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Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism

Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism


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Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism

In analyzing the obstacles to democratization in post- independence Africa, Mahmood Mamdani offers a bold, insightful account of colonialism's legacy--a bifurcated power that mediated racial domination through tribally organized local authorities, reproducing racial identity in citizens and ethnic identity in subjects. Many writers have understood colonial rule as either "direct" (French) or "indirect" (British), with a third variant--apartheid--as exceptional. This benign terminology, Mamdani shows, masks the fact that these were actually variants of a despotism. While direct rule denied rights to subjects on racial grounds, indirect rule incorporated them into a "customary" mode of rule, with state-appointed Native Authorities defining custom. By tapping authoritarian possibilities in culture, and by giving culture an authoritarian bent, indirect rule (decentralized despotism) set the pace for Africa; the French followed suit by changing from direct to indirect administration, while apartheid emerged relatively later. Apartheid, Mamdani shows, was actually the generic form of the colonial state in Africa. Through case studies of rural (Uganda) and urban (South Africa) resistance movements, we learn how these institutional features fragment resistance and how states tend to play off reform in one sector against repression in the other. Reforming a power that institutionally enforces tension between town and country, and between ethnicities, is the key challenge for anyone interested in democratic reform in Africa.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691027937
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 04/01/1996
Series: Princeton Studies in Culture/Power/History Series
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 1,132,336
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.91(d)

About the Author

Mahmood Mamdani is the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government in the Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies Department at Columbia University. His many books include Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror.

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Introduction: Thinking through Africa's Impasse

Discussions on Africa's present predicament revolve around two clear tendencies: modernist and communitarian. Modernists take inspiration from the East European uprisings of the late eighties; communitarians decry liberal or left Eurocentrism and call for a return to the source. For modernists, the problem is that civil society is an embryonic and marginal construct in Africa; for communitarians, it is that real flesh-and-blood communitites that comprise Africa are marginalized from public life as so many "tribes." The liberal solution is to locate politics in civil society, and the Africanist solution is to put Africa's age-old communities at the center of African politics. One side calls for a regime that will champion rights, and the other stands in defense of culture. The impasse in Africa is not only at the level of practical politics. It is also a paralysis of perspective.

The solution to this theoretical impasse — between modernists and communitarians, Eurocentrists and Africanists — does not lie in choosing a side and defending an entrenched position. Because both sides to the debate highlight different aspects of the same African dilemma, I will suggest that the way forward lies in sublating both, through a double move that simultaneously critiques and affirms. To arrive at a creative synthesis transcending both positions, one needs to problematize each.

To do so, I will analyze in this book two related phenomena: how power is organized and how it tends to fragment resistance in contemporary Africa. By locating both the language of rights and that of culture in their historical and institutional context, I hope to underline that part of our institutional legacy that continues to be reproduced through the dialectic of state reform and popular resistance. The core legacy, I will suggest, was forged through the colonial experience.

In colonial discourse, the problem of stabilizing alien rule was politely referred to as "the native question." It was a dilemma that confronted every colonial power and a riddle that preoccupied the best of its minds. Therefore it should not be surprising that when a person of the stature of General Jan Smuts, with an international renown rare for a South African prime minister, was invited to deliver the prestigious Rhodes Memorial Lectures at Oxford in 1929, the native question formed the core of his deliberation.

The African, Smuts reminded his British audience, is a special human "type" with "some wonderful characteristics," which he went on to celebrate: "It has largely remained a child type, with a child psychology and outlook. A child-like human can not be a bad human, for are we not in spiritual matters bidden to be like unto little children? Perhaps as a direct result of this temperament the African is the only happy human I have come across." Even if the racism in the language is blinding, we should be wary of dismissing Smuts as some South African oddity.

Smuts spoke from within an honorable Western tradition. Had not Hegel's Philosophy of History mythologized "Africa proper" as "the land of childhood"? Did not settlers in British colonies call every African male, regardless of age, a "boy" — houseboy, shamba-boy, office-boy, ton-boy, mine-boy — no different from their counterparts in Francophone Africa, who used the child-familiar tu when addressing Africans of any age? "The negro," opined the venerable Albert Schweitzer of Gabon fame, "is a child, and with children nothing can be done without authority." In the colonial mind, however, Africans were no ordinary children. They were destined to be so perpetually — in the words of Christopher Fyfe, "Peter Pan children who can never grow up, a child race."

Yet this book is not about the racial legacy of colonialism. If I tend to deemphasize the legacy of colonial racism, it is not only because it has been the subject of perceptive analyses by militant intellectuals like Frantz Fanon, but because I seek to highlight that part of the colonial legacy — the institutional — which remains more or less intact. Precisely because deracialization has marked the limits of postcolonial reform, the nonracial legacy of colonialism needs to be brought out into the open so that it may be the focus of a public discussion.

The point about General Smuts is not the racism that he shared with many of his class and race, for Smuts was not simply the unconscious bearer of a tradition. More than just a sentry standing guard at the cutting edge of that tradition, he was, if anything, its standard-bearer. A member of the British war cabinet, a confidant of Churchill and Roosevelt, a one-time chancellor of Cambridge University, Smuts rose to be one of the framers of the League of Nations Charter in the post-World War I era. The very image of an enlightened leader, Smuts opposed slavery and celebrated the "principles of the French Revolution which had emancipated Europe," but he opposed their application to Africa, for the African, he argued, was of "a race so unique" that "nothing could be worse for Africa than the application of a policy" that would "de-Africanize the African and turn him either into a beast of the field or into a pseudo-European." "And yet in the past," he lamented, "we have tried both alternatives in our dealings with the Africans."

First we looked upon the African as essentially inferior or sub-human, as having no soul, and as being only fit to be a slave. ... Then we changed to the opposite extreme. The African now became a man and a brother. Religion and politics combined to shape this new African policy. The principles of the French Revolution which had emancipated Europe were applied to Africa; liberty, equality and fraternity could turn bad Africans into good Europeans.

Smuts was at pains to underline the negative consequences of a policy formulated in ignorance, even if coated in good faith.

The political system of the natives was ruthlessly destroyed in order to incorporate them as equals into the white system. The African was good as a potential European; his social and political culture was bad, barbarous, and only deserving to be stamped out root and branch. In some of the British possessions in Africa the native just emerged from barbarism was accepted as an equal citizen with full political rights along with the whites. But his native institutions were ruthlessly proscribed and destroyed. The principle of equal rights was applied in its crudest form, and while it gave the native a semblance of equality with whites, which was little good to him, it destroyed the basis of his African system which was his highest good. These are the two extreme native policies which have prevailed in the past, and the second has been only less harmful than the first.

If "Africa has to be redeemed" so as "to make her own contribution to the world," then "we shall have to proceed on different lines and evolve a policy which will not force her institutions into an alien European mould" but "will preserve her unity with her own past" and "build her future progress and civilization on specifically African foundations." Smuts went on to champion "the new policy" in bold: "The British Empire does not stand for the assimilation of its peoples into a common type, it does not stand for standardization, but for the fullest freest development of its peoples along their own specific lines."

The "fullest freest development of [its] peoples" as opposed to their assimilation "into a common type" required, Smuts argued, "institutional segregation." Smuts contrasted "institutional segregation" with "territorial segregation" then in practice in South Africa. The problem with "territorial segregation," in a nutshell, was that it was based on a policy of institutional homogenization. Natives may be territorially separated from whites, but native institutions were slowly but surely giving way to an alien institutional mold. As the economy became industrialized, it gave rise to "the colour problem," at the root of which were "urbanized or detribalized natives." Smuts's point was not that racial segregation ("territorial segregation") should be done away with. Rather it was that it should be made part of a broader "institutional segregation" and thereby set on a secure footing: "Institutional segregation carries with it territorial segregation." The way to preserve native institutions while meeting the labor demands of a growing economy was through the institution of migrant labor, for "so long as the native family home is not with the white man but in his own area, so long the native organization will not be materially affected."

It is only when segregation breaks down, when the whole family migrates from the tribal home and out of the tribal jurisdiction to the white man's farm or the white man's town, that the tribal bond is snapped, and the traditional system falls into decay. And it is this migration of the native family, of the females and children, to the farms and the towns which should be prevented. As soon as this migration is permitted the process commences which ends in the urbanized detribalized native and the disappearance of the native organization. It is not white employment of native males that works the mischief, but the abandonment of the native tribal home by the women and children.

Put simply, the problem with territorial segregation was that it rendered racial domination unstable: the more the economy developed, the more it came to depend on the "urbanized or detribalized natives." As that happened, the beneficiaries of rule appeared an alien minority and its victims evidently an indigenous majority. The way to stabilize racial domination (territorial segregation) was to ground it in a politically enforced system of ethnic pluralism (institutional segregation), so that everyone, victims no less than beneficiaries, may appear as minorities. However, with migrant labor providing the day-to-day institutional link between native and white society, native institutions — fashioned as so many rural tribal composites — may be conserved as separate but would function as subordinate.

At this point, however, Smuts faltered, for, he believed, it was too late in the day to implement a policy of institutional segregation in South Africa; urbanization had already proceeded too far. But it was not too late for less developed colonies to the north to learn from the South African experience: "The situation in South Africa is therefore a lesson to all the younger British communities farther north to prevent as much as possible the detachment of the native from his tribal connexion, and to enforce from the very start the system of segregation with its conservation of separate native institutions."

The Broederbond, however, disagreed. To this brotherhood of Boer supremacists, to stabilize the system of racial domination was a question of life and death, a matter in which it could never be too late. What Smuts termed institutional segregation the Broederbond called apartheid. The context in which apartheid came to be implemented made for its particularly harsh features, for to rule natives through their own institutions, one first had to push natives back into the confines of native institutions. In the context of a semi-industrialized and highly urbanized South Africa, this meant, on the one hand, the forced removal of those marked unproductive so they may be pushed out of white areas back into native homelands and, on the other, the forced straddling of those deemed productive between workplace and homeland through an ongoing cycle of annual migrations. To effect these changes required a degree of force and brutality that seemed to place the South African colonial experience in a class of its own.

But neither institutional segregation nor apartheid was a South African invention. If anything, both idealized a form of rule that the British Colonial Office dubbed "indirect rule" and the French "association." Three decades before Smuts, Lord Lugard had pioneered indirect rule in Uganda and Nigeria. And three decades after Smuts, Lord Hailey would sum up the contrast between forms of colonial rule as turning on a distinction between "identity" and "differentiation" in organizing the relationship between Europeans and Africans: "The doctrine of identity conceives the future social and political institutions of Africans as destined to be basically similar to those of Europeans; the doctrine of differentiation aims at the evolution of separate institutions appropriate to African conditions and differing both in spirit and in form from those of Europeans." The emphasis on differentiation meant the forging of specifically "native" institutions through which to rule subjects, but the institutions so defined and enforced were not racial as much as ethnic, not "native" as much as "tribal." Racial dualism was thereby anchored in a politically enforced ethnic pluralism.

To emphasize their offensive and pejorative nature, I put the words native and tribal in quotation marks. But after first use, I have dropped the quotation marks to avoid a cumbersome read, instead relying on the reader's continued vigilance and good sense.

This book, then, is about the regime of differentiation (institutional segregation) as fashioned in colonial Africa — and reformed after independence — and the nature of the resistance it bred. Anchored historically, it is about how Europeans ruled Africa and how Africans responded to it. Drawn to the present, it is about the structure of power and the shape of resistance in contemporary Africa. Three sets of questions have guided my labors. To what extent was the structure of power in contemporary Africa shaped in the colonial period rather than born of the anticolonial revolt? Was the notion that they introduced the rule of law to African colonies no more than a cherished illusion of colonial powers? Second, rather than just uniting diverse ethnic groups in a common predicament, was not racial domination actually mediated through a variety of ethnically organized local powers? If so, is it not too simple even if tempting to think of the anticolonial (nationalist) struggle as just a one-sided repudiation of ethnicity rather than also a series of ethnic revolts against so many ethnically organized and centrally reinforced local powers — in other words, a string of ethnic civil wars? In brief, was not ethnicity a dimension of both power and resistance, of both the problem and the solution? Finally, if power reproduced itself by exaggerating difference and denying the existence of an oppressed majority, is not the burden of protest to transcend these differences without denying them?

I have written this book with four objectives in mind. My first objective is to question the writing of history by analogy, a method pervasive in contemporary Africanist studies. Thereby, I seek to establish the historical legitimacy of Africa as a unit of analysis. My second objective is to establish that apartheid, usually considered unique to South Africa, is actually the generic form of the colonial state in Africa. As a form of rule, apartheid is what Smuts called institutional segregation, the British termed indirect rule, and the French association. It is this common state form that I call decentralized despotism. A corollary is to bring some of the lessons from the study of Africa to South African studies and vice versa and thereby to question the notion of South African exceptionalism. A third objective is to underline the contradictory character of ethnicity. In disentangling its two possibilities, the emancipatory from the authoritarian, my purpose is not to identify emancipatory movements and avail them for an uncritical embrace. Rather it is to problematize them through a critical analysis. My fourth and final objective is to show that although the bifurcated state created with colonialism was deracialized after independence, it was not democratized. Postindependence reform led to diverse outcomes. No nationalist government was content to reproduce the colonial legacy uncritically. Each sought to reform the bifurcated state that institutionally crystallized a state-enforced separation, of the rural from the urban and of one ethnicity from another. But in doing so each reproduced a part of that legacy, thereby creating its own variety of despotism.

These questions and objectives are very much at the root of the discussion in the chapters that follow. Before sketching in full the outlines of my argument, however, I find it necessary to clarify my theoretical point of departure.


In the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution, dependency theory emerged as a powerful critique of various forms of unilinear evolutionism. It rejected both the claim that the less developed countries were traditional societies in need of modernization and the conviction that they were backward precapitalist societies on the threshhold of a much-needed bourgeois revolution. Underdevelopment, argued proponents of dependency, was historically produced; as a creation of modern imperialism, it was as modern as industrial capitalism. Both were outcomes of a process of "accumulation on a world scale."


Excerpted from "Citizen and Subject"
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Copyright © 1996 Princeton University Press.
Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents

IIntroduction: Thinking through Africa's Impasse3
Pt. IThe Structure of Power35
IIDecentralized Despotism37
IIIIndirect Rule: The Politics of Decentralized Despotism62
IVCustomary Law: The Theory of Decentralized Despotism109
VThe Native Authority and the Free Peasantry138
Pt. IIThe Anatomy of Resistance181
VIThe Other Face of Tribalism: Peasant Movements in Equatorial Africa183
VIIThe Rural in the Urban: Migrant Workers in South Africa218
VIIIConclusion: Linking the Urban and the Rural285

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