Political Dynamics and Economic Impacts


Generally, sub-Saharan Africa has been a beehive of political activities since the independence days. Countries falling within the above region are relatively young states considering that a good number achieved full independence in the sixties while a few became free from colonial rule in the 1990s (Aralal et al 2019). Against the above background, this part of Africa has been largely characterised by political upheavals including political coups and election violence. In Zimbabwe, the president was deposed by the military after a 40 year rule while Edwardo dos Santos stepped down from office in 2017 after ruling Angola for 38 years (Aralal, 2019). It follows that there are a lot of political changes happening in the sub-Saharan Africa and these power shifts have an impact on the economy of these countries. Although the single party system was apparently swept away by the political wind of the 1990s that introduced multiparty system, long-standing leaders is still a common phenomenon in sub-Saharan Africa. Presently, Uganda and Equatorial Guinea have presidents that have been in power for 33 and 40 years respectively.

In the 21st century, Sub-Saharan Africa has made significant progress in ensuring there is political stability in most countries. Today, Africa is home to some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, however, it is still beleaguered with investment and income challenges (Battera, 2018). Scholars have attributed the problems hounding sub-Saharan Africa to a governance syndrome known as neo-patrimonialism. The concept of neo-patrimonial rule is characterised by a strong, absolute, authoritarian and impotent state, where political authority is transformed into a private patrimony by a bureaucracy and a party closely controlled by a ruler (Bach and Gazibo, 2011). Max Weber explains that neopatrimonialism involves a personal rule, personalization of politics, patronage, a lack of distinction between public and private realm, government officials exercise power as private property and the co-existence of bureaucratic and informal practices. Ideally, states should have formal political and administrative systems that is based on democracy and transparency (Crook and Booth, 2011). The concept of neopatrimonialism disregards the above principle and advocates for patrimonialisation and bureaucratization. Essentially, this concept washes away the boundary between the office and the office holder so that the office holder can use the office as if it were their private property.


In sub-Saharan Africa, there are a countries that have exhibited the traits associated with neopatrimonialism. The role of neopatrimonialism in Africa has attracted number of scholars who have expressed diverse views on the subject (Dawson and Kelsall 2013; Vidal 2018). Interestingly, most scholars have concluded that neopatrimonialism is bad for investors and causes underdevelopment in countries where it is practiced. In contrast, this paper seeks to rethink the role of neopatrimonialism with evidence from sub-Saharan Africa. This concept has been used outside Africa in countries like South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia political systems to spur economic growth. Therefore, this study seeks to find how neopatrimonialism affects economic performance of Sub-Saharan countries. In particular, this paper will look at how neopatrimonialism affects economic performance in Rwanda. This study aims to establish the link between the above concept and economic performance of a country.

Literature Review

According to Bach (2011) neopatrimonialism is not a concept unique to Africa but one that has been applied in Asia even before its introduction into African independents states in the 1970s. The author contrasts the perception of the concept in Africa with Latin America and Asia. Bach notes that the concept has been lauded in Russia, Latin America and South East Asia as a regulated form of neopatrimonialism while Africa is associated with a predatory form. Using DRC Congo as an example, the author equates Mobutu’s rule between 1965 -1997 as a classical example of neopatrimonialism. He maintains that Mobutu’s rule is in its purest form a predatory neopatrimonialism where personal rule and resource control is optimised thus leading to institutional and state failure.

Bach believes that unrestrained control over the state by any leader or public official is dangerous to public institutions and the state itself. Arbitrary and uncontrolled power can fuel corruption and plunder of resources at the expense of economic development of the country. He argues that even though the concept can be used to distribute resources where they are most needed, it can also lead to a distributive bias where the ruler exercises unrestrained control over the state. In the end, Bach concludes that a regulated form of neopatrimonialism may be suitable for Africa. Therefore, he proposes that African countries should basically adopt a version of the concept exhibited by Latin American and South East Asian countries. In this regard, he adopts the sentiments of a study by Ann Pitcher who believes that Botswana is an example of a regulated neopatrimonialism in Africa (Pitcher, 2009).

Cromwell and Chintedza (2005) contend that neopatrimonialism is responsible for the southern African food crisis between 1995 and 2001. Their study cites neopatrimonialism politics as one of the numerous reasons for poor implementation of good policies. Hence, the two authors have sought to demonstrate that the said concept has contributed to the poor implementation of policies including those involving food security in Southern Africa. Accordingly, they assert that politics in Sub-Saharan Africa is characterised with personalised exchange, clientelism and political corruption that are reflected in the formal political institutions. They claim that the said political concept is an impediment to policy implementation in countries like Malawi, Zambia and Lesotho where public resources may sometimes be diverted for private gain. More importantly, this study casts the political concept as anti-development and a turn off for prospective investors in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Booth and Golooba-Mutebi delves into the debate whether Rwanda is a developmental patrimonialism. Unlike Bach (2011) who distinguishes between regulated and predatory form of neopatrimonialism, Booth and Golooba-Mutebi takes a different approach by looking at the developmental aspect only. Further, the two authors have used Max Weber’s strictly so called patrimonialism and not the modern concept of neopatrimonialism. This study examines the political involvement of the Kagame-led regime in the private sector of the economy. The author also compares the Rwandan regime with Asian countries that have adopted a developmental patrimonialism. Adopting the Africa Power and Politics Programme’s (APPP) conception of developmental patrimonialism in Africa, the authors believe that the concept represents a more likely scenario for achieving social development and economic transformation. After conducting interviews, observations and site visits to different companies, the authors concluded that although there is a blurred boundary between public wealth and personal wealth of the ruling class, rents are deployed in a manner that aids national development.

Similarly, Kelsall (2011) interrogates the possibility of neopatrimonialism boosting investment and growth in Africa. Consequently, the study looks into four sub-Saharan countries including Rwanda, Kenya, Malawi and Cote d’Ivoire with a view of presenting evidence of a positive aspect of neopatrimonialism. Kelsall attempts to deconstruct the generalisation by the donor community that the said political concept is completely bad for economic development in Africa. Instead, the author looks at the political economies of Africa differently with the intention of adopting a collaborative approach that harnesses the political realities for developmental ends (Kelsall et al 2010:20). Kelsall concludes that neopatrimonialism governance is associated with strong economic performance so long as there are premarket and pro-rural policies, and an institutional system that facilitates the centralisation and distribution of economic rents for long term development.

Croese (2016) considers the role of rents power arrangements and informal institutions in enhancing political instability in the context of neopatrimonialism in Angola. The study argues that the Angolan president has undertaken to distribute rent through actors that are not directly affiliated with the government. He admits that although the approach of using non-state actors has weakened government institutions, the rent distribution initiative controlled by the president has expedited public investments. In particular, the study looks at state-led housing delivery as an instrument of developmental patrimonialism in post-war Angola (Croese 2017:87). All the above literature discusses the relevance of neopatrimonialism in Sub-Saharan Africa. Bach’s study is more detailed and compares the political economies in Africa and other regions like South East Asia and Latin America. In this regard, he distinguishes between one acceptable and progressive form of neopatrimonialism and a negative form of the same. In short, the author proposes that African countries should basically copy and paste the South East Asian form of neopatrimonialism.

In contrast, Cromwell and Chintedza have no kind words for the political concept and they argue that the concept ought to be eliminated since it is an impediment to implementation of government policies. Interestingly, all the scholars support a particular version of neopatrimonialism and in doing so tend to favour a version that facilities a stronger economic performance. The literature presented above is generally impressive and of good quality, however, there is need to conduct a more recent research that touches on the topic in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most of these studies were conducted more than 20 decades ago and this may not present an accurate picture of the research topic considering the political changes that have since taken place.

Research Design and Methodology

Research Design

A research design is a plan, structure and strategy of investigation to find answers to research question and control variance (Venable, Pries-Heje and Baskerville, 2017). It forms the guide for the researcher how to proceed in answering the research question. This study will adopt the use of observation, site visits and interviews because of the descriptive nature of the research. Essentially, there is need to establish from people that have experiences a political economy and concept either as subjects or the members of the ruling class to determine the impact. This design will be in accordance with two hypotheses. The first hypothesis is that neopatrimonialism in SSA is generally anti-development and lead to state failure. This conclusion is based on the works of a number of scholars who have undertaken research in the area and found that neopatrimonialism is responsible for the failure in implementation of government policies in countries like Angola. Further studies show that excessive power in the hands of individuals leads to centralised political hegemony that causes personalisation of state power thus state and institutional failure.

The second hypothesis is that a regulated neopatrimonialism facilitates a strong economic performance in SSA countries. Therefore, if this political concept is regulated to eliminate elements like corruption and abuse of power, it spur economic growth and allow for distribution of rents. Predictively, a SSA country like Rwanda which is an example of a neopatrimonialism rule, has achieved key milestones in terms of economic growth because the political concept is regulated to minimise corrupt practices among the members of the ruling class. However, the reverse is also true given that a country like DRC Congo under Mobutu Seseseko was under such rule but without the desired regulation. As a result it turned out to be a predatory patrimonialism rule that entailed corruption, monopolistic control over the state as an opportunity for clients, friends and family. The confusion between the office and the office holder is still a major characteristic of the political concept in SSA especially with regard to a centralized system of governance that is premised on a single leader or family (Masenya, 2017). Ethnographic balance and resource distribution are the key justifications of a regulated patrimonialism.

Research Methodology

This study will advance an ethnographic methodology that will aid in an in-depth analysis of the research topic. Therefore, I will mostly use qualitative methods of data collection to examine different phenomenon relevant to the research area. An appropriate methodology is one that will measure the role of neopatrimonialism in strong economic performance in SSA countries. In this regard, the best way to approach this phenomena is to conduct interviews, observation and site visits to determine the level of economic performance in such a country. To determine economic performance, I will look at infrastructure, government structure, the per capita income of the country and ease of doing business. The first part of this research will contain the research question, feasibility, qualitative research and other mixed methods the second part will contain an analysis of the data that has been collected to find the outcomes significant to the research. To conduct an effective research, I plan to consult my mentors frequently for their input and advice and also to take into account my schedule and limitations that are attendant to the research.

Target Population

This study targets countries in SSA which have a form of government with characteristics similar to that of neopatrimonialism. Therefore, I have narrowed down my study to Rwanda, a country in Eastern Africa, which is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa and has an impressive ranking on ease of doing business. The target population are the companies that do business with the government and the local residents.

Sample and Sampling Techniques

To conduct an effective research the researcher must decide the smaller group or sub-group to be engaged (Venable, Pries-Heje and Baskerville, 2017). This is because it is practically impossible to deal with large populations hence it is advisable to take a sample of the population involved. In this case, I will carefully select a group of companies and local residents to represent the population that the research is targeting. In this regard, I will use random sampling to identify the respondents that will be engaged in the interviews, observations and site visits.

Data Collection and Analysis

The research will majorly involve qualitative data collection methods. It will essentially involve the recording of responses from selected interviewees who will provide information on their experiences with the government as well as their perception of economic strength of the country. Observation of participants will entail a selected group and it will majorly involve taking of notes. Similarly, the interviews will also be taken down in form of notes and audio recording will also be used for future reference. The data analysis will be based majorly on images, language and observation and in this regard I will conduct a content, discourse and thematic analysis I will first code the data before identifying and reviewing all the themes involved in this research. Additionally, I will take into account ethical considerations such as obtaining permission from the institution, seeking consent of the interviewees and maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of data collected.

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As a descriptive research that seeks to establish the relationship between a political concept and economic performance, the research design is a causal one. As stated above, the research aims at establishing a link between patrimonialism rule in SSA and its effect on economic performance of study countries. In pursuit of the above, this study looks at the case of Rwanda and whether economic performance is has been affected by the political context envisaged (Higgins, 2017). Apart from this, the research goes deeper to examine other related elements including developmental and regulated neopatrimonialism. This research was overdue because, the existing literature on the phenomenon is scanty and the existing ones are not up to date. Further, SSA has undergone immense transformation since independence and some of the concepts put forward by scholars like Max Weber may not be relevant today unless revised by later studies. For instance, the concept of patrimonialism as initially put forward by Max Weber may not exactly be relevant without introducing neopatrimonialism as revised by Shmuel Eisentadt.

A number of research have simply focused on the state failure associated with the political concept without taking a closer look at the SSA context. It is important to take an in-depth look at the political economies of Africa without condemning the political regimes entirely. In as much as the political regimes may appear different from the western model of democracy and decentralised political rule, a similar approach been applied in Latin America and South East Asian and has been proven to work. Essentially, it is not advisable to apply the version of political rule employed in other regions but it makes sense to adopt the same system with minor qualifications. SSA countries are mostly young states and they may not out rightly be viewed as failed states but rather as states that are undergoing reconfiguration (Vidal, 2018). Therefore, this research is important in highlighting the possibility of patrimonialism systems being an avenue for SSA countries like Rwanda to distribute resources where they may be needed (Higgins, 2017). However, there are qualifications for the application of the above system in a country like Rwanda. As stated earlier, there must be pro-market and rural policies with an institutional system for decentralisation.


Araral, E., Pak, A., Pelizzo, R. and Wu, X., 2019. Neo‐patrimonialism and Corruption: Evidence from 8,436 Firms in 17 Countries in Sub‐Saharan Africa. Public Administration Review.

Bach, D.C., 2011. Patrimonialism and neopatrimonialism: comparative trajectories and readings. Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 49(3), pp.275-294.

Battera, F., 2018. From rentier to developmental neo-patrimonialism in Angola.

Croese, S., 2017. State-led housing delivery as an instrument of developmental patrimonialism: The case of post-war Angola. African Affairs, 116(462), pp.80-100.

Cromwell, E. and Chintedza, A., 2005. Neo‐patrimonialism and Policy Processes: Lessons from the Southern African Food Crisis. IDS Bulletin, 36(2), pp.103-108.

Crook, R.C. and Booth, D., 2011. Conclusion: Rethinking African governance and development. IDS Bulletin, 42(2), pp.97-101.

Dawson, M. and Kelsall, T., 2013. Anti-developmental patrimonialism in Zimbabwe. In 'Progress' in Zimbabwe? (pp. 57-74). Routledge.

Hopper, T., 2017. Neopatrimonialism, good governance, corruption and accounting in Africa: idealism vs pragmatism. Journal of Accounting in Emerging Economies, 7(2), pp.225-248.

Huggins, C., 2017. Discipline, Governmentality and ‘Developmental Patrimonialism’: Insights from Rwanda's Pyrethrum Sector. Journal of agrarian change, 17(4), pp.715-732.

Kelsall, T., 2011. Rethinking the relationship between neo‐patrimonialism and economic development in Africa. IDS bulletin, 42(2), pp.76-87.

Kelsall, T., 2012. Neo-patrimonialism, rent-seeking and development: Going with the grain?. New Political Economy, 17(5), pp.677-682.

Kelsall, T., Booth, D., Cammack, D. and Golooba-Mutebi, F., 2010. Developmental patrimonialism. Rethinking Business and Politics in Africa. Policy Brief, 2.

Masenya, M.J., 2017. Neo-patrimonialism, corruption and governance in South Africa. African Journal of Public Affairs, 9(9), pp.146-156.

Pitcher, A., Moran, M.H. and Johnston, M., 2009. Rethinking patrimonialism and neopatrimonialism in Africa. African Studies Review, 52(1), pp.125-156.

Venable, J.R., Pries-Heje, J. and Baskerville, R., 2017. Choosing a Design Science Research Methodology. In 28th Australasian Conference on Information SystemsIEEE/ACIS International Conference on Computer and Information Science. University of Tasmania.

Vidal, N.D.F., 2018. International development strategies for the XXIst century and post-modern patrimonialism in Africa–Angola and Mozambique. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 61(1).

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