The Sunday News
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena
The phrase “state capture” comes very easily into our formal and informal communication these days.
What is not easy, however, is true understanding of what the phrase fundamentally means. In South Africa, white monopoly capitalists that captured the state and took monopoly of land and other resources long ago often cry “state capture” when blacks and Indians try to take control of or manipulate the state in their own corrupt ways.
The big fish among state capturers almost always blame the small fish for the crime; hence the need to nuance what exactly state capture is in the Global South.
From its origins in the wild and ancient West to the present the powerful and governing institution of the State has had a troubling and also a troubled history.
In the 4th Century Before Christ, Aristotle classically wrote of politics and described the “State” as “the highest form of community and aims at the highest good” for all humanity. In the same page Aristotle gave a defence of the enslavement of some people by others under the might of the State, and in his rendition of politics he excluded women and children as citizens with rights.
Once captured by powerful men and ruling aristocrats the State became violent to those that were marginalised and excluded.
The western model of the State that was forced upon us by colonialism and imperialism has never been inclusive of free but has always been a captive of some powerful people and hegemonic forces, I argue.
Later, in 1932, the German philosopher of politics, a sympathiser with the Nazi regime, Carl Schmitt, defined the State as an institution that is the site of all politics and that is the source of friendship and enmity, a platform and also a reason for power struggles.
Clearly, inside the West where the State was born as a collective of governing institutions of the legislature, the judiciary, the executive and other governing entities, it dispensed power and good to some classes and marginalised if not punished other classes of people.
The State deployed power and friendship to the rich and militarily powerful on the right hand while on the left hand it dispensed slavery, punishment and enmity to the poor and powerless. From its very birth, the State has carried a birth mark of enmity and violence.
In the conquest of the Americas in 1492 and the so claimed discovery of the New World, the State levied immense violence to the native Americans, it expelled the Muslims of Southern Spain and forcibly converted some to Christianity, and it burnt Islamic libraries to erase the memory and history of the Mohammedans.
Thus, the State that colonialism, slavery and imperialism of the 16th Century spread to Latin America and to Africa was a capitalist and extremely violent governing institution.
The State was captive to capitalism and its systemic and structural violence. It carried religious intolerance and cultural imperialism as its political luggage.
The colonial State and the enslaving State that was forcibly imposed on the Global South was a monstrous machinery of power and domination whose technologies of domination through the military, the economy and the law remains intact to this day in Africa and the entire Global South.
Decolonisation championed by African liberation movements did not decolonise the State, it tried to adapt and to reform it, but it only managed to retain it and manage it on behalf of the modern and still colonial world system. As lately as in 2008, James Galbraith described the State in the USA and the entire Western world as predatory and punitive to the masses of the poor who do not enjoy the political and economic privileges that are dispensed by State power.
If the State in the so called free and democratic world remains so monstrous and punitive to the masses, what about in the Global South where the State was imposed as a colonial technology of oppressive and exploitative rule. The State remains a troubled and troublesome institution in the Global South. To decolonise the State would be to free it from its captivity to Empire and restore it to service to the multitudes of the Global South.
The colonial state of the State in Africa
In some justifiable ways and some saddeningly uncritical manners African scholars and journalists, and the usual Western critics have described and condemned the State in Africa. It was with formidable and even angry force that Jonathan Frimpong-Ansah described the vampire State in Africa whose political decline led to economic and social degeneration that punished citizens.
Some scholars and journalists wrote of the fragile African State that had low income, enjoyed no political legitimacy and rendered its citizens vulnerable to political and economic shocks and disasters.
Ali Mazrui delved into the “failed State” in Africa whose markers were failure to maintain law and order, inability to control equitable distribution of resources, lack of political legitimacy, failure to deliver basic goods and services, propensity to violence and coercion, and general lack of or excess of governance.
In the Mazruiana analytic, that State in Africa that did not govern firmly failed because of weakness and that which governed too firmly failed because of excessive governance, tyranny. In that logic, the State in Africa suffers the political dilemma of the need for critical balance.
Lloyd Sachikonye graphically exposed, in 2011, how African states can take a violent turn against their people and turn countries into open prisons where festivals of cruelty and suffering become the rule rather than the exception. Heads of States and their governments are the convenient targets of blame and condemnation for vampire, predatory, failed and fragile states in Africa.
There is no denying that African leaders and their governments as handlers and managers of states have some agency to deliver positive change in the economies and polities of their countries. Equally, there should be critical recognition that these leaders and governments in their full blameworthiness inherited a State that was already anti-people, colonial and violent at a world systemic level.
Instead of African governments governing in Africa we increasingly witness neo-colonial managerialism where an elite of black Africans are simply managing a colonial institution on behalf of the modern world system that is economically, militarily and politically owned by outsiders.
The State that African liberation movements inherited upon decolonisation in Africa is an angry and dangerous monster that did not lose but cosmetically modified its monstrosity to give a semblance of liberation when in actuality it had become even more vampiric and harmful.
Of the captured State
The South African political debate has recently enriched the vocabulary of African politics with the concept of State Capture. In the South African case, State capture refers to how certain private interests can hold hostage heads of State and some government functionaries, through bribes and blackmails, and thereby corruptly compromising national and public interests.
The South African debate has not reflected on how the State in the West was born captive to powerful classes at the expense of the poor and the powerless.
That the State arrived in Africa already captive to colonial violence and corruption and hostage to cruel capitalist economic interests is not reflected on either. It is clear that, scholarly and journalistic debates on the State in Africa suffer certain blindnesses and deafnesses of their own and are limited in their view of what exactly is the problem with the State in Africa.
Some scholars and journalists place the blame on imperialism and colonial history while others on the other extreme direct their condemnation to corrupt heads of state and State officials in conspiracy with greedy business tycoons.
Big foreign private businesses are known in the Global South to have literally bought some countries from political and military elites, especially in oil and diamond rich countries.
Much helpfully, in 2002, Sandra Maclean wrote of “the political economy of conflict” in Africa where world economic and political forces conspire with some African States and their functionaries to loot African economies.
Conflicts such as factionalisms and civil wars even, are used to create a fog that covers the looting that local political elites do in combination with international tycoons and some Western governments. This complicity and these conspiracies are parts of the challenge that African revolutionary and reformist movements have to deal with.
Some African States use the cover of their sovereignty and international protection and immunity of being States to conduct self-enriching projects for State leaders and their runners in governments. In return, for the access that they are given to lucrative deals, Western corporations and government turn a blind eye to the corruption and authoritarianism in complicit African States.
State power corruptly and increasingly becomes an opportunity for rent seeking among the African elite that act as connections and runners for Western forces and economic and political interest in Africa.
The reason, Sandra Maclean argues, why most African States do not want to demolish colonial borders or to abandon the Westphalian model of the State in Africa is because the State is a source of massive business and wealth for the lucky few.
Maclean describes what she calls the “Shadow States,” that is powerful private individuals and groupings that control states and manipulate them for big money and massive wealth. The shadow States are made out of local and international tycoons that control the economies and politics of countries in pursuit of business and political interests.
As a result of this chaos and disorder in the polities and economies of Africa, States are found literary selling natural resources to international corporations for the benefit of elites in the governments of Africa and their connections.
In summation, predominantly in Africa the State is still colonial and captive to more forces than one.
Because even African populations have become naturalised to the corruption and captivity of the States and powerful international forces are involved, there is a need for strong benevolent dictators in Africa that can break this system and forcefully ensure that a new type of State that is in the service of the African populace is born.
To destroy a culture of internationalised State violence and corruption in Africa needs strong persons and forces that will force change in the direction of the African masses.
In the Global South states are captured by local powerful elites in combination with international corporations and fronts of powerful western and eastern governments. This coloniality of the State requires strong leaders in the Global South that will advance brave and radical decolonial struggles to liberate the states and restore them to the people.
Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena is a founding member of Africa Decolonial Research Network. He writes from Esselin Street, Sunnyside, Pretoria: [email protected]