The Political Economy of Development,
Post-colonial Analysis and “Bad Samaritans”
Fernando López

Pioneers of development made the mistake of projecting the model of industrialization and modernization onto the new countries emerging from the de-colonization process in the mid-twentieth century, without taking into account the formation of the modern state or reflecting on the nature of the states and their evolution from a historical perspective (Petiteville, 1998). Development was translated into the implementation of “economic policies” that involved predatory investments of financial resources to make the clientelist political systems work. By the same token it would be a mistake to generalize these institutional bases of the “European miracle” in reference to non-European countries, as suggested by North and Thomas (Jones, 1997). To avoid falling for the myth of modernity, rooted in the notion of European superiority and projected onto “traditional” societies (Dussel, 1993), new studies underscore economic, social, political and cultural interactions between both worlds (Carmagnani, 2004). From this perspective, the legacy of the state’s formation and the inherited national-economic integration is a crucially important component (Arrighi, 2002). The force behind colonization sprung from the political fragmentation and continuous conflicts within the nation state system, and violence is inherent to the rise of capitalism. Mercantilism sought economic prosperity and the increasing power of the state; it emphasized the need and use for war as a means of expanding state power and to ensure tributary dependency and to control an economic enclave (Anderson, 1984). Mercantilism combined a political system, absolute monarchy, army and navy protection for commercial monopolies, the conquest of America and the slave trade (Amin, 2001). Without the conquest and penetration into the “underdeveloped overseas” markets and the slave trade that took place in parallel to the states’ formation, the high levels of growth would not have been achieved, because the exchange of all kinds of products was multiplied, at the same time that commercial transactions were guaranteed by an endless flow of precious metals (O’Brien, 2004). Capitalism, with a different level of predation, aborted the colonies’ endogenous evolution, conditioning and sometimes preventing growth, and interrupting processes that were leading to the emergence of proto-national states, currently pseudo-nations (Prunier, 1990).

But in some cases the history of colonization is missing from the narratives on the birth and evolution of Western civilization (Ibáñez, 2007), and in others it is presented as the story of developing empty territories and creating institutions, without referring to the brutality of the predatory methods used (Mbembe, 2006). In the words of Mezzadra (2008), slavery and colonialism were veritable social experimentation laboratories. The former, a mode of production, circulation and distribution of wealth based on the institutionalization of rule over the unobtainable; the latter, a global experience that contributed to the spreading of representations, techniques and institutions.

Faced with the concept of the colony as a digression, théorie postcoloniale highlights the role of the colonial period and relates colonial arbitrariness with postcolonial power in societies that issued from the relationship of the violence that was inherent in colonization (Mbembe, 2000). This line of argument offers an alternative reading of modernity and sets out to investigate the violence that forms an integral part of a conception of reason that attempts to harmonize faith in the Western man with the disregard for the colonized person’s life, work and world of meanings. Postcolonial criticism takes two directions: it rebuilds the colonial narrative and underlines its powers of fabulation, and undertakes a biopolitical critique of European humanism and universalism, unveiling a subject for which wealth is a means of exercising the right over the life and death of the “Other.” Zulea (2004) writes that the distance between principles and facts had never been greater: “the most sordid interests and most inhuman massacres are cloaked in the most elaborate theology.”

The link between development and Westernization is questioned from the standpoint that the modernization process in Africa does not equate to the development experience in the West; the continent is immune to Westernization and Western concepts are re-Africanized according to local sociocultural norms (Mbembe, 2000, 2006). With a focus on the nature of power in Africa, emphasis is placed on the importance for historical and sociopolitical continuity, and the existing links between the exercise of power in precolonial, colonial and contemporary times (Chabal, 2007). The colonial era defined the future of countries, erecting barriers and implementing a model of statehood that suited European interests based on the existence plentiful natural resources. With independence came the intensification of the clientelist and personalist structure that is characteristic of the colonial system (Cooper, 2002; Mbembe, 2008).

It is argued that interpretations of the institutionalization of power based on the Weberian notion of the formation of the modern state in terms of the gradual acquisition of the monopoly of violence do not adequately explain the state’s role in Africa. But Weber (1994) himself, proposed an alternative interpretation with his idea of the “patrimonial state,” and the means of organizing political power in such a way. From this perspective, the unfinished and improper institutionalization of the state is proposed as either overcoming patrimonialism or not, expressed by establishing an independent bureaucracy and in making a functional separation of public and private spheres. Similarly, the political concept of “useful” violence—in Hobbes’ and Weber’s optimistic view of the state—should be reexamined, or substituted by Machiavelli’s pessimistic, power-based vision that is more applicable to the postcolonial state (Abega, 2006; Hirschleifer, 1994).