A Decade of Democracy in Africa by Stephen N. Ndegwa

By Stephen N. Ndegwa

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Preben­ dalism only holds when the office holder benefits more than just himself. The “Big Man” who engages in corruption simply to “feather his own nest” — Mobutu, Abacha, etc. — is nearly universally despised. Behind this condemnation are not only a norm of moral ethnicity, but also one of liberal citizenship under which the resources of the national state are seen as being “eaten” illegitimately. A similar case can be made for the use of “tribalism” in much public discourse in Africa. Peter Ekeh (1990) has termed tribalism a: counterideology [that] assumes that when persons from different ethnic groups live together in multiethnic communities, they have to agree to be bound by common rules of coexistence.

As liberal citizens of independent nation-states, Africans in theory have equal, individual status and rights vis-à-vis the state; as civic-republican citizens of ethnic groups, however, they have obligations to the group’s well-being that, when necessary, override liberal citizenship. Lonsdale’s concept of “moral ethnicity” is closely related to Ndegwa’s civicrepublican citizenship. Lonsdale (1994) contrasts moral ethnicity — the “contested internal standard of civic virtue against which we measure our personal esteem” — with “the unprincipled ‘political tribalism’ with which groups compete for public resources” (p.

A. 40 JUDITH VAN ALLEN in Africa — one that seeks only those “reforms” consistent with the demands of capital and the neoliberalism of international financial institutions. However, there is a counter-narrative in the making, one that challenges the inevitability of neoliberal hegemony and unrestrained capitalism, sees the danger as coming from the “top” — from national and international dominant classes — and seeks to encourage belief in a “popular democratic” alternative. 1 Scholars contributing to this counter-narrative are not all explicitly Marxist; they do not all do analysis at the level of the state or international system.

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