Photo of Richard Joseph

Richard Joseph describes himself as a Black Scholar-Activist.

His political education began early; from the age of 10 to 13, between 1955 and 1958, he attended rallies of Dr Eric Williams and the People’s National Movement in his native Trinidad and Tobago, as the movement for independence from Britain gathered force.

His family having subsequently migrated to the USA in 1966 he departed for New College as a Rhodes Scholar. An activist student, he quickly became engaged in the organisations which represented students from emerging colonies or from ethnic minorities. He wrote in 1968, ‘I have put up some pictures of Stokely, Rap Brown, et al which improves the atmosphere’. He noted that ‘The West Indian Society….. has gone from being a rather insignificant social club to the centre of black militancy in Oxford’. At Oxford, he was lucky in his tutors, and, in terms of Africa, especially fell under the benevolent and inspiring influence of his supervisor, Thomas L Hodgkin of Balliol College. Hodgkin was a committed friend of Africa, having met and been inspired by Kwame Nkrumah.

He joined the Fanon Study Group: and Fanon was a beacon for this Scholar-Activist, as for many of his generation. He developed an interest in Francophile-Africa. It was Hodgkin who supervised Joseph’s dissertation, which was published by OUP. His topic was radical nationalism in Cameroun; and has remained a core reference for the development of Franc-Afrique.

Meanwhile, Joseph was immersed in the Civil Rights movement in the American South, then for six years working on peace and democracy issues with former President Jimmy Carter, and onto roles at the Brookings Institute and Northwestern University. At the latter, he is John Evans

Professor of International History and Politics, and a vocal representer of Africa’s political and economic challenges.

Photo of Thomas Hodgkin

Thomas Hodgkin


The Boko Haram and Prebendalism

Much of Joseph’s career has been spent in researching the politics of Nigeria. The colonial experience bequeathed the ingredients for what he calls a ‘dismal tunnel’, where the rule of the elites has never succeeded in spreading Nigeria’s abundance of resources down into ordinary people’s lives. His seminal book, ‘Democracy and Prebendal Politics in Nigeria’ charts the rocky course of the Second Republic. His concept of ‘prebendalism’ – the access to wealth by state power became a classic way of describing the post-colonial polity.

As he wrote, ‘an individual seeks the support and protection of an oga or ‘godfather’, while trying to acquire the basic social and material goods – loans, scholarships, licences, plots of urban land, employment and promotions – and the main resource of the patron in meeting these requests is ‘quite literally a piece of the state’.’

As this extract from a more recent article shows, colonialism in Nigeria ultimately left unconstructive rotation of power, which led to a vacuum which ‘statelets’ have attempted to fill.

The Boko Haram and Prebendalism

The dilemmas of contemporary Nigeria illustrate the need for a prismatic approach if we wish to understand conflicting developments and discern pathways leading out of current predicaments. With a population estimated at 175 million, Nigeria is Africa's largest country. By 2050. according 10 the UN. it will have more people than the United States. With a 2013 GDP valued at over half a trillion dollars, it has Africa's largest economy while its consumer market is steadily expanding. Having reverted in 1999 from military dictatorship to constitutional rule, Nigeria is now enjoying its longest unbroken period of civilian government since independence in 1960.

These political and economic achievements coexist with huge infrastructural shortcomings, severe income inequalities, and grave security threats. These last were exemplified in a horrifying way on 14 April 2014. when gunmen from the extreme jihadist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than two-hundred girls from a government-run school in Chibok, Borno State, in the northeast. Two months earlier, in the early hours of February 25. Boko Haram had killed approximately sixty boys in the dormitory of an agricultural training school in Buni Yadi in neighboring Yobce State. This massacre should have aroused world attention to the viciousness of the insurgency, as happened subsequently with the Chibok abductions. The later atrocity touched a collective nerve whereas the earlier just blended into the mayhem.

Despite a large army, heavily staffed security forces, and huge inflows of funding, Nigerian authorities continue to grope for effective and legitimate ways to respond to violent jihadism. A dirty war is also being waged. Having provoked the intensified campaign of the jihadists with the July 2009 extrajudicial killing of their spiritual leader. Mohammed Yusuf. Nigerian authorities stand accused of human-rights crimes that match atrocities by the insurgents. Amnesty International (AI) states that “extrajudicial executions are ... regularly carried out by the Nigerian military and the CJTF [Civilian Joint Task Force, a state-sponsored militia].” AI reports that the military has even filmed some of these ^”unspeakable acts.”

A month after the Chibok abductions. Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the contiguous northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno. and Yobe. These and other measures, such as military coordination with the neighboring countries of Cameroon, Chad, and Niger, have not stopped Boko Haram from launching more bombing, shooting, and arson attacks. It has brazenly assaulted military barracks, taken temporary control of small towns, dared the military to attempt the rescue of the kidnapped girls, and even sent women recruits on suicide missions. Consequently, the number of displaced persons has steadily mounted, and the local economy has been wrecked.

Aspects of a Boko Haram protostate in the northeast, mimicking the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), complicate statehood in Nigeria. It now evinces a combination of state forms: constitutional, traditional and communal, prebendal, shadow, criminalized, and consociational. Boko Haram, copying ISIS, has proclaimed an Islamic caliphate centered in the town of Gwozo in Borno. One may also speak of a “deep state” of northern securocrats, as well as ecclesiastical statelets such as the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Founded and headquartered in Nigeria, this megachurch with a global reach performs many duties for its parishioners.

No answer has yet been found to arrest the downward economic slide of the northern region, which has become a spawning ground for extreme Islamism, or to curtail the massive theft of crude petroleum from the Delta region and offshore. The Boko Haram insurgency is more than a Nigerian instance of global jihadism. It also reflects the erosion of state institutions by decades of prebendalism. As the scholar and human-rights activist Jibrin Ibrahim remarked in July 2014 conferences in Abuja and Washington, D C., Nigeria’s security forces are unable to perform efficiently and reliably, a situation ruthlessly exposed by Islamist terrorists in the northeast, cattle rustlers in the northwest, and bandits in many states.

The erosion of Westphalian sovereignty, which allows states to weave diverse peoples into nations, can be observed in several countries ranging from the Central African Republic. Libya, Mali, Somalia, and Sudan to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Syria. Where does Nigeria fit in this picture of mutating stateness and nationhood? The country has been described as a “conglomerate" society consisting of cultural sections. It can be said as well that the governance of this highly diverse nation has also been conglomerate in nature, combining consociational. centripetal, and majoritarian features. Conglomerate governance, with extended bouts of centralizing military rule, has enabled the country to hold together as a single geographical entity. But is conglomerate governance equal to the challenges posed by Boko Haram? Jibrin Ibrahim laments that even after security agencies receive warnings of terror attacks, “no proactive measures arc taken." Regarding the fundamental responsibility to protect life and property, the jihadist terrorists demonstrate what many Nigerians know: The state is not failed or failing, it is often just missing.

While Nigerians vigorously criticize their country’s many shortcomings, they also yearn for a shared national narrative. The most coherent one that I encountered on a recent visit came from individuals who could be called economic modernizers. They propose the creation of centers of excellence within federal ministries and the extension of the Jonathan administration’s privatization reforms to other sectors of the economy such as petroleum refining. Nigeria has long possessed enough oil and gas to power an industrial revolution. What it has lacked is a facilitative (as opposed to an exploitive) state with impartial and effective institutions. Modernizers urge concrete steps to expand the work of institutions such as the National Bureau of Statistics and to insulate them from partisan political interference.

Nigerians often bemoan their leaders’ and officials' use of public posts for private gain while fundamental governmental duties arc ignored. Neoliberal reformers believe that transforming the state’s role in the economy is critical. Virtually repeating Jeffrey Herbst's admonitions about political adjustment, these reformers contend that prebendalism can be diminished if the state’s role in the economy is transformed. If the resources that politicians seek to acquire via the state are trimmed, entrepreneurs would he obliged to put more energy into truly building the economy rather than chasing rents.

Many concerns were expressed about the uneven (or, to use my preferred term, ’‘discordant”) quality of the country’s development. Competitive civilian political contestation has resurfaced alongside a liberalized capitalist economy. But there are problems of growing inequality. Although members of the elite can transfer privileges to their children, ordinary Nigerians feel cut off from upward mobility, and from the political structures that provide access to financial resources. The national economy may he growing, but they feel trapped in a system that seems rigged against them. The deplorable state of core infrastructure, high poverty levels, and appalling rates of child and maternal mortality testify to the differential life chances according to class.

There are no quick fixes to the Boko Haram insurgency any more than there are to militant jihadism in other countries. Nodes of revolt are con-


If can now field well-equipped armed units and small groups that strike virtually at will. The insurgents' capacities often exceed those of the Nigerian security forces. President Jonathan's People’s Democratic Party is in campaign mode and anxious to keep northern governors on board. It must also contend with what is assumed to be surreptitious support for the rebellion by northern securocrats and other displaced northern political elites. It is even alleged that Boko Haram, emulating jihadists elsewhere, is extracting “protection money” from state governors and other officials.

In a 20 June 2014 public lecture in Lagos, former U.S. diplomat Princeton Lyman joined many Nigerians; and Nigeria-watchers in lamenting “a loss of consensus that pertained since independence among the elite on how Nigeria should be governed and power is to be rotated and shared." He went on to state that "elites are unable or unwilling to come together to confront this national crisis.” Lyman is far from the only knowledgeable observer to fear that the Nigerian political class has lost the capacity to craft crucial compromises. Perhaps the national conference, held in Abuja from March to August 2014, will revive this tradition. It is too early to say whether the deliberations of its nearly five-hundred delegates will prove effectual in view of its compendious report and list of more than six-hundred resolutions. It is conceivable, however, that new alliances have been forged and that some of the resolutions will guide future legislative action.

Competitive clientelism prevails, and so does political “godfatherism." Many federal officeholders owe their posts to vote-marshaling godfathers at the state level. How can executive officials, legislators, and bureaucrats do what is right by the people when they owe their positions and futures to such patrons? Both major political parties are seen as “consortia of godfathers." Universally, there is a call for greater democracy within the parties to widen access to electoral candidacy and change the calculus of accountability'.

Laying out the challenges of Post-Colonial Africa

Joseph has used the adjective ‘prismatic’ to describe the multiple intersections of difficulties which affect its development. The challenges are legion: there could be no clearer enumeration of them than these extracts of his key note address at the 12th African Economic Conference in Addis Ababa in 2017. They reduce – or refract – to seven great challenges:

I speak as an American citizen during a period when many of our political, civic, and socio-economic gains are threatened. I also speak as a former colonial subject in Trinidad and Tobago who emigrated almost 60 years ago to the United States.

After observing the funeral of the late President Quett Masire of Botswana in June 2017, a former student of mine, Professor Amy Potsete of Concordia University, Canada, wrote me: 'It felt like the end of an era". This era began with the liberalizing and liberation movements of the 1980s and the ending of the Cold War. It led to Western triumphalism regarding the prospects for liberal democracy and the unfettered expansion of capitalism. In recent years, however, world affairs have grown more complicated. No system of government or economic philosophy, predominates. The “liberal international order" in its political and economic ramifications is increasingly contested.

Three decades ago, economic stagnation in Africa contributed to the imposition of the Washington Consensus of reduced state economic management and pervasive marketization. What Nicolas van de Walle of Cornell University called “partial reform syndromes’ resulted in political economies that were semi-liberalized versions of former patrimonial autocracies. The Singapore industrial policy model, energetically implemented by a rising China, has altered the global calculus. In recent years, moreover, as Western post-Cold War triumphalism ebbed, security concerns have grown.

How, we must ask, can African countries advance politically and economically in this uncertain environment? Are there windows of opportunity for African organizations, and their external partners, to provide dynamic leadership despite the head- and crosswinds. I will identify several key opportunities and challenges: first, sharply reducing warfare; second, promoting institutional efficiency; third, enhancing electoral integrity; fourth, scaling back corruption; five, protecting the environment; six, guaranteeing basic incomes; and seven, widening access to knowledge. This cluster of commitments are embraced by the rubric, ‘Life More Abundant’, a mantra of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria.

I Reducing Warfare

Too many of our people are dying in conflicts large and small. We must use known mechanisms, and devise new ones, to reduce warfare. I first traveled to Sudan to join the University of Khartoum as a lecturer in 1974, during the pause in the north-south civil war following the Addis Ababa agreement. And I first came to Ethiopia in 1989 with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on peacekeeping missions. Dozens of trips were made to Liberia in the early 1990s to try and end that grinding and largely pointless war.

In too many parts of the continent today, lives and livelihoods are cut short by war. What can be done? One suggestion is the need for new approaches to governing Africa's conglomerate nations. Diverse peoples were thrown together within imperial and colonial boundaries. Secession, as Eritrea and South Sudan have demonstrated, is not a panacea. In many countries, there is a need to reconfigure political systems. In my current internet volume, The Nigerian Crucible: Politics and Governance in a Conglomerate Nation, I am drawing insights from 40 years of study and reflection on the governing of one of Africa's most diverse nations. These insights can be applied to other plural nations m Africa.

II Promoting Institutional Efficiency

In my Ibadan lecture of February 2016, I posed the question; "Why can Nigerians build and operate mega-churches but not quality pubic transport, public universities, public energy utilities and other service organizations?" As a consequence of extensive involvement in Nigeria over four decades. I am aware of the widening gap in institutional efficiency between countries with optimizing cultures and those In which they steadily diminish. The issue is perhaps more nuanced because of the variance in such cultures within particular countries. Knowledge bases, inside and outside Africa, can be tapped in search of answers to two fundamental questions: What has been learned about building sustainable institutional capacity for development? Second, how can this learning be transmitted in specific country contexts?

III Enhancing Electoral Integrity

The global crisis of democracy, to use Larry Diamond's assertion, requires responses pertinent to each world region. I referred a few years ago to eddies rather than waves of democratic advances and retreat. Today, with regard to democratic governance. no specific institutional construct can be forced on the continent. In fact, there is wide institutional variance among established democracies, and even between their central and subnational entities. Virtually all countries today conduct regular elections but only a handful of these exercises are fairly and reliably conducted. It was a former official of the East Africa Commission who brought my attention to the negative economic consequences of violence and insecurity now unfortunately associated with competitive elections.

The recent electoral disputes In Kenya reflect these dilemmas. If a nation of the size and complexity of India could conduct fair and efficient elections with minimal violence, surely African countries ranging from 1–10% of its population can do likewise. We have to steadily increase the number of African countries that emulate Ghana's transition to conducting fully free, fair and legitimate elections. Electoral integrity is fundamental to democratic construction in Africa.

IV Scaling Back Corruption

Paralleling the crisis of democracy n the crisis of corruption. The Panama and Paradise Papers provide extensive information about what has already been known in policy and scholarly circles. The balance has tipped signficantly with the use of offshore havens, and other wealth-concealing practices, to deprive nations of the resources needed to generate jobs and improve livelihoods.  This observation applies also to business corporations and affluent individuals in my own and other western countries.

Innovative mechanisms should be designed to re-channel illicit capital flows to meet the daunting challenges in the continent. There is increased efforts underway to track these illicit flows, and the properties and shell companies in which they are lodged. Their recapturing and reinvestment in Africa could increase significantly the stock of development finance. The work being done by intrepid organizations in this regard can be multiplied greatly to stem the outflow of public revenues and return those lodged abroad.

V Protecting the Environment

Two significant windows of opportunity for African innovation concern Climate Change and Renewable Energy. It is well known how vulnerable African countries are to climate change, desertification, ocean warming, and rising sea levels. We are also aware of the dire consequences in the form cf shrinking livelihoods and the exacerbation of group conflict, and catastrophic disasters of hurricanes, floods, and forest fires. Solar power, hydropower, and natural gas are clean energy sources abundantly available, and under-exploited, in Africa. The transformative potential of these resources can alter the energy profile of the continent, accelerate electrification, and reverse environmental degradation. During this period when climate change and renewable energy are treated as political footballs in global conferences, Africa with its vast land mass, powerful rivers, extensive shore lines, abundant natural gas and copious other minerals, should amplify its voice and achievements in this critical domain.

VI Guaranteeing Basic Incomes

There was a time when labor in many societies was tied to satisfying basic needs, whether through hunting, gathering, fishing, and cultivating. We are n a period of rapid transition in this regard as a consequence of globalisation and automation. A gap is growing between labor needs and the acquisition of income to meet fundamental needs.

Population growth in many African countries continue to exceed income flows. Out-migration in such circumstances becomes an option despite the appalling risks. Digital payment systems, and digital cash make it increasingly possible to provide income subsidies directly to families. Along with overcoming operational hurdles that have undermined public services in health, water, lodging,  transport, and education, a key intellectual hurdle must steadily be overcome in Africa and elsewhere. It is the recognition that an increasing proportion of national revenues, from a variety of sources, should incrementally flow directly, and with minimal interference, to the citizens of Africa and other countries. There is increasing awareness, for example, in the important benefits to families and communities in Africa and other regions in remittances from the diaspora, Basic incomes strategies through informal networks are therefore not new. They con constitute a larger part of the global aid system.

VII Widening Access to Knowledge

Much of what we learn can to transmitted to others, but how widely? I have sought to transmit much that I have learned over a half-century. My study of Cameroon's anti-colonial struggle, for example, was expertly translated into French and thus made more widely accessible. Although initially banned, my second book on Cameroon has reached a wide readership. My Nigeria book was made available a few years after its publication locally in a paperback edition.

Too much knowledge generated about Africa, however, even by African scholars and writers, is not easily accessible. In view of the explosion of fake news and reports, we have to accelerate making veritable studies and documentation widely available. I therefore salute the Open Access repository, Arch Library, created at Northwestern University. Gaps in quality education and instruction can be filled by online learning. For anyone who moves between Africa and the developed, and the fast developed world, it is disconcerting how wide the gaps are between access to books and scholarly articles.

Book jacket, Democracy and prebendal politics in Nigeria