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  • From Empires to NGOs in the West African Sahel: the road to nongovernmentality by Gregory Mann
  • Tatiana Smirnova
Gregory Mann, From Empires to NGOs in the West African Sahel: the road to nongovernmentality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (pb £23.99 – 978 1 107 60252 6). 2015, xvi + 281 pp.

The principal question of Gregory Mann’s book is ‘what is government?’ (p. 8). He explores it by studying controversies about ‘neo-colonialism’ and ‘neoliberalism’ and investigates how sovereignty was exercised during and after the [End Page 199] decolonization of French West Africa. Mann draws from rich archival material and provides an original perspective on Michel Foucault’s concept of ‘governmentality’. He argues that the power of NGOs is not a consequence of state weakness. Instead, he coins the term ‘nongovernmentality’ and shows that the emergence of new forms of governmental rationality, realized through non-governmental organizations (NGOs), did not commence with structural adjustment programmes but rather began a decade after independence, when sovereignty was highly valued. Mann’s definition of ‘nongovernmentality’ differs from Michel Feher’s concept of ‘nongovernmental politics’, as Feher’s definition involves politics without the aspiration to govern. It is also different from Stephen Jackson’s perspective of ‘nongovernmentality’ incarnated by an atrophied state, such as Zaire in the 1980s. Mann’s book is propelled by the same questions explored by Béatrice Hibou and Mamadou Diouf concerning ‘private indirect government’ in the era of multiparty contestation. Yet, he invites us to look for answers in the earlier period of independence and the decade that followed it.

The book focuses on the idea of the Sahel as a ‘political assemblage, a zone of intervention’ (p. 244) marked by complex connections through intellectual life, migration, solidarity and activism with France and the United States. While basing his research mostly on Mali, Mann includes meaningful examples from Guinea, Niger and Senegal. The first and second parts examine the period of the French Union and the early years of independence, between the 1940s and 1960s. Focusing on social science, identity, migration and citizenship, these sections explain how and why certain characteristics of the government came to be defined beyond the prerogatives of the state – the process is then brilliantly portrayed in the third part of the book about humanitarianism and human rights.

Chapter 1 focuses on Madeira Keita, one of the leaders of the Sudanese Union– African Democratic Party (Union Soudanaise–Rassemblement Démocratique Africain or US–RDA) and an agent of the West African social science research institute. Keita was convinced that the impediments to Mali’s modernization were grounded in its social structure and that only the US–RDA could reorganize society. The party accepted no social dissent and left little space for civil life ‘distinct from state and party’ (p. 41). Chapter 2 demonstrates how citizenship acquired meaning through a set of rules regarding the status of indigenes, women’s enfranchisement and the abolition of chieftaincy, a key pillar of the colonial order.

By juxtaposing centuries-old mobilities across the Sahel with labour migration to France, Chapters 3 and 4 show that citizenship in the new republic was not performed only through formal laws, but also through the ‘haphazard’ practices of migrants, bureaucrats and diplomats. Chapter 4, for example, examines how aggressive tools for defining political membership opened up spaces for migrants and activists to generate new forms of politics that challenged postcolonial ‘state thought’ on migration. The former imperial power and the emerging states sought to create foreigners as well as citizens, to exclude as well as to include – therefore revealing the struggle for ‘control over the meaning of political membership’ (p. 122).

Part Three explains how, since the 1970s, humanitarian assistance and human rights activism, with roots in the anti-colonial left, have become powerful forces within the Sahel while coexisting with state sovereignty. Chapter 5 demonstrates how famine relief in the 1970s set up conditions of an emerging gap between new states and populations. The gulf was widened by international NGOs and filled in by new ‘wedges’ of nongovernmentality. While Sahelian states shared functions of schooling, public health and food supply with external actors such as NGOs, the gap between the state...


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pp. 199-201
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