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Neopatrimonialism is a system of social hierarchy where patrons use state resources in order to secure the loyalty of clients in the general population. It is an informal patron–client relationship that can reach from very high up in state structures down to individuals in small villages.

Neopatrimonialism may underlie or supplant the bureaucratic structure of the state in that only those with connections have the real power, not those who hold higher positions. Further criticisms include that it undermines political institutions and the rule of law, and is a corrupt (but not always illegal) practice. Neopatrimonialism also has its benefits, however. Neopatrimonialism can extend the reach of the state into the geographical and social peripheries of the country, provide short term stability, and facilitate communal integration.

Neo-patrimonialism, as defined by author Christopher Clapham of The Nature of the Third World State, is a "form of organisation in which relationships of a broadly patrimonial type pervade a political and administrative system which is formally constructed on rational-legal lines". It is a system in which an office of power is used for personal uses and gains, as opposed to a strict division of the private and public spheres.

Origin and definition of the term[edit]

"Neopatrimonialism" as a distinct term is generally held to have originated with Shmuel N. Eisenstadt, in his 1973 book Traditional Patrimonialism and Modern Neopatrimonialism,[1] deriving it from Max Weber's term, 'patrimonialism', who used the term to describe a system of rule based on administrative and military personnel, who were responsible only to the ruler. Neo-Patrimonialism, which is a modern form of the traditional Patrimonial form of rule, is a mixed system. Here elements of patrimonial and rational-bureaucratic rule co-exist and are sometimes interwoven.[2]

Application and criticism[edit]

Neopatrimonialism is sometimes used as a way of explaining why African states have "failed" to effect neoliberal market reforms.[2] This focus is controversial, with some complaining that the term is vague, and others that its use has failed to take into account the politics of non-African states. For example, in 1998 Thandika Mkandawire said,

Another problem is that "neo-patrimonial" states in and outside Africa have pursued a wide range of policies including some that are squarely developmental. In other words, other than indicating the style of governance, neo-patrimonialism does not tell us much about what policies a state will pursue and with what success. In the African case "neo-patrimonialism" has been used to explain import substitution, export orientation, parastatals, privatization, the informal sector development, etc. The result is that, in seeking to explain everything, it explains nothing except perhaps that capitalist relations in their idealized form are not pervasive in Africa.[3]

Others have argued that the concept is valid and needs refinement. For example, a paper in 2004 identified political difficulties in Bangladesh as having their origins in the neopatrimonial system that had evolved there.[4]

In Africa[edit]

Nicolas Van de Walle argues that neopatrimonialism is very prevalent in Africa. African regimes are presidential, which facilitates clientelism since power is concentrated in a single individual with ultimate control of networks.[5] As Joel Migdal puts it, the state in African countries seems omnipresent in all aspects of people’s lives, from the very local to the central government levels.[6] Van de Walle introduces the notion that in Africa, states are hybrid regimes where patrimonial practices and bureaucracies coexist to a higher or lesser degree. African states have laws and constitutional order and in parallel are ruled by patrimonial logic in which political authority is based on clientelism and office holders constantly appropriate public resources for their own benefit. The dual nature of African regimes means that clientelism is not incidental and cannot be easily corrected with capacity building policies and at the same time formal structures play an important role, even in the least-institutionalized states.

According to Van de Walle, one of the main issues with neopatrionialism is that it undermines economic reform in contemporary Africa on multiple levels.[7] Joel Migdal points out that state leaders will fragment power and use different techniques to prevent reform and policy from being implemented in local branches and institutions, as a way to avoid important local agencies to mobilize against the central power. The main goal of central leaders is to avoid losing power and control, even if that means stalling policy implementation.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Eisenstadt, Shmuel N. (1973). Traditional Patrimonialism and Modern Neopatrimonialism. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications. ISBN 0-8039-0371-5. OCLC 866195.
  2. ^ a b Erdmann, Gero; Engel, Ulf (February 2006). "Neopatrimonialism Revisited – Beyond a Catch-All Concept" (PDF). In Hoffmann, Bert (ed.). GIGA Working Papers. German Institute of Global and Area Studies. No. 16. Retrieved 2008-02-03.
  3. ^ Thandika Mkandawire (16 October 1998). "Thinking About Developmental States in Africa". African Economic Research Consortium. African Development in the 21st Century. United Nations University.
  4. ^ Islam, S. Aminul (January 2004). "Is the Candle Still Burning? Weber and the Crisis of Democratic Transition in Bangladesh" (PDF). Bangladesh e-Journal of Sociology. 1 (1). Retrieved 2008-02-03.
  5. ^ Van de Walle, Nicolas (2005). Democratic Reform in Africa. United States: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
  6. ^ Migdal, Joel S. (1998). Strong societies and weak states: state-society relations and state capabilities in the Third World. United States: Princeton University Press.
  7. ^ Van de Walle, Nicolas (2005). Democratic Reform in Africa. United States: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
  8. ^ Migdal, Joel S. (1998). Strong societies and weak states: state-society relations and state capabilities in the Third World. United States: Princeton University Press.

Further reading[edit]

  • Patrick Chabal and Jean-Pascal Daloz: Africa Works: disorder as political instrument (Oxford, Currey, 1999)