The Political Economy of Development,
Post-colonial Analysis and “Bad Samaritans”
Fernando López
The postcolonial state is subject to a number of interpretations. It is sometimes referred to as the “transplanted state” (Badie, 1992) in reference to some institutions imported from the West; or the “hybrid state” (Bayart, 1989; Darbon, 1990), following the reappropriation of the Western norm and its adaptation to Africa; or the “neopatrimonial state” (Médart, 2006), referring to a political structure built around sumptuary consumption and absolute disregard for productive investment. In the case of Africa, rather than the state, we must look at the simple bureaucratic structure of exploitation, incapable of ensuring law and order, defense, contracts or infrastructure. The idea of the state as being vacuous and inefficient has also been mooted. Vacuous because it was not consolidated after independence and was held hostage to factional disputes; inefficient because the elites established an inverse relationship between its institutionalization and usefulness. An interpretative paradigm called the “political instrumentalization of disorder” has been suggested, referring to how political actors acquire benefits by creating a climate of confusion, uncertainty and chaos that reigns in African societies. This instrumentalization prevents a more thorough examination of the state’s institutionalization, and the institutional fragility encourages the political instrumentalization of corruption (Chabal and Daloz, 2001).

Violence is another manifestation of the fragility of the state-making process. This calls into question the explanation of “rational choice” based on “greed” and its reflection in the struggle for control over lucrative natural resources. Violence has been institutionalized, becoming the link between the economic, social, and political spheres; to understand it requires an awareness of how power has been wielded on the continent since independence. In brief, the combination of formal and informal elements that link state to society conspire to uphold a (neo-) patrimonial form of government, contrary to institutionalization and to development that instrumentalizes violence for political or economic ends. Violence and conflict are instruments of the policy (Mbembe, 2007; Chabal, 2007).

Coercion in postcolonial [states] is a condition of political domination and forms an integral part of the forced labor of vassals and the conflict for confiscating the result of the accumulation. In this sphere, political violence, as a condition of the domination, is linked to the exercise of power (Foucault, 1991), and if related to the postcolonial state’s attempt to accumulate power, far from being dysfunctional in regard to the general logic of state’s formation, it would simultaneously be a resource and a form of political action (Mbembe, 2007). As all essential wealth transits through the state, the consumerist idea of the public sphere leads to violence in order to maintain status or to benefit kindred groups and political rivalry is a fight between factions for control over the bureaucratic apparatus inherited from colonial times. The colonial state used coercion and co-option and the postcolonial state swaps the social pact for violence (Aguirre, 2006). Violence is rooted in the historical, social, political, economic and cultural context of postcolonial Africa.

Since the 1990s, and in a post-Westernized fashion, the postcolonial discourse has been incorporated into Latin American studies partly to mitigate its traditional bias toward the study of European colonialism in Asia and Africa (Coronil, 1998; De la Campa, 2008). There is an insistence to extend the period of analysis until the sixteenth century, when a “universal perspective” is given to geographic space (Castro-Gómez, 1998; Hernández Ramírez, 2007) and the need is emphasized to give shape to its historical, epistemological, cultural and political differences (Mignolo, 1995).

Most research refers to the historic moment when states were born as being the point at which their eventual shape was defined, but opinions differ on this point. Some authors argue the colonial tradition persisted in the post-independence phase and created strongly authoritarian local rule (Pérez, 2007); others think that the transplant of the idea of the modern European state onto Latin America created a tension, that still exists, between the formal modernity of the Latin American state and the pre-modern political and religious culture dominant in the region (Oszlak, 2007). Another line of argument suggests that economic progress was hindered and the problems created in the new state were due to the institutions newly formed after independence and their subsequent development, without attributing the failure to “Spanish rule.” The creole colonial population had to renegotiate the terms of their power over the various ethnic groupings, guaranteed by the monarchy during the “colonial rule,” to seal their political pre-eminence and impose and ensure their socio-economic projects. But after independence the insurgent colonial population invented an imaginary ascendancy for themselves, denying their past as colonizers and assuming the role of “colonized.” And finally, the state-forming process has been compared, understood as a route toward “the centralization of power” in Europe and Latin America (Tilly). Despite the marked differences between independence and inter-state wars, the influence of armed conflict has been considered as having influenced the process of state formation and puts Latin America in the category of “capitalized coercion,” although it referred to a brutal coercion and a meager capital (López-Alves, 2003).

One idea holds for most of the analyses: the colonial logic, which went hand in hand with the industrial European capitalist expansion and development, remains to this day. Despite formal independence, colonial practices still hold sway. The “discovery” and conquest led to the hierarchized colonial society, and when that disappeared the domain’s structure remained (Álvarez Villaverde, 2008; Browitt, 2009). To understand the scheme of the commercial-economic, ideological, cultural, and socio-political relations between colonies and colonizers, the “Carrera de Indias” (the race to the Indies) is an obligatory reference point that sums up perfectly this system and that includes “the flows of material goods, men and women, slaves, money, capital and migration; geopolitical competition, monopolies, institutions, and all types of relationships between the metropole and the New World that were developed for over three centuries (Albán, 2008: 244-246).