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Chapter 2: Political Survival of Ruling Elites

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Chapter 2: Political Survival of Ruling Elites


The key objective of this chapter is to provide a theoretical framework for the thesis. It is impossible to investigate the EU’s trade systems in a vacuum, without reference to the context of the EU, the global context or the West African context. Most researchers have focused on the EU or the global context. For example, in his study of the EPA from the EU’s perspective, Mark Langan used the theoretical language of normative power and moral economy to demonstrate the role of power and interests in shaping norms within the trade systems, and also showed the potential for a normative-outcome gap (Langan, 2014, 272). Other writers have used a framework positing that the entire ACP-EU trade system should be understood as encapsulating the liberal norms of North-South trade relations at any given time (Brown, 2000, 368). Within this framework (that references the global context), the EU exports global liberal norms to Africa through the trade system, and the current EPA was written in terms of the exportation of neoliberal norms to Africa (Siles-Brügge, 2014; Canterbury, 2009; Gathii, 2011; Hurt, 2003, 161). A focus on the trade systems from an ACP or African perspective necessitates a theoretical language reflecting this focus. For example, in the book Collective Clientelism, John Ravenhill’s focus on the ACP led him to theorize the Lomé Convention as a clientelist relationship constructed by ACP rulers as a particularistic arrangement to provide insurance against the insecurities of the marketplace (Ravenhill, 1985, 3). Likewise, the West African context is central to the current study and its theoretical framework.

The link between the trade systems and the absence of economic change in West Africa is the empirical focus of the thesis. Douglass North’s LAO framework (North et al., 2009; 2011; 2013; 2015) is used to explicate the political origins of economic change in the African state type (with the absence of economic change being explained as a function of the interaction between the EU trade systems and domestic elites). Appended to this framework is Jean-Franc̜ois Bayart’s theory of extraversion, which is used to capture the ways in which the EEC’s trade systems interact with political elites to preclude the political conditions for economic change. In other words, the framework provides testable explanations of the domestic political foundation for pursuing economic change in the African state type and shows how such an attempt is precluded by the EU trade systems.

First, North’s LAO framework offers an understanding of the centrality of elite coalitions to political order in developing countries (where loyalty is given to ethnic and other groups as opposed to the central government), and how the formation and activities of such coalitions lead to an institutional logic of clientelism (North et al., 2009). The authority of such coalitions is based on the achievement of a minimum level of economic performance (Khan, 2011, 4); falling short of this requirement inevitably dislodges ruling elites (Sen, 2014). Therefore, in LAO countries (countries in which politics are constituted by the actions of elite coalitions), the failure to meet a minimum level of economic performance is related to the collapse of coalitions and political order (North et al., 2015, 6). In this theoretical language, the political origins of economic change are located in the attempt to meet the minimum economic requirement for political survival (Doner et al., 2005). However, using Jean-François Bayart’s theory of extraversion (the use of external relations to guarantee political survival), I show that ruling elites in West Africa have used the trade systems under investigation to solve the problem of meeting a minimum economic requirement, thereby precluding the political conditions for economic change.

The following sets out the theoretical framework: the assumptions of North’s LAO framework (for the African state type); the political origins of economic change in LAO; and Bayart’s extraversion theory, which shows how ruling elites in West Africa have used the EU’s trade systems to ensure their survival.

Assumptions of LAO Framework (for the African State Type)

The starting point of the access-order framework is the deflation of the single-actor model of the state and Weber’s thesis that the most important feature of states in which order prevails over violence or disorder is the collective agreement that the state alone holds legitimate control over, or a monopoly of, the means of violence (North et al., 2008, 17; Gray, 2016, 5). The Weberian idea is evidently problematic when applied to developing countries in which the state is viewed with some degree of hostility by subjects and loyalty is afforded to an ethnic or other sub-state organisations. North and his co-researchers reasoned that political order in such cases is clearly not the outcome of the state monopoly of violence but the result of a bargain between different groups represented by powerful individuals. Within this framework, powerful individuals are elites with various leadership positions, material or intangible (religious, ethnic, etc.), that give them the option of mobilizing group violence when needed.

In Violence and Social Orders, North et al. (2009, 1) defined societies in which political order is achieved through the above process of bargaining as ‘LAO societies’. The conception of political order in developing countries as a process of elite bargaining raises the question of the outcome of such bargaining. North and his co-researchers posited that the outcome of such an agreement is mirrored in clientelistic institutions (mostly informal) that distribute privileges to elites and groups, such as power sharing and zoning; the resulting privileges by their very nature limit economic and political competition (North et al., 2008, 19; 2013, 8). The ‘limited’ component of the term ‘LAO’ conveys the impossibility of economic and political competition in such societies: powerful elites receive privileges that by their very nature preclude the development of institutions promoting political and economic competition.

As North et al. (2009) argued, social scientists concerned with how the state interacts with wider society have modeled the state as a rent-/revenue-maximizing monarch. However, when the state is revealed to be a coalition of diverse groups, neopatrimonialism and clientelism (common in Africa, and conceptualized as political systems in which leaders use state resources to secure the allegiance of certain groups in the general population; Bach 2011; Pitcher et al., 2009) are, according to this framework, a means of solving the problem of violence. “Systematic rent-creation through limited access,” wrote North et al., “is not simply a method of lining the pockets of the dominant coalition; it is the essential means of controlling violence” (North et al., 2009, 17). Accordingly, LAO societies must have a source of rent extraction to prevent the disintegration of the coalition that creates political order (Sen, 2015, 47).

The political realities of African countries conform to theoretical explications of LAO. Several writers have already submitted that the general conception of the state in the IR literature does not fit with the African reality (see Clapham, 1996; Harman and Brown, 2013). The African political reality, as theorized by Douglas Lamke (2011), is one in which sub-state groups such as ethnic groups fight for power on the center stage. According to the LAO theory, the African state type is the product of negotiation between sub-state political organizations represented by elites, regardless of the formal political system. For North et al., all developing countries are characterized as LAO, but the distinction is made between ‘fragile’ LAO societies with high levels of violence and rebellious activities, ‘basic’ LAO societies in which governance is fairly well established and violence is often latent and managed, and ‘advanced’ LAO societies featuring long-lasting coalitions and a high level of organization.

Broadly speaking, North distinguished between LAO and open access order (OAO) societies; the latter are common in developed countries. “All open access societies satisfy the Weberian assumption: their states possess a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence” (North et al., 2008, 22). In OAO states, political order is not the outcome of negotiation between different powerful groups; therefore, ‘impersonality’ is possible alongside political and economic competition because there is no distribution of privileges for the sake of political order. Naturally, therefore, OAO societies are more peaceful than their LAO counterparts, and experience greater and more stable growth due to economic competition. As most Western countries are OAO states, the political logic is completely different in developed and developing countries. Although North and his co-researchers proposed that the transition from a limited-access to an open-access system involves the attainment of a set of ‘doorstep conditions’ (the rule of law for elites, perpetually lived organizations in the public and private spheres, and consolidated control over the military), the question of transition is open to further research. However, this question is somewhat extraneous to the current research.

More specifically, it is worth noting that the theoretical language of North’s access orders is similar to that of the theory of political settlement proposed by Mushtaq Khan (Gray, 2015). Like the access-order framework, the political-settlement framework begins with an understanding of the underlying political logic and distribution of power between social groups in the political systems on which states are based in developing countries. In other words, a political settlement is a form of social order based on agreements between groups that set the context, both formal and informal, for government policy and institutions (Di John and Putzel, 2009; Khan, 2011). This is essentially a restatement of North’s position. Institutions are defined by both Khan and North as the rules that guide social and economic interaction; but they also determine the flow of resources to different groups and thereby create winners and losers. The distributional logic of dominant political and economic institutions in LAO states must reflect the underlying distribution of power. For Khan (2010, 40), institutions that deviate from the underlying distribution of power will be either sabotaged or overturned by the political context. Like North et al., Khan characterized political settlements in developed countries as fundamentally different from those in developing countries. Khan used the term ‘clientelist political settlements’ (which form a broad category in modern developing countries), in which underlying power structures create preferential institutions that reflect the bargaining of ruling elites, to restate the LAO framework. Clientelist political settlements have a broad range of political arrangements, from military dictatorship to competitive clientelism and a one-party state. It is not the political system but the underlying bargaining of ruling elites that leads to the “settlement” or order (Khan, 2011, 30). Whereas North used the term ‘OAO’ to characterize the political systems of developed countries, Khan used that of ‘capitalist political settlements’, arguing that formal institutions in developed countries reflect the dominant economic power of capitalists.3

But to return to the issue: according to North et al. (2015, 4), the LAO framework poses two developmental problems, one of which is central to this thesis. The first problem is how to understand the transition of societies from LAO to OAO systems or from clientelist settlements to capitalistic political settlements. The failed Washington consensus and the good-governance approach addressed the first development problem, seeking to dislodge clientelistic features in developing countries to promote effective resource allocation or economic competition. Both North and Khan were opposed to the good-governance approach, or what Peter Evans called institutional monocropping, wherein idealized versions of Anglo-American institutions are imposed on developing countries to dislodge clientelist features (Khan, 2011, 30: Khan, 2012, 669; North et al., 2015, 3). As North et al. wrote, “the Washington consensus of the 2000s is dominated by efforts to embed institutions of open access orders – property rights, entry into markets, elections, or institutions of good governance – directly into limited access societies. Because these reforms ignore the logic of the LAO, they usually fail to produce development and sometimes exacerbate the problem of violence” (North et al., 2015, 3). However, the problem of transition from LAO to OAO states is outside the purview of the current study.
The second problem is how to understand development and structural change within a LAO state or in a clientelist political settlement (North et al., 2015, 4). LAO societies exist on a spectrum from pro-development through sterility to anti-development. A raft of scholars have aided understanding of developmental changes within LAO societies or clientelist political settlements (Doner et al., 2005; Booth and Therkildsen, 2010; Gray and Whitfield, 2014; Whitfield et al., 2015). Some researchers have shown that the presence of technologically strong domestic capitalists within a ruling coalition leads to successful economic transformation because the advantages offered to these capitalists for clientelistic purposes, such as subsidies and trade advantages (e.g. infant-industry protection), are industrial policies in themselves (Khan, 2010; Whitefield and Gray, 2014; Whitefield et al., 2015). In other words, the distributional logic of a political coalition that includes domestic capitalists stresses the promotion of domestic capitalism. Therefore, it is necessary to determine the nature of domestic capitalists and their relative power in the ruling coalition to understand the movement of government policies and institutions (formal and informal) towards support for local capitalism. Indeed, the development of some Asian countries has been written in these terms: as clientelist systems in which ruling elites favored coalition members and in the process built up local industries (Booth and Golooba-Mutebi, 2011; Kelsall, 2011).
Likewise, Gray and Whitfield (2004, 20) argued that the lack of structural transformation in Africa after independence was due to the absence of local capitalists in the ruling coalition that emerged at the point of independence. In countries whose ruling coalitions included practitioners of small-scale agriculture (for example, cocoa and coffee planters were part of Côte d’Ivoire’s ruling coalition after independence), small-scale agriculture was promoted as part of the distribution of privileges to powerful groups regardless of their economic viability. For example, the negotiation of the political settlement that emerged from the colonial system in Côte d’Ivoire involved cocoa and coffee planters (McGovern, 2011, 77; Marshall-Fratani, 2006). Therefore, some of the informal institutions (such as open-land and immigration policies) in Côte d’Ivoire in the 1960s favored cocoa planters. However, the crucial theoretical question concerns the factors that lead ruling elites to pursue economic change in such circumstances. This is especially important because the pursuit of economic change can be politically costly in LAO societies (see Mann and Berry, 2015, 124): it necessarily involves resource reallocation, the enforcement of new rules, the choice of new winners, and institutional changes, all of which may alter distributional patterns and affect entrenched interests (Whitefield et al., 2015, 61).
In other words, LAO societies have certain ingrained economic arrangements, such that economic change (in ordinary times) may threaten the position of ruling elites and their coalitions. For example, in Côte d’Ivoire, where cocoa planters were part of the ruling coalition (and ruling elites, such as the first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, and his top aides, were among the top cocoa planters in the country), there was not only an institutional bias towards cocoa planting but a desire to prevent local capitalists outside the ruling coalition from gaining too much economic power. Diversification away from cocoa was therefore not in the immediate interest of the ruling elites. Several scholars have observed that in post-independent African countries, ruling elites have actively prevented the emergence of local capitalists due to their fear of displacement (Fieldhouse, 1986, 144). How to understand the political origins of diversification in such a setting is the real issue here.

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