broader point is unmistakeable. New states invoked the principle of nationality as their passport into the world of States.
Consider briefly the constitutional history of Ghana in its first few years. The Constitution which was to govern Ghana during the first years of
its life as a sovereign State was the Ghana (Constitution) Order in Council of February, 1957. It provided for a Cabinet vested with political authority, made up of members of Parliament. The Cabinet was responsible to parliament that was, in turn, elected by secret ballot on the basis of adult suffrage. Every citizen of Ghana, irrespective of religion, race, and sex, was given the right to vote. The basic law of Ghana of 1957, however, also made the new state a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy on the British model. Executive power was, nominally, vested in the Queen and the Governor General as her representative. It was the origin of the Constitution, however, that was of particular consequence for the new ruling elite after independence.
While people like Kwame Nkrumah, soon to be President, were consulted during its formulation, the constitution was worked out largely in Britain and was enacted by an Order-in-Council of the British monarch. Immediately after the formation of the new government, moves were initiated
to abandon the monarchical constitution in favour of a Republican one.There is surprise amongst British legal scholars at the time, not so much with the principle but with the process. All it required was a law adopted by the Ghanaian parliament with a simple majority. Limitations on member states of the ‘British Commonwealth’ to enact laws in contradiction with British law had already been repealed in 1931 by the Statute of Westminster. ‘Nevertheless’, writes Schwelb, ‘the Government of Ghana set in motion elaborate machinery for the consultation of the people before Parliament enacted the new Constitution’ (1960, p. 638). It is not so surprising, however, when we understand sovereignty as a creative moment, founding the constituent subject.
The Ghanaian Constitution of 1960 triggers an existential pursuit. It does so with surprising consequences. ‘The Government realises’, states the White Paper of 1960, ‘that the present frontiers of Ghana, like so many other frontiers on the African continent, were drawn merely to suit the convenience of the Colonial Powers who divided Africa between them during the last century’ (cited in Schwelb 1960, p. 640). The Preamble to the Constitution itself draws the consequences of this observation. It calls on the people of Ghana to ‘help to further the development of a Union of African States’. Moreover the constitution specified certain ‘fundamental principles’, including that:
the union of Africa should be striven for by every lawful means and, when attained, should be faithfully preserved; and that the Independence of Ghana should not be surrendered or diminished on any grounds other than the furtherance, of African unity (Article 13, cited in Schwelb 1960, p. 640). Even more, the constitution looked forward to its own redundancy: In the confident expectation of an early surrender of sovereignty to a union of African states and territories, the people now confer on Parliament the power to provide for the surrender of the whole or any part of the sovereignty of Ghana (Article 2, cited in Schwelb, 1960: 640).
In other words, Ghana as a state could be dissolved by a simple Act of Parliament.
What was being asserted here? That Ghanaians belong to a nation that exceeds the territory of Ghana, that Ghanaians were Africans for whom Africa as a whole was their territory, that nothing less than a Pan-African state could give them rightful expression.
The Constitution of Guinea of 1958 contains similar provisions. In its Preamble, the State of Guinea ‘affirms its resolve to strive to the utmost to achieve and consolidate the Unity in Independence of the African Fatherland’. We find a similar wording in the Constitutions of the Republic of Cameroun, of the Central African Republic, of the Senekal and of the Sudan Republic (now Mali). On this basis, moreover, the Presidents of Ghana, Guinea and Mali declared that they had formed a Union of African States in 1960—though the union was more rhetorical than actual.
It was not just in Africa, however, that the assertion of sovereignty triggered a quest for a singular identity. The 1952 Constitution of the Kingdom
of Jordan provides in Article 1 that ‘the people of Jordan form part of the Arab nation’. The Syrian Constitution of 1953 states that ‘the Syrian people form a part of the Arab nation’ and goes on to provide that, ‘the State shall, within, the frame of sovereignty and republican regime, endeavour to realize the unity of this nation’ (Art. 1/3). The Egyptian Constitution of 1956 did likewise, declaring that ‘the Egyptian people are an integral part of the Arab Nation’. On this basis Syria and Egypt merged to form the short-lived United Arab Republic in 1958. We find similar expressions of Arab nationality in the Constitutions of Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia and even the Kingdom of Morocco.
These developments are, from the perspective of sovereignty, hardly surprising. They are efforts to define a principle of unity that would override local and parochial attachments.

Political Order and the Possibility of Government

We cannot stop at the legal or symbolic constitution of the people as a singular entity, either as particular nations (Ghanains, for example) or as Africans. We have to go one step further to consider sovereignty in relationship to those institutional forms that make possible the expression of the people’s sovereign will as a government. For therein lies the practical measure of sovereignty.
Jean-Francois Bayart is interested in a related question. What are the origins and the history of dominant groups in the poscolonial state and how and under what conditions do they ‘aggregate’ to form a ‘dominant class’? (Bayart  2009, p. 154). Bayart’s great virtue in this regard is to consider this process in relationship to hegemony. He explored two routes to hegemony, conservative modernisation and social revolution. What was decisive for him is a third. He called it the ‘reciprocal assimilation of elites’.
Here the key role is played by political parties and the single-party system, especially. In Ghana, for example, following the near secession of the
Asante aristocracy in the run up to Independence and after the coup d’etat that removed Nkrumah from power, it was the National Liberation Movement that provided a basis for the integration of the southern and northern elites. In Niger, Bayart explains, ‘captives’ and ‘masters’, members of heterogenous social structures were reconciled throught the Parti Progressiste Nigérien (PPN), which prevented the cleavage Songhai-Zarma from becoming politicised. The Parti democratique de la Cote d’Ivoire played a similar role in the Ivory Coast. So too did the Bloc democratique gabonais in Gabon. In Zambia, the United National Independence Party (UNIP), which became the sole party after 1972, proved adept at balancing competing demands amongst dominant groups. Indeed, a serious threat to the integrity of the State emerged only in the 1990s after the introduction of multi-party elections. The Lozi aristocracy threatened to secede from Zambia and to re-group under their  traditional system of rule, led by King Litunga (Owusu 1997, p. 128).
Analysis in South Africa stubbornly fails to consider this dynamic in relationship to contemporary politics. This is doubly unfortunate. In the first place, South Africa is a new state—a little more than a 100 years old. Secondly, during its short life it has existed as a unitary State for only brief and uneven periods. For most of the twentieth century, and especially during the Apartheid period, the State was splintered across multiple administrations and geographies, organized on the basis of race or tribe. The Bantustans are the culmination of this politics of fragmentation and undoing. One of the major challenges of statebuilding in post-Apartheid South Africa has, therefore, been integrating former homeland administrations into new government arrangements and pacifying their various elites (see Pillay, Pearson and Chipkin 2016). Until recently, the dominance of the ANC has been achieved because it has absorbed and contained a great variety of social and political contradictions and tensions. Different classes have been able to realise enough of their interests to remain loyal to the party. Furthermore, diverse regional and local
elites have been able to pursue their ambitions through its structures, largely reconciling and integrating them to the new South Africa. In this way, ANC dominance has given us more than two decades of political stability. The ANC has paid a very high price for this brand of nationalism. It has divided and fragmented the organization internally. Little wonder the figure of Jesus Christ appeals to many of its leaders.5 The party suffers to heal the body-politic. As a general rule, one of the decisive dynamics in the history of government over historical time has been the relationship between what we might call the centre and the periphery. European medieval and Renaissance history frequently turns on the relative authority of the monarchy in relation to the nobility. When the nobility has been tame, as was the case of France at the  ime of Louis XIV, the monarchy is supreme and absolutist. In Britain during the Eighteenth century the nobility acquired hereditary title over their lands and become more and more independent vis-à-vis the monarchy. The peculiarity of English history is the balance that was achieved between these regime, for a period of roughly 800 years until 1600, manifests a similar dynamic, as does the Mamluk regime in Egypt. India since 1949 has been in state of constant struggle between its regional notables and the central state (see Finer 1999).
In other words, for long historical periods and in many geographies, social unity hinges on the ability of a political centre to tame its regions. When it cannot, the result is long-term political instability and disorder and even the break-up of the polity itself. Yugoslavia is a terrifying case in point where the weakening of the federal state created space for regional elites and ethnic entrepreneurs, ultimately, to provoke a devastating civil-war. The fate of state-socialist regimes in recent times is also instructive. The ‘great divergence’ between the Soviet Union and China, collapse and disintegration in the case of the first and consolidation of absolutist control in the case of the latter, rests on their respective ability to manage their ‘barons’, that is, their regional elites. That the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s produced a period of chaos is not in dispute. When Mao granted groups of workers and citizens the ‘right to rebel’ in 1966 the ‘red guards’ took aim at local and regional administrations and power-brokers. Hence, when in the 1970s China took measures to restore political stability and launch economic growth reforms, it took place in the
context of the enhanced authority of Beijing and of the central Communist Party. The contrast with the Soviet Union is striking. In the post-Stalinist era, modernization and economic expansion produced huge growth in the central bureaucracy. Brezhnev’s rule is regarded as the golden age of the nomenklatura. It is also the highpoint of Soviet achievements in military power, geopolitical influence and technology. Nonetheless, the ‘ossified’ bureaucracy was deemed the principle constraint on further modernisation. Gorbachev’s reforms—Perestroika—like Mao’s cultural revolution targeted the bureaucracy. Unlike the cultural revolution, however, that weakened local and regional administrations, Gorbachev sought to break the power of central state bureaucracies— setting off centrifugal forces that ultimately tore the Union apart. In contemporary Africa, from Congo to Libya, civil war and the disintegration of the States has coincided with the weakening and collapse of One-Party dominance.


  1. This article has sought to understand political developments in postcolonial Africa and, in particular the emergence of singular regimes, that is,
    one-party/one-leader states in many African countries after independence, in relation to the immanent logic of sovereignty. It has been argued that this concept was central to demands for self-determination of African peoples from colonialism and Imperialism. Drawing on the Wagner’s notion of a problématique qua framework of fundamental questions, we have construed ‘sovereignty’ as a concept internal to the problématique of modernity—at its root concerned with human freedom and autonomy. That is, anti-colonial movements were were called upon at the moment
    of independence to confront sovereignty’s conditions in newly formed States composed of multiple societies, articulated unevenly across space. These were not European or Asian societies brought under the monopoly of centralized administrations after centuries of inter and intra-state war. How could heterogenous social elements be unified or integrated into a single society? It is mainly in the debates within Austro-Marxism at the beginning of the twentieth century that the basis of an anwer was found. In the language of the Yugoslav state, nations and nationalities could be reconciled in the framework of a system that was ‘federal socialist’. It recognised national differences but accommodated and reconciled them through a supra-national project of nation-building and socialism.
    The appeal of this model in the Third World spoke to the prestige of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in many quarters. It spoke no less of the inherent appeal of these ideas. For those political leaders and parties, moreoever, that were neither Marxist nor especially interested in socialism, ‘development’ was an easy substitute for socialism as a common rallying point. Seen from the perspective of sovereignty, the history of the One-Party/One- Leader State is mixed. As an instrument of development, at least in comparison to South East Asia, it has been a dismal failure. It has certainly been an obstacle to democracy but then that was not its purpose. As an instrument of integratng elites and reconciling them to the State, however, it has a far better record.
    Apart from places of intense Cold-war contestation (Angola, for example) and/ or places destabilized by the settler colonies, Rhodesia and South Africa (Mozambique), civil war in post-independence Africa has been rare. The Biafran civil war is an exception. In most cases, ranging from Zaire/Congo, to Somalia, to Cote d’Ivoire, to Libya civil war is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is associated with the weakening and/or removal of the Sovereign qua party-state and/ or state leader. In this respect, the loss of Sovereignty has been a consequence of the ‘third wave’ of democratisation. It has also been an effect of neoliberalism, which undermined the claim of the State to be the vector of development.
    What does this mean for contemporary South Africa, the example we started with? Firstly, it is naïve to think that the weakening of the ANC represents a positive development for multi-party democracy. In the post-Apartheid period, it has been the principle location where various elites have found a common home. The unravelling of the organization is as much a cause as it is an effect of the growing restlessness of local and regional groups. The challenge going forward for South Africa as a democracy will be to find a new mechanism for integrating elites that aligns with the Constitution. If this is not possible, then the challenge will be to establish sovereignty tout court. Either way, what is required is the development of new political ideas.

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1. This essay started life as an unsuccessful essay, which I wrote as a visitor to TRAMOD and to Barcelona in 2014. It has recently benefitted from the lectures and talks of Andreas Kalyvas at my institute in Johannesburg, the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI). I first met him at a conference organised by Peter. In this sense, this essay draws as much from Peter Wagner’s work as it does from his delightful world.
2. Jennifer Widner suggests that the tendency of political scientists, from the late 1970s to the late 1980s, to dismiss the structure of governing institutions in African contexts, followed largely, not so much from the evidence, but from a poor reading of Crawford Young’s Ideology and Development in Africa (p.52).
3. I am grateful to Jelena Vidojevic for introducing me to some of the key texts discussed in this section and for reading and correcting earlier drafts.
4. Mauritania, Mongolia, Sierra Leone, Tanganyika, Algeria, Burundi, Jamaica, Rwanda, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Kenya, Kuwait, Zanzibar, Malawi, Malta, Zambia, The Gambia, Maldives Islands, Singapore, Barbados, Botswana, Guyana, Lesotho, Yemen, Equatorial Guinea, Mauritius, Swaziland.
5. President Jacob Zuma used to say that the ‘ANC will rule until Jesus Christ comes back’.