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Reviewed by:
  • Psychoses of Power: African Personal Dictatorships
  • Richard F. Weisfelder
Decalo, Samuel . 1998. Psychoses of Power: African Personal Dictatorships. 2d ed. Gainesville: Florida Academic Press. 320 pp.
Decalo, Samuel . 1998. Civil-Military Relations in Africa. Gainesville: Florida Academic Press. 206 pp.

In the era when structural analyses based on dependency approaches to African politics were in vogue, Samuel Decalo forcefully advocated a dissident view that personal and idiosyncratic factors were equally important determinants of African political behavior. While Decalo is not wedded to the currently popular nomenclature of neopatrimonial rule, his images of centralism, clientelism, marginalization, militarization, and the ultimate collapse of African political systems long foreshadowed the current orthodoxies. Hence, it is altogether appropriate that Florida Academic Press should revisit Decalo's pioneering scholarship.

Readers expecting new insight and analysis from these two books, however, will be disappointed. Psychoses of Power is more a second printing than a true second edition. Neither the text nor the bibliography has been updated much beyond 1992. If the initial edition generated criticism or suggestions for rethinking its concepts or interpretation, Decalo does not join the debate. Civil-Military Relations contains two chapters from Decalo's Coups and Army Rule in Africa, three articles published in the Journal of Communist Studies, the Journal of Modern African Studies, and African Affairs, respectively, and concludes with a conference paper presented in 1996. As a result, there is considerable overlap and repetition among the chapters, so much so that the same quotations from Diamond and Decalo himself appear at the end of Chapter 5 and again right at the beginning of chapter 6. Both books contain numerous easily detectable formatting and proofreading errors such as "to deap" for "too deep" (Civil-Military, p. 174). The impact of Civil-Military Relations, in particular, would have been greatly enhanced by substantive revisions to provide a better-integrated and more coherent argument, and by greater care in the final editing.

In both books, Decalo finds wanting most analyses that emphasize the social, economic, and structural determinants of military coups, military rule, and personalist dictatorships. He points instead to the personal and careerist motivations of the perpetrators, both for their decisions to [End Page 186] seize power, and for their styles of rule thereafter. In Psychoses of Power, he distinguishes the behavior of three aberrant and idiosyncratic dictators, namely, Amin, Bokassa, and Nguema, in Uganda, the Central African Republic, and Equatorial Guinea, respectively, from "ordinary" autocratic leaders, who manifested at least some elements of caution and pragmatism. Decalo identifies factors in the backgrounds and personalities of Amin, Bokassa, and Nguema that fostered psychotic behavior devoid of regard for the consequences for the states they governed. Instead, the three sought to restructure the social order ". . . to better conform with each tyrant's personal self-image or perverted vision of the world" (Psychoses, p. 268). His excellent case studies of Amin, Bokassa, and Nguema provide detailed and frightening perspectives on their personal backgrounds and regimes, including their cultural marginality and the bizarre manifestations of their psychoses, such as cannibalism. Readers might be consoled by Decalo's admission that access to power of this gory threesome was facilitated by the special circumstances of the immediate postindependence situation. However, his images of their devastating impact on their countries warn of the danger should similar individuals gain power in collapsed states where normal constraints have lapsed.

Possibly the most interesting chapter in Civil-Military Relations is entitled "Modalities of Stable Civil-Military Relations." Decalo correctly observes that many authors have commented on the causes and chronology of military coups, but almost no one has assessed the conditions which have deterred military intervention in "deviant" states which have avoided coups. Once again, Decalo finds that underlying socioeconomic variations are nowhere near as important as political strategies and behavioral traits of the more successful leaders. He observes three patterns, or "modalities," to use his favorite term. The first involves external guarantors of civilian rule; the second, trade-offs of emoluments and other benefits which keep soldiers in their barracks; and the third, legitimation of civilian supremacy where an ethic of military professionalism prevails. Whatever strategy is adopted, Decalo's master variable is once again an idiosyncratic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1978
Print ISSN
0001-9887
Pages
pp. 186-188
Launched on MUSE
2000-05-01
Open Access
No
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