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This chapter returns to questions raised in Chapter 2, and addresses them with respect to another historical period, that is, the era heralded by the introduction of multiparty politics and the granting of civic liberties since the early 1990s. The chapter asks what role cultural performances play in the legitimation of the state political order, and, if so, to what particular aspects of this order they lend legitimacy. Do the workings and effects of state-orchestrated cultural performances vary with the political and institutional conditions under which they take place? If they do, in what ways have the new conditions of multiparty democracy and a pluralized media landscape changed the terms of political legitimation? The chapter thus makes a historically specific argument about the relation between culture and legitimation: it examines how conditions for generating legitimacy change with the transition from an autocratic and authoritarian political system to one in which, as we saw in the preceding chapter, the channels by which people in local arenas seek to gain influence and to induce certain decisions have become more complex, confronting the central state with the challenge of containing the centripetal forces of decentralization.
In the Introduction to this book, I argued that existing scholarship on the role of culture in nation-building processes in the postcolonial world should be complemented on two accounts. First, the focus on ‘cultural forms’ (Corrigan and Sayer 1985) and on aesthetics needs to be balanced by a more comprehensive account of the different dimensions of ‘legitimation’ processes and of how these dimensions mould actors’ perceptions and dispositions. Second, as most studies centre on earlier periods of post-independence cultural politics, it is important to spell out the historical specificity of their arguments and insights. We need to ascertain whether the same government agenda of nation building holds true in the era of post-liberalization, when multicultural nation-states are challenged by a new politics of local particularity and difference on one side, and by the interventions and partly revised agendas of international and supra-national bodies on the other. In a post-structural adjustment era of curtailed state sovereignty, as state functions and services have been to a degree replaced by agencies of transnational reach, the interplay between a politics of (local, cultural) difference with a centralist state project of containment, generating legitimacy, and maintaining the capacity to govern in spite of its curtailed powers deserves further scrutiny.
You ask me what we, the farmers, got from decentralization? Well, nothing. Decentralization, the commune … all this is part of politiki people's wheeling and dealing. There is no advantage for us in decentralization, it is something for intellectuals from town.
Farmer in his sixties, from the circle of Kita, April 2015
For more than a decade after the toppling of President Traoré in 1991, scholars of Mali portrayed the Malian transition to multiparty democracy as a watershed event that marked a departure from a highly centralized and authoritarian single-party system to one granting room for public debate, associational life, and other forms of civil society participation (e.g. Bingen et al. 2000; Bratton et al. 2002; Wing 2008; Baudais 2016; see Schulz 2012: ch. 1). Stressing the legitimacy-enhancing effects of these institutional transformations, authors tended to take the actions and demands of an educated segment of Mali's urban populations as representative of ‘widespread political will’ and of the perceptions of ‘many Malian citizens’ (Wing and Kassibo 2014: 113; see also Bratton et al. 2002; Hetland 2007: 96–7; Wing 2008: 3, 6, 79). Against such sweeping generalizations about Malian popular opinion, and optimistic views on how swiftly institutional reform might bring about a change in people's constructions of political legitimacy, this chapter probes whether constitutional and institutional changes introduced in Mali in the 1990s did indeed prompt substantial transformations first, in popular perceptions of the legitimacy of the political system and its key representatives; and second, in the rationale and forms of political decision making, influence taking, and control.
The forms and nature of political practice in Africa have been a favourite subject of political and social science scholarship on Africa. In an effort to decide whether one can speak of a specific character in African politics (Médard 1982) or of ‘the African state’ (Bayart et al. 1997; Mbembe 1992a, b), authors have examined what rationale informs the actions of state officials and those who solicit the services of the state bureaucracy, or alternatively seek to evade its regulatory efforts. The results of these analyses have remained somewhat inconclusive, as authors have generated different, sometimes even opposed typologies of ‘the African state’ and ‘politics in Africa’ (see Bierschenk and Olivier de Sardan 2014).
As I brought this book manuscript to completion, the seismic reverberations of the coronavirus pandemic started to hit Africa's already seriously strained domestic economies. Within months, in August 2020, Mali was to experience another upheaval, with a coup forcing the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The implications of this latest turn of events are too early to predict, even if one could clearly see it coming during the preceding months.
The social, economic, and political crisis surrounding the coronavirus only accentuated long-standing fissions and tensions within the Malian body politic, with regard to people's apprehensions about the political system's brittle legitimacy, and also in the precarious power balance both between Keita's government and religious opinion leaders and within the highly divided field of Muslim activism. When the government imposed curfew measures in late March and multiplied its efforts to stage, discursively and materially, the state's capacity to provide the infrastructure necessary for the containment of Covid-19, responses oscillated between evasion, disapproval, verbal humour, and open resistance. As people's resentment of governmental efforts to contain the spread of the virus grew over the weeks, their responses put into relief a seething general discontent with President Keita's government. The tense political and economic situation was compounded by the uproar following the highly contested ruling of Mali's Constitutional Court on 30 April that reversed the results of the second turn of legislative elections held on19 April. The Court ruling increased the forty-three seats in the National Assembly won by the ruling RPM party in several urban areas according to the results published by the Ministry of Interior, to fifty-four seats. The report in the newspaper Le Guindo in response to the court decision, whose title translates as ‘Constitutional Court: Rest in peace, democracy’, mirrored the exasperation felt by many observers. Yet national media response was divided, with a majority of voices expressing indig-nation, cynicism, and undiluted fury, and a few isolated voices defending the court ruling. In the streets of Bamako and towns where electoral results had also been affected by the court ruling, violent protests erupted, with angry youth playing a leading role in venting frustration about both the court ruling and the Covid-19-related lockdown measures. Banners reading ‘die of coronavirus or die of hunger?’ reflected the dilemma felt by many, a dilemma that fuelled the rising protest against the stay-at-home orders and the call for ending them.
‘Hand-raise power – who has seen such a thing? Nobody has ever gained power just because we lifted our hands [to vote].’
(Male farmer, ca. thirty years old, from a village forty miles west of Kita, June 1995)
The way in which the vast literature on the nature of politics and the state in Africa has treated ‘legitimacy’ strongly resembles what, in the Introduction, I stated with regard to the social science and historical literature more generally. Scholars of politics in Africa use the notion of legitimacy expansively, yet they have paid surprisingly little attention to the exact criteria and process of assessing a political system's or individual power holders’ legitimacy. Also missing are conceptual reflections on the actors who assess and attribute authority, on their diversity, and on the dynamics that structure relations among them and that, in all likelihood, influence the very process of legitimation. This lack of attention is all the more surprising as most authors seem to agree that legitimacy ultimately refers to a social relationship or, as I would conceive of it, a web of social relations that include the person in power, and various, diversely connected actors who assess his exercise of power or/and the validity of a political system. A systematic account is needed of the grounds on which political legitimacy is based in concrete historical and cultural situations, and also of the actors who are involved in actual assessments of the legitimacy of a political order or individual powerholders.
As I spelled out in the Introduction, David Beetham's tripartite model of legitimacy offers a good starting point for a systematic empirical exploration of the ‘social construction of legitimacy’ (Beetham 1991: chs 2, 3). However, when using Beetham's model for a historically informed, empirical account a word of caution is in place. Beetham criticizes Weber and all authors who adopted his approach to legitimacy for equating legitimacy with people's subjective beliefs about whether or not a system or a person is legitimate. Still, when discussing the justifiability of rules as the second dimension of legitimacy, Beetham himself risks conceiving the problem as a matter of beliefs (that is, of subjective judgements about legitimacy).
In June 2015, a Friday sermon delivered by a preacher at a mosque in one of Bamako's popular neighbourhoods culminated in the following statement:
our problem is not the Islamists in the north, with whom we can always make arrangements. In fact, the ‘sharia’ they are imposing is not so different from our vision. Our main problem is the secessionists in the north. As long as we stay together as a nation, we can jointly work toward making Mali a country in which the rules of Islam are followed in everyday life.
This statement is remarkable in several respects. It asserts that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation-state is of greater import than the secular order to which the Malian nation-state adheres in its present form. According to the preacher, the state is in dire need of reform so as to allow its citizens to live in greater conformity with Islamic precepts aiming at the political and moral ordering of collective and personal life. The statement thus implies a judgement about the sorry state of affairs of the government and of the political order more generally, which is depicted as an order devoid of legitimacy because it cannot ensure the basic conditions for citizens to live in proper moral terms, that is, as believers who abide by God's law.
That ‘Islam’ has become the battle cry to challenge the legitimacy of Mali's political leadership is illustrated by the following sobering journalistic assessment of the political situation under the government of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita:
The ruling class in Mali has reached such a state of atrophy, of dejection and flight that is has been relegated to a role of servility vis-à-vis religious leaders who, whether one likes it or not, keep on a leash national public opinion. … (T)his public opinion has become a function of the sermons delivered by these preachers. … This is not surprising because they sell people the dream of a country liberated from corruption, and promise them a revenge on those who profit from being in power. … The imam Haidara is right when he says that the Muslim movement can elect whomever it wishes to run the country. He only declares via loudspeakers what everyone already knows. Indeed, one has the impression to live in a country in which the state and religious leaders seem to have entered a pact.
This study of the nature and dynamics of political legitimacy in Mali started out as a critique of existing accounts of legitimacy: of accounts that discuss political legitimacy mainly with reference to institutions and procedures of constitutionalism and democracy (e.g. Bratton et al. 2002; Wing 2008), even if they acknowledge the potential interference of conventional, shared normative standards for assessing rightful rule (e.g. Bleck 2015); of anthropological studies that either privilege cultural and performative aspects of legitimation or posit the ‘state effect’ as the result of an ensemble of rules, ‘discourses and practices of power’ (Aretxaga 2003: 398; see Mitchell 1991; Trouillot 2001: 129), without, however, examining how this form of governmentality actually operates and hence becomes effective; of investigations that centre on the ‘logic’ or ‘practical norms’ of political practice in Africa (de Herdt and Olivier de Sardan 2015); and finally, of accounts that either assume that certain legal and institutional conditions prove the existence of a legitimate political order (e.g. Weissbrod 1981) or altogether dismiss the relevance of ‘legitimacy’ to analyses of postcolonial politics.
As illustrated throughout this book, rather than discount the relevance of the concept of legitimacy to analyses of contemporary politics, in Africa and elsewhere, scholars would gain much from acknowledging that the concept allows us, indeed compels us, to address anew how understandings and the conferral or withdrawal of political legitimacy emerge in the actual encounter between those who hold formal positions of power and those who submit to their governance.
Empirically, the focus on actual engagements and situated assessments allows us to understand the history of postcolonial Mali, particularly of the post-democratization period since the 1991, not as one of simple failure or a loss in widely anchored legitimacy, nor as evidence of a continued patrimonial logic, allegedly unfettered by people's ongoing experiences with and adjustments to state actors, procedures, and institutions. Rather, what has emerged from the analysis is a history of extreme instability and volatility of procedures and institutions that, although nominally – that is, from the (normative) point of view of liberal political theory – are meant to confer legitimacy on the political system and office holders, do not live up to this promise. This is so partly because of their short-lived and unstable nature and also because they coexist uneasily with conventional rules of how power should be accessed and exercised.
What is the role of cultural performances in generating legitimacy for a political order? In engaging this question, this chapter pursues a double purpose. Conceptually, it critically reconsiders what Beetham identified as the third dimension of legitimacy. Empirically, the chapter centres on cultural performances as a domain in which claims to political legitimacy are made, assessed and contested.
I argued in the Introduction to this book that Beetham's argument about the ‘expression of consent’ as the third constitutive component of the ‘normative structure of legitimacy’ (1991: 90ff) rests on a conflation of genetic (causal) and constitutive accounts of legitimacy. Beetham identifies as ‘confusing’ aspects of consent and its relationship to legitimacy, first, the kind of evidence for the existence of consent, as opposed to, say, obedience generated through coercion; second, the question whether consent is the same as, or different from ‘belief in legitimacy’ (if, following Weber, one equates legitimacy with belief in legitimacy). To clarify the matter, Beetham maintains that what matters most about the relationship between consent and legitimacy is the public expression of consent, rather than its underlying belief. The public nature of the expression of consent and of voluntary agreement is what confers legitimacy on a political order or person (1991: 91). This argument suffers from a lack of distinction between a constitutive account of legitimacy (i.e. an identification of its components) on one side, and a genetic account of legitimacy (i.e. its emergence, confirmation and reproduction through the public expression of consent) on the other. However, the distinction between the genesis of an attitude (in this case, consent) and an identification of the components of legitimacy is of key import to empirically grounded accounts of legitimacy. As I will detail below, historical, sociological and anthropological studies that ignore this important distinction end up with limited accounts of the process of nation-state making that they set out to examine. Notable examples are the studies by Turino (2000), Askew (2002), and Apter (2005) who take up the lead of Corrigan and Sayer's The Great Arch (1985) in studying the role of culture in the making and consolidation of African nation-states. As insightful as these studies are, they mistake the process of generating in listeners particular attitudes of approval for the actual existence of legitimacy. They confound people's attitude to a political order with their expression of this attitude.
In March 2012, Mali plunged into chaos, thereby reversing its earlier role of a Western donor darling hailed as an exemplar of successful democratic transition in many political science and popular press publications. Following the toppling of President Amadou Toumani Touré by a group of disgruntled officers on 22 March, several separatist and Muslim militant groups operating in the Saharan border regions swiftly seized upon the opportunities afforded by political instability and occupied the country's northern regions. Even after the military occupation of major parts of the north by French and African forces in January 2013, instability and insecurity persisted there. Meanwhile, after a period of political turmoil shaped by shifting power wrangles within the political elite in the capital Bamako, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected the new president in Mali, under the watchful eyes of armed Western forces. Since then, in spite of international military presence and of the signing of a Peace Treaty by many armed oppositional groups in July 2015, groups of militants continue to challenge the central state in the name of an Islamic theocratic order and to launch attacks on state institutions and actors in north-eastern Kidal, central Macina, and the southern border region to Ivory Coast. In addition to these signs of insecurity and political turmoil in the territorial margins of the nation-state, Mali's government and state institutions are increasingly tested by numerous organizations and leaders, all of whom invoke Islam as a blueprint for a better political and moral order. How could it be that these various initiatives, particularly those employing the ‘symbolic language of Islam’ (Eickelman 2000), have emerged as a serious challenge to the political order and current government in Mali, and garner support among the country's various urban and rural populations?
This book argues that the concept of ‘legitimacy’, as well as explorations of its concrete empirical manifestations, are key to understanding the political disarray and insecurity to which Malians have been exposed in recent years. With this argument, I make a two-fold intervention. First, contrary to the critique – or wholesale dismissal – of the concept of ‘legitimacy’ in some of the social science literature, I maintain that ‘legitimacy’ is a valid, useful, and necessary concept to make sense of the fate of contemporary polities, in Africa and elsewhere, regardless of whether these polities have been inter-preted as ‘failed’, ‘strong’, ‘weak’, or ‘patrimonial’.
If we want democracy in Uganda we have got to work for it. We should be prepared even for death itself. […] ‘D.P.’ as we are called through the country, is an organisation of seriousminded men and women whose sole intention is to do good to all in Uganda and in the world. We shall not rest until our principles have been firmly established both in Buganda and in Uganda.
∼Benedicto Kiwanuka, 1962
Benedicto Kagimu Mugumba Kiwanuka was Uganda's most controversial and disruptive politician of the 1950s and early 1960s, and the most important Catholic politician in twentieth-century Uganda. He was the country's first elected prime minister (1961–62), before he and his party were outflanked by opposition political alliances. Shortly after being released from prison for allegedly backing the assassination attempt of President Milton Obote, he served as the country's first Ugandan Chief Justice between 1971 and 1972, when members of Idi Amin's security apparatus murdered him.
Kiwanuka provided the most original, far-sighted political thinking in late colonial Uganda. The resuscitation of his career demonstrates the extent to which Ugandans have a heritage of politics that is more than people ‘eating’ power or the state, what Jean-François Bayart described as la politique du ventre. Kiwanuka's activism and intellectual history helps us understand in new ways how arguments about pluralism and democracy unfolded in late colonial Uganda. Ideas about ‘truth’ and ‘justice’ were foundational political and theological ideals that evoked regional ruptures and solidarities. Activists and organisers, operating in various regions of the country, intentionally underscored different aspects of these ideals to imagine representative possibilities in the postcolony. Cosmopolitan claims and local interests animated competing historical claims and charismatic competition that eventually led, not simply to the failure of the Democratic Party (DP), but to extrajudicial killing and civil war.
This book seeks to recover the power, possibilities, and pitfalls of Benedicto Kiwanuka's and DP's Catholic, liberal democratic nationalism in independence- era Uganda. Our project demonstrates the complicated ways in which ethnic, religious, and regional identities overlapped, co-existed, and collided, while also reinforcing the importance of local politics in DP's and Kiwanuka's struggle to ‘conceive the nation’.