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Reasonable Radicals and Citizenship in Botswana

The Public Anthropology of Kalanga Elites

Richard Werbner

Publication Year: 2004

Are self-interested elites the curse of liberal democracy in Africa? Is there hope against the politics of the belly, kleptocracies, vampire states, failed states, and Afro-pessimism? In Reasonable Radicals and Citizenship in Botswana, Richard Werbner examines a rare breed of powerful political elites who are not tyrants, torturers, or thieves. Werbner's focus is on the Kalanga, a minority ethnic group that has served Botswana in business and government since independence. Kalanga elites have expanded public services, advocated causes for the public good, founded organizations to build the public sphere and civil society, and forged partnerships and alliances with other ethnic groups in Botswana. Gathering evidence from presidential commissions, land tribunals, landmark court cases, and his lifetime relationship with key Kalanga elites, Werbner shows how a critical press, cosmopolitanism, entrepreneurship, accountability, and the values of patriarchy and elderhood make for an open society with strong, capable government. Werbner's work provides a refreshing alternative to those who envision no future for Africa beyond persistent agony and lack of development.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

I wish to acknowledge the warm conviviality and intellectual stimulation I enjoyed in Botswana over the years of my fieldwork and, among many friends, I want to thank in particular Mbiganyi and Pinkie Tibone, Gobe and...

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Introduction: Reflections and Frontiers

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pp. 1-10

Reasonable radicals are apparently rare in postcolonial Africa. Commanding the center stage from one scene of crisis to the next, in innumerable accounts, are the vengeful agents of political violence, the dislocated and...

Part 1. CITIZENS NEGOTIATING POWER: Elites, Minorities, and Tribal Bureaucrats

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1. Postcolonial Wisdom: The Post - Civil Service and the Public Good

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pp. 13-31

I began my southern African research among Kalanga in Zimbabwe, then Southern Rhodesia, in the aftermath of a state emergency, in 1960. It was after riots, both urban and rural, the recent banning of one nationalist party...

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2. The Minorities Debate

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pp. 32-47

Public debate about ethnic minorities in Botswana is ambiguous, struggling to reconcile problems of the ethnic, the tribal, the regional, and the national, of new and old (Mazonde 2002; Werbner 2002a). Because it is rich...

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3. The Politics of Recognition and "Pressure Groups"

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pp. 48-62

Citizenship is being put to a new test in Botswana, as it is in a growing number of democracies around the world at the beginning of the millennium. The test comes in the politics of recognition.1 In these democracies...

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4. Cosmopolitan Ethnicity, Entrepreneurship, and the Nation

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pp. 63-85

In Botswana, as in much of Africa, cosmopolitan ethnicity has a characteristic tension. Cosmopolitan ethnicity is urban yet rural, at once inward and outward - looking; it builds interethnic alliances from intra-ethnic ones...

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5. Official Blundering and the Discredited Commission

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pp. 86-108

The story of Botswana's state of emergency in 1999 after an election blunder, told briefly in chapter 1, might seem to call into question the view, underlying much of this book, of Botswana and its state-building elites. Further, President Mogae...

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6. Land, Clients, and Tribal Bureaucrats

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pp. 109-130

The public administration of tribal land has been the great minefield for tribal citizenship in Botswana. The watchwords for the government have been pragmatic and gradual reform, backed by consent, when it has been a matter of changing...


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7. Bringing Back the Dead

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pp. 133-145

Of the Kalanga notables at the capital who are grandfathers, some actively participate in elderhood shrine ritual, bringing back the dead at home in their rural communities. None have passed through the final stages of elderhood...

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8. Public Officer, Public Officer Emeritus

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pp. 146-161

Of all Gaborone's senior Kalanga elders, perhaps the most influential radical is Gobe Willie Matenge. A sketch of his life by Arthur Stanley with help from some of Gobe's friends was privately published to honor him in 1996...

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9. The Making of a Reasonable Radical

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pp. 162-187

Alone among Gaborone's elite Kalanga elders, Gobe Matenge has no secondary schooling and no degree or qualification from higher education. Gobe went to primary school, up to Standard Five, in St. Joseph's College at...

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Epilogue: Postcolonial Wisdom, Beyond Afro-pessimism

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pp. 188-204

The challenge for a comparative and critical analysis of public anthropology in Africa, which this book addresses, has taken us well beyond the old agenda of Afro-pessimism. A review, setting in relief the main steps in...


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pp. 205-220


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pp. 221-234

Author Index

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pp. 235-237

Subject Index

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pp. 139-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780253110244
E-ISBN-10: 0253110246
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253344021

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 6 b&w photos, 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2004