- Brokering Democracy in Africa: The Rise of Clientelist Democracy in Senegal
Is clientelism compatible with democracy? In this thoughtful and well-researched study, Linda Beck makes a convincing argument that it can be. For Beck, clientelist democracies are democratic regimes “infused with clientelist relationships that serve as the basis for political mobilization and accountability”(4). When characterized by a competitive electoral process and effective protection of political freedoms and civil liberties, clientelist democracies become a subtype of democracy that exists alongside electoral democracy, liberal democracy, and advanced democracy. Although Senegal is the case study, the author notes that clientelist democracies are not limited to Africa but can also be found in various forms in countries like India, Italy, and Mexico.
According to Beck, clientelist democracy is the most likely trajectory for neopatrimonial regimes in Africa that are moving away from authoritarianism. Unlike many studies on clientelism in Africa, which start with the state and national political institutions, the book focuses on subnational politics and the decisive role of political brokers as intermediaries between local constituencies and national-level authorities. The author rejects the notion that political clientelism is based primarily on vote-buying, arguing that trust and reciprocity between patrons and clients are also important. Moreover, clientelism is not a monolithic phenomenon; it can take many forms. Different varieties and modes of clientelism reflect differences in the degree of social authority of local brokers as patrons and the extent to which local brokers are politically autonomous. The degree of social authority and political autonomy determines the extent to which clientelism curtails political competition and participation, two key components of democracy.
Beck analyzes four different kinds of brokers (influential, dependent, limited, and autonomous) operating in three socioeconomic settings within Senegal and the Senegalese diaspora in America. The first case involves the [End Page 180] top echelons of the Mouride marabouts of central Senegal who are influential brokers because they have a high degree both of social authority and of political autonomy: high social authority has given them the capacity to mobilize their followers, while an ability to generate wealth independent of the state has enhanced their political autonomy. The second case refers to the Tukulor nobles serving as brokers in northern Senegal, classified as dependent brokers. While enjoying a relatively high degree of social authority, the Tukulor elites attached to the Parti Socialist (PS) party-state system are nonetheless highly dependent upon politics and state resources to sustain their status. This situation helps explain why Futa Toro strongly supported the PS regime and why so many Tukulor brokers switched parties after Wade’s victory in 2000.
The third case concerns local brokers in lower Casamance, whom Beck presents as limited brokers; coming from small-scale egalitarian societies, they have little traditional social authority or ability to mobilize their followers to support the state and lack the clout needed to insure that the state delivers goods and services or at least protects their clientele from rapacious northerners. Their relative degree of political autonomy derives from their limited ties with the party state. The final case concerns Senegalese brokers operating in America, whom Beck calls autonomous because they generate their own wealth and are not dependent upon traditional social authority to mobilize a following, or ties with the regime to enhance their social status.
Beck does an excellent job of tracing the changing role of the brokers as political, social, and economic conditions evolve, and showing how greater social and economic equality and distance from traditional authority renders clients less dependent upon patrons. While making the case for clientelist democracy as an authentic form of democracy, the book also points to the fragility of clientelist democracies in the absence of a strong commitment to the rule of law and protection of political and civil liberties. Becks’s fine scholarship illustrates how a well-crafted country case study can make an important contribution to our understanding of the varieties of forms that democracy can take.