n Institute of African Studies Research Review - The neopatrimonial framework and military coups d'état in Africa : reflections




In the immediate post-colonial era, in all too many cases, changes in government in Africa occurred via military putsch. Military coups more or less became institutionalized. Re-democratization in most parts of Africa since 1990 spread the hope that Africa is done with military coups. Nonetheless, political events in Togo after Eyadema and recently in the Republic of Guinea where the military seized power seem to dash that hope. And, there is an emerging concern that if the current liberal agenda in vogue in most of Africa fails, Africa may return to the military putsch trajectories. In the past, attempts to comprehend the pervasive presence of the military in politics proceeded via military explanations, class, prebendalism, ethnic and weak state institutions analysis. Our point of departure, however, is the ingrained informal institutions of neopatrimonial rule so pervasive in post-colonial Africa. This paper explores the validity of the neopatrimonial thesis as an explanation for military coups in Sub-Saharan Africa. First, we examine the concept of neopatrimonialism as a description of the nature of African states. Then we outline three ways in which neopatrimonialism might contribute to political instability, focusing on the ''pure'' version of the theory and its connection to theories of ethnic conflict. The paper concludes by considering the limitations of the neopatrimonial paradigm. The paper is, thus, intended to augment our understanding of the relative utility of neopatrimonialism as an elucidation of military interventions in Africa.


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