Cultural models of power in Africa

TitleCultural models of power in Africa
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsW.E.A.van Beek
EditorG.J. Abbink, and M.E. de Bruijn
Secondary TitleLand, law and politics in Africa: mediating conflict and reshaping the state
Series titleAfrican dynamics ; 10
Pagination25 - 48
Date Published2011///
Place PublishedLeiden
Publication Languageeng
ISSN Number978-90-04-21738-6

Africa has a wide array of polities that are characterized by extremely diverging leadership styles. How can the same continent house a Mugabe and a Bokassa, but also a Nyerere and a Mandela? Based on the Bourdieu notion of types of capital as thebasis for inequality in society, this study sketches the cultural models that underlie African variations in power configurations that are set in a model founded on three power bases: Symbols,economics and social relations. From there, it formulates sixbasic types of power in Africa: The 'icon', the 'elephant', the'executive', the 'pater familias', the 'lion' and the 'patron'. Polities and politicians move through these models in the course oftheir lives, which gives the model its dynamics. Finally, the six types show four major commonalities that inform African cultural thinking about power: power as a personal attribute; the use of the kinship discourse with all its ramifications in politics; the link with the spiritual world; and neo-patrimonialism and exploitation. In combination, they provide a portrait of African power relations where the major characteristic is the ready translation of the three capitals into each other.

Citation Key5807