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On govt and governance in Africa

By John Amoda
IN this piece I will focus on government in Africa. In a subsequent piece I will address the implications of the disquisition on government for governance in Africa.

What I purpose in this essay is the clarification of the international usages of government and governance which we in Nigeria have adopted for our use. In the international community government’s relationship to society is posited as that of servant to master, an agent to its principal; government is the servant and society is the master.

Thus when government occupies the position of master or of the principal, it is the collective business of the international community to ensure that such governments are firmly put in their place. This view of the international community is not descriptive but normative. It is a view that states what ought to be the case, not what is the case.

This view is not only normative but a view informed by ideology, not a universal ideology but a specific ideology that has become hegemonic. It is a view of the international community of government and society as stipulated in liberal capitalist democracy.

Thus what ought to be is ideology specific. The ought for Bolshevik socialism is not the same as the ought in liberal capitalist democracy. The norms on offer in the international community are thus ideology-embedded in contexts of contestations for hegemony.

Hegemony can be simply explained as pushing for the adoption of your particular norms as mankind’s norms. It is an exercise in hegemonistic exclusivism to argue that, philosophy, democracy, rule of law, rationality are Western or European in origin and that the rest of the world have come into these blessings through diffusion or apprenticeship.

For those who are in the transition from imperial subjecthood to post-imperial citizenhood, it is of strategic importance for them not to confuse what is argued in the international community as what ought to be the case as the reality of governments of societies in the transition from empire-state-societies to nation-state societies.

Those formerly and recently provinces of European capitalist empires must learn to appreciate the situation of transitions both for themselves and those of their former overlords. Transitions are transformational and contain opposing tendencies, conservative and revolutionary; the conservative contending for preserving the status quo and the revolutionary pressing for the transformation of the status quo. As it is for the “overlord” societies, so it is for “subject societies”.

The transition is what is presently the case and “should” not be confused with the desired outcome of policy or project to preserve the status quo or to transform it.

When applied to what is the case for Africa in the condition of transition, what is the case is society embedded in government and not society existing in opposition, or in control of government. Society existing in opposition to the state is a specific outcome of revolutionary change of European feudalism in which the state owned society specified as oppressed classes.

Since it is European political history that has been hegemonised, subjects of European capitalist empires have been taught to receive European history as mankind’s history, which it is not. In the struggle for liberation of provinces of European empires in Africa, it was the “province” that was declared independent.

This fact is easy to accept by Nigerians for in September 30, 1960, Nigeria was a province of the British Empire. A day later, October 1, 1960, Nigeria was declared to be independent. The structure of the province was still the same as the day before, with government whose function remained that of the colonial government, namely, the imperial ownership and control of every province of the empire.

It was that government on October 1, 1960 that was to be administered and controlled by politicians whose parties won the majority of votes cast in the 1959 elections organised by the departing colonial administrators of the government of the province. As it was in India in 1947, Gold Coast in 1957, so it was in Nigeria in 1960.

The administration of the government changed hands, without commensurate change in the structure and functions of the government.

The transition politics for the “indigenes” of the Nigerian province was and remain the contestations between politicians with interest in preserving the colonial structure of government, where government secured the subjection of the province, its economic control, in an effort to create a successor proprietary state instituting a successor rulership class on the one hand; and politicians championing the creation of a democratic society whose government is a servant of a post-colonial sovereign people.

This transition politics is contextualized by the transition politics of the British Imperial State where British pro-empire politicians are in conflict with British anti-empire politicians. What ought to be the normative relationship between government and society can only therefore be the outcome of what is the case in the politics, colonial and post-colonial in the Nigerian and British transitions.

It is evident that 50 years later, that the structure of government in Nigeria is still proprietary and society still remains largely in condition of subjecthood. This persistence of the structure and function of government is indicative of the balance of power in the transition politics of proprietary ownership of society and revolutionary establishment of popular democratic sovereignty.

This is the context for appreciating the charge given to Jega’s INEC and the constrains under which it presently functions.


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