The state in Africa is in crisis. Weakened by structural adjustment polices, discredited by corruption, contested by the parallel bureaucracies created by the system of international cooperation, its administrative organs lack the means to function, lack motivated staff, and struggle to fulfil the functions which in principle are central to the role of the state. The doctrine of 'good governance' appears no more than a new condition attached to foreign aid, but is nevertheless taking a place as the sole point of reference on which any critique of the state may be based. This highly normative concept refers to a political regime which respects human and civic rights and which can rely on an effective, competent, responsible and uncorrupt bureaucracy to implement its measures. It contains both a technical element (in the sense of improved public administration) and highly political elements. The latter, in the form of the narrow link proposed between sustainable economic development and the installation of a state of law on the model of the Western democracies, are the less explicit of the two. The very notion of governance as it is used in development parlance is paradoxical: it recommends a vigorous civil society to counter-balance and control a state which is always suspected of various shortcomings, but it also leaves unspoken the specific role of social forces in this process, tending to concentrate on the production of technical rules for the efficient administration of public services.
In organising this conference, APAD proposes to go beyond the notion of 'good governance' to explore empirically the senses of the notion of governance when this is relieved of its normative elements. Of prime interest is the way in which women and men define and regulate those affairs which they consider to be public, or in other words how they govern themselves, in the primary sense of the word (echoed by Foucault). This empirical grounding will permit the exploration of ideas which are too often presented in the form of categorical oppositions, whereas it would be more accurate to imagine them as points on an ideal-typical continuum which is constituted by concrete actions. Thus, for example, there is often talk of pairs such as state/society, private/public, exclusion/inclusion. In a very concrete manner, what is required is to describe and analyse the institutional and political forms created by individual actors and social groups – whether statal, parastatal, or private – in their efforts to ensure the provision of a certain number of public, collective or communal services (the nuances of these terms may emerge from our studies). This is in regard to matters such as health, water provision, transport, education, security, justice, humanitarian aid, and, in short, access to the rights of a citizen. Which actors are involved in the constitution of, or exclusion from, these processes, and according to what criteria of eligibility or legitimacy? How are the rules for such services produced, debated, transformed and controlled? How are the services themselves performed, in which precise situations, in regard to a range of technical, economic and political factors?
The theme of corruption appears to run right through this subject. The fight against political-administrative corruption and the promotion of citizens' participation in governance are among the main themes of current development policies. Formerly seen as the oil in the machinery of a creaking state machinery, corruption is today seen rather as the main obstacle to the economic development of African states. It is, though, less helpful to interpret corruption in functional terms (i.e. as help or hindrance, oil or sand in the machinery of government) or as a simple deviation from the legal norms of bureaucratic organisations, than to consider it as a means to study other objects. Itself politically controversial, corruption allows the study, if only by default, of the real functioning and the processes of socialisation of state institutions, and also an identification of the spaces where the law and state control do not penetrate. It offers an opportunity to reconsider the frontiers, fluid and shifting even in Western societies, between public and private functions, institutions and resources. Corruption thus can serve as a privileged indicator for the analysis of concrete manifestations of public space, of the professional ethics of functionaries, or the relations between bureaucracies and the general population.
These empirical questions may be approached in a variety of contexts, for example relative to the degree of social violence, latent or explicit, in urban, periurban or rural situations, or in regard to the degree of agro-ecological, spatial, economic or political marginalisation of the zone under study. In any event, it is a question not only of understanding how social actors administer their affairs, but also of examining what discourses they produce relative to these practices and what representations and models of strategic behavior they develop in regard to the other actors involved, whether or not associated with the state. The lines of research sketched in the following paragraphs constitute points of entry which can aid our reflection.
1. The sites of production of public services and the management of public affairs
Public is not the same as state-centered. Beyond the classic points of observation of the relations between public services and their users, such as customs services, police and gendarmerie, forest and water resources, justice, territorial administration and decentralised government, it is essential to examine the new spaces in which public services are produced. These include committees for water management, producers' associations, and also a wealth of institutions arising from the privatisation of education and health. Other sites are implicated in the management of public affairs, from a wide variety of areas, including national political arenas, whose involvement in local matters varies considerably from one country to another, religious institutions, which contribute in an often surprising manner to the redefinition of the public sphere, non-government assistance, whose development is often formed through extraversion and complex logic, behind the rhetoric of participation and the ideology of disinterested service. These are all features in the landscape. Finally, the sites in which public services are produced can be highly informal and syncretic and little bureaucratised, and this needs to be seen in comparativist perspective.
It is of interest to identify circuits of production and the allocation of resources designed for public use and to examine the processes in which conversions take place between private resources, individual and collective, and public ones. The sites of debate and decision-making are often private collective bodies, and it is thus by default that ideas of the public good and the state may be approached. The logic in operation in regard to the management of public affairs may be identified, for example in logics of fragmentation and local autonomy, extraversion, the construction of identities, and hybridity between state and non-state forms, allowing the analyst both to have a view of a process and to consider in a non-normative manner matters affecting public space and identity, and to renew the debate on the notion of the public affairs on an empirical basis.
2. Production, negotiation and sanctioning of rules, laws and norms
The observation that there is a disjuncture between the legal-rational norms which are deemed to regulate public administration in Africa, and the standards which really apply, hardly needs to be made. The real state of affairs is the result of compromises, negotiations and inventions of new powers and rules of play. This observation could also be extended to associations, cooperatives and non-governmental organisations, thus opening one of the comparativist perspectives which will be one of the features of this conference. More generally, the boundaries between laws, rules and social norms seem difficult to discern.
We may cite the case of state agencies. They grant, they control, and they penalise. In order to exercise these three functions, administrative services possess a stock of norms which are sometimes insufficient (such as in regard to the administration of land law in certain countries) and sometimes fragmented (for example in customs administration). Between over and under-regulation, the actual application of laws and rules is often dependent on widespread arbitrary powers. Fraud may be overlooked if the amount is small. Alternatively, offenders might be penalised, but there is discussion over the amount of a fine. In contexts where administrative laws and rules are rarely known to the public, the monopoly of technical-bureaucratic knowledge, combined with a low degree of responsibility shown by administrative personnel towards the public, permits a daily negotiation of the powers of the administration. The utter opacity which is general in this matter, joined to a selective application of the rules, are often the cause for a certain number of strategies of evasion and anticipation on the part of service users, as well as a factor in the emergence of various forms of corruption.
Moreover, the system of state norms does not correspond to popular norms. The boundary between the licit and the illicit becomes fluid and can be displaced according to circumstances as much by the consumers of services as by agents of the state, the latter torn between the duties which govern their status and the pressure of the social and political networks of which they are part. Finally, the number of institutions which compete with the state in the provision of resources, the norms which they convey and the collective services which they offer, further adds to the institutional uncertainty which faces social actors, whether civil servants or consumers of public services.
3. Acquiring knowledge of bureaucratic systems, brokering and corruption
In their relations with bureaucracies which are unpredictable and arbitrary, consumers have to undergo a veritable initiation in order to understand the way in which the system really works. This apprenticeship in the knowledge of informal codes presupposes the development of a detailed local knowledge of corruption. Such knowledge of local bureaucracies, whether state or non-state, is often aided by persons offering administrative services, such as messengers, secretaries, clerks, volunteer workers and interpreters, whose personal trajectories and range of influence are worthy of study.
Not everyone is equal in regard to public services. What is the relationship between a consumer's position in the social and economic hierarchy and the same person's eventual implication in corruption? Are some sectors more liable to corruption than others? Is it possible to create a map of positions regarded as particularly rewarding, including those created by development institutions and, increasingly, within the world of associations? In effect, it is highly likely that some sectors are more open to corruption than others, according to the identity of consumers of services (whether they are rich, influential, integrated into social and political networks) and of the types of services or resources offered, or according to the extent of the discretionary powers wielded by state functionaries. Finally, are there any areas where the powers of the state are not negotiable, or only marginally so?
4. Representations of the public and the administration and trajectories of social success
The decline in the economic position of state employees, the strong influence of political networks which are often able to short-circuit administrative action, the growing impotence of the state in the provision of even the most basic services, the spread of illicit transactions varying from racketeering and active or passive corruption to favoritism of all sorts, all contribute to the general discrediting of public power, which becomes the scapegoat of economic crisis. At the same time, the non-state sector is seen as the source of all virtue.
How is the public function considered in a time when the state is being privatised, as much by its own agents as by consumers? What are career prospects inside and outside government service? Is economic success linked in popular perception to tenure of a position in the public administration? Are we not rather seeing the emergence of new elites and new forms of leadership which enjoy relative autonomy, claiming to stand for development, to represent associational life, and making use of discourses from the worlds of enterprise, religion and tradition, combining extraversion with a strong local grounding? In this respect, norms of public ethics tend to evolve in the sense of autonomy relative to the state and its supposed centrality.
5. Between denunciation and justification
The daily functioning of public services and parastatal bureaucracies generates ambivalent discourses and perceptions, oscillating between the denunciation of corrupt practices and their justification and banalisation. Thus, a customs officer can lament the fact that his junior personnel take bribes while simultaneously justifying this by the non-payment of their salaries. In the same vein, a businessman may be concerned by the degree of bribery necessary to obtain a public contract, but will find it quite normal to use building materials which have been smuggled. Arguments tending to legitimise the evasion of state laws and associative rules exist alongside others which stigmatise those who abuse the powers granted to them by the state. In general, there are few accusations which progress from rumors into open denunciations, and still fewer cases where these are followed by effective sanctions. The existence of widespread impunity, lack of clarity in the application of rules and the inefficiency of formal means of redress create a climate of permanent suspicion. In a system which functions in a mode of constant accusation, no one (neither civil servants, nor officers of non-governmental associations, nor the users of public services) is actually constrained by the rules which are officially in force. The result is a general recourse to unofficial and/or illicit transactions as the normal mode of interaction between public administrations and their consumers. It is in this perspective, and in relation or opposition to the logic of payment of a legitimate due, that one may analyse the question of fiscality, so important to the constitution of the relationship of an individual towards the state and so vital to the construction of citizenship. The forms of fiscal extraction most widely favoured, the circulation and local management of fiscal resources, the changes which have taken place over time, the attitude both real and perceived which people have towards taxation are elements which form the representations and daily practices of the state.
In the tradition of APAD, this conference is intended in the first instance as a forum for discussion and for the development of these themes on a solidly empirical basis, combining a variety of methods and disciplines and in a comparative perspective. The lines of research suggested above are intended only as guidelines or suggestions and are not intended to pre-judge the organisation of the conference in thematic panels which take account of the propositions submitted by individual researchers.
This APAD Conference will be held May 22-25, 2002.
It is organised by:
Euro-african Association for the Anthropology of Social Change and Development (APAD)
African Studies Center (ASC) Leiden, The Netherlands
Giorgio Blundo (EHESS), Thomas Bierschenk (Mainz University), Pierre-Yves Le Meur (Mainz University), Mirjam de Bruijn (ASC), Han Van Dijk (ASC), Stephen Ellis (ASC).
Abstracts (in English or French, one page max.) are expected by December 1, 2001
Full papers (in English or French) are expected by February 15, 2002.
Send comments and questions to H-Net
Webstaff. H-Net reproduces announcements that have been submitted to us as a
free service to the academic community. If you are interested in an announcement
listed here, please contact the organizers or patrons directly. Though we strive
to provide accurate information, H-Net cannot accept responsibility for the text of
announcements appearing in this service. (Administration)