Pluralism and the Patrimonial State: Pre‐Colonial Africa

R. D. Grillo

in Pluralism and the Politics of Difference

Published in print July 1998 | ISBN: 9780198294269
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599378 | DOI:
 Pluralism and the Patrimonial State: Pre‐Colonial Africa

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The early patrimonial states of pre‐colonial Africa studied by anthropologists were usually polyethnic in character, subjectively perceived by rulers and ruled to be comprised of different peoples. Nonetheless, ethnicity did not generally constitute a problem. Detailed case studies of the Alur of Uganda, a classic example of a segmentary state, the Azande of Central Africa, and the Nupe of Nigeria, which had a more unitary structure, show that rulers were engaged in ‘extractive’ rather than ‘normative’ mobilization, as Azarya calls it. They were generally not concerned with much beyond maintaining their power and that of their immediate families, and extracting sufficient resources from their followers to enable them to do so, while ensuring that those followers were not driven by their demands to take their allegiance elsewhere. In this context, citizenship was subjecthood, and rulers had little interest in promoting a common identity or their own culture.

Keywords: Africa; Alur; anthropology; Azande; ethnicity; extractive mobilization; Nupe; patrimonial states; segmentary states; subjecthood

Chapter.  14822 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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