International development strategies for the XXIst century and post-modern patrimonialism in Africa – Angola and Mozambique, interview with Nuno de Fragoso Vidal by Paulo Menechelli

International development strategies for the XXIst century and post-modern patrimonialism in Africa – Angola and Mozambique, interview with Nuno de Fragoso Vidal by Paulo Menechelli Filho

Africa went through a long period of changes during the last decades, which reflected the dominance of International model and theories trying to understand and organize the countries of the continent. From the Cold War institutionalism to the 1990s transitions, the increasing dominance of neo-institutionalism over the 2000s and up to today, there was an interesting evolution of development thinking and strategies in Africa. To understand this process, Professor Nuno de Fragoso Vidal, from the Centro de Estudos Internacionais of the Instituto Universitário de Lisboa, in Portugal, studied the cases of Angola and Mozambique, in his article International development strategies for the XXIst century and post-modern patrimonialism in Africa – Angola and Mozambique, published in the vol. 61, n. 1 of Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional.

Taking the case of those two former Socialist and Lusophone African countries, Professor Nuno de Fragoso Vidal argues that the end result of these strategies of implementation of a neo-institutionalism strategy in former neo-patrimonial regimes, was not their gradual liberal reform, as intended, but rather the unintentional facilitation of their inner logic, supporting the evolution of neo-patrimonialism. As a result, “the old neo-patrimonial political management system reinvented itself and expanded to assume a complex international financial dimension, constituting a sort of post-modern patrimonialism.” Professor Nuno de Fragoso Vidal was interviewed by Paulo Menechelli Filho, Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at the University of Brasilia.

In your article, you write about the liberal theorization – in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s – of the transformative role of four major drivers of change or agents for liberal democracy, which you also call “apparent agents of democracy in Africa.” Could you explain what those drivers of change are and why they were apparent agents of democracy in Africa?

Taking from the Western historical perspective and experience, theorization mainly applied by development agencies and international organizations, immediately looked at four drivers of change towards political and economic liberalization: a new private sector (trying to see in myriad informal activities of vivid informal African markets the traits of Schumpeterian entrepreneurship that would rapidly give birth to modern entrepreneurs if provided with a new legal – liberal – framework and adequate stimulus); an effective political opposition within a new and effective multiparty setting, performing the roles that are expected from opposition parties in liberal democracies; a renewed civil society, capable of exerting a watchdog role, with the support of a new media, free from authoritarianism and political control to express discontentment and exert political pressure on governmental malpractices; last but not least, the support of the “international community,” be it donors or development agencies, intergovernmental or non-governmental, operating in the field and adding pressure in support to liberalization, strengthening the previous mentioned “local” agents.

One by one, those agents failed in their expected role, be it “local” or “external.” The so-called processes of privatization essentially meant the private appropriation of State/Public assets by the same old political elites in power, that privatized State assets in their favor at symbolic prices. In a majority of cases, the incumbents won the new multiparty elections comfortably, showing how advantageous it was to control the State and administrative apparatus, the legislative, the executive and the judicial, the media and the economy as a whole (e.g., Angola and Mozambique). In those rare occasions where the challengers manage to get into power, it soon became clear that nothing substantial changed; the same old political practices and operating logics of clientelism and patrimonialism survived, adding new to the old performers. As for the so-called civil society, it also became clear that it was mainly an “expatriate” project, with a liberal and foreign agenda, and most of all extremely dependent on foreign funding that could not last forever. A new version of civil society still survived with the EU “Non-State Actors” concept, trying to gather the private sector with civil society actors and even trying to articulate all within a federative-type of structure, that would relate to governments in some “organized” manner to help end poverty and democratize in some participative way.

In countries where the most significant economic sectors were under governmental control and depended on political patronage to survive, it was unrealistic to imagine an alliance between civil society critical of governmental malpractices and entrepreneurs with umbilical connections to the government. Even those civil society organizations that accepted a more technical role (leaving aside civil and political agendas) would not last without the support of foreign funding and ended up engulfed in major governmental strategies that used them in support of its project of power maintenance.

As for the so-called “international community” it soon realized that its agendas were not being assimilated as expected to become endogenous and as soon as its agendas shifted priorities (be it new themes or new geographic areas within Africa or even outside the continent) it left its local “partners” again at the mercy of old power structures.

One of the arguments of your article is that those neo-institutionalism’s strategies, instead of pushing Africa towards a transition to liberal democracy – as promised by transitology perspectives –, they strengthened the structures of neo-patrimonialism, which became more modern and, taking advantage of the possibilities opened by international capitalism and its mechanism, developed into some kind of post-modern patrimonialism. Could you tell us more about this concept of post-modern patrimonialism?

After a period when donors simply circumvented recipient governments and wealthily funded so-called civil society organizations (late 1980’s and 1990’s), it soon became clear that the strategy was not resulting and ended up favoring the process of taking social and welfare responsibility out of the State, further disaggregating the State administration and unintentionally helping the process of “Weak States,” Warlordism and Somalization, creating new security issues at regional and international level.

The “old” Westphalian State and classic notions of sovereignty were recovered for African countries and reinvestment was redirected to the re-institutionalization of the State, even if that had to be made at the expense of effective democratization, accepting to once again preferentially deal with the same old political and governmental elites, which provided a more “seeing like a State” profile. Moreover, by then the so-called agents of change had proved ineffective anyway and security issues came on top of the international agenda.

The neo-institutionalism as adopted by major donors, including the EU, and major international intergovernmental organizations, tried to tight the grip on recipient governments, placing all sorts of advisors and consultants inside ministries within technical cabinets to help “build capacity” (technical support on design, development and implementation of all sorts of projects and State procedures, starting with the national budget) and hopefully allow some control and restriction on old ministerial malpractices (diversion of funds, lack of transparency on public accounts, etc.).

However, the Angolan and the Mozambican cases show that such strategy was totally ineffective. The old practices not only survived but were even incremented to unprecedent levels of sophistication and amounts, with major international developments, expanding networks of clientelism, money laundering and private appropriation of public funds and assets in support of internal political logics of power maintenance. Worst of all, the whole process proceeded despite the technical support and putative control of an army of expatriate technicians that were supposed to be following the administrative procedures inside the most strategic ministries, especially in Mozambique.

I resort to a concept of Post-Modern patrimonilalism that I first developed years ago to the Angolan context, whereby the political and economic system in place is not neo-patrimonial as defined by authors such as Patrick Chabal, J.F Médard or J.F. Bayart, or even less neo-colonial as usually mentioned in the 1960s (in their relation with former colonial powers or new imperial powers), insofar as such systems were able to reinvent themselves into new ways of being. These political systems assume protagonist – although discrete – roles (not reactive but proactive), taking the most out of those developments and opportunities from the perspective of those in power in their quest not only to maintain power, but even to reinforce it and reproduce it for future generations, within a new international dimension and networking.

I am sure that this was not what post-modern and decolonial authors had in mind when devising processes of deconstruction of modernization in its mental and social structures, fruits of a Western and colonial world vision and intelligible structures. However, what we do have in practice is a rejection of such modern developmental way of thinking and being. It is a way of relating with such world, not from the perspective of trying to be assimilated within it, but manipulating it in favor of the interests and logics of political systems that do operate under different codes of ethics and purposes. In this way, somehow unexpectedly, these systems and their own logics and dynamics, that are still patrimonial in essence, are able to use modernization and the opportunities open by it, on its favor and to its own reinforcement and sophistication. We are not talking of subjugation, of dependency, of centers and peripheries within the same world-system, we are not talking of endo-colonialism, we are talking of agency, resilience and creativity which do make sense from the point of view of those who operate it.

Leaving aside moral judgements of value on the net result of such systems and their byproducts to most of the population (the poor, that do in fact become poorer through such process), we do have a non-modernist perspective that can be termed post-modern according to its capacity to reject modernist ways of thinking and being, of structures and discourses, to act beyond it and to keep internal logics and coherence of power maintenance and management.

You mention China briefly in your case studies, both for the potential of the “China factor” to Africa and for the possibilities of Chinese investments replacing those of traditional donor, which usually come attached to conditionalities related to neo-institutionalism. How do you see China’s presence in Africa and how could it impact the structures of post-modern patrimonialism?

China is an important actor that fit perfectly into the construction of the new post-modern African State as described. China has a distinctive way of being in Africa, mainly for business, securing strategic resources, leaving aside all those conditionalities of the West and therefore being a useful partner, not meshing in internal affairs and respecting in full the States’ sovereignty. In an awkward way, China could also be seen as an actor taking the most out of the international context and its modern developments and structures (at the financial and commercial international levels) to its own benefit, reinforcement of inner political and economic logics that are in opposition to the modern liberal State.

The Welfare State as a conquest of the post WWII era and a modern “Western” way of being and thinking, has been under strong pressure by recent developments at the world economy, from the relocation of major industries to escape higher wages and social benefits in the 1980s, to the gradual erase of social and labor rights conquered after the WWII in order to, among other factors, keep up with the commercial competition from Chinese and Asian products in general. In these terms, China is also an interesting example for several African countries (such as Angola, as assumed by its new President), whereby authoritarianism goes in hand with a role in international markets, but in support of its own internal logics that simply rejects the modern liberal State, and in particular the modern Welfare State.

Your case studies showed the importance of traditional donors such as the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) in promoting neo-institutionalism in Africa in general and in Angola and Mozambique in particular. From a broader perspective, how to place this neo-institutionalism thinking in a world were those international institution promoters of that rationale (as the UN and EU) are recently suffering setbacks (for instance, the BREXIT and Trump’s critiques on “globalism”)? Is there any chance of the resurgence of neo-Marxist/neo-socialist strategies such as the ones proposed by the World Social Forum process mention in your article? Or it is a moment of changes towards new debates?

Looking back, the World Social Forum had its brief momentum within development thinking, but almost immediately faded away in the first half of the 2000s due to the 9/11/2001 attack to the twin towers and the new concern on security issues, which opened way to neo-institutionalism.

Despite the 2030 UN agenda, which is still neo-institutionalist, development thinking is clearly at a turning point, looking for new perspectives insofar as it became clear that neo-institutionalism has failed. Perspectives from the “South,” the “margins,” “from below” (if such categories effectively exist in any meaningful way), would be a useful contribution, but would probably have first to break with the still leading role of Western intellectuals and ideologies, be it neo-marxists or neo-liberals, and its classic political duality between left and right, which is also an extension of Western disputes and historical political contexts.

However, such break is extremely difficult insofar as major international organizations are still dominated by Western thinkers, ideologies, strategies and countries. The geo-politics of power within such organizations would have to change. The UN would definitely need to internally restructure to allow some fresh thinking and to reflect some of the major changes occurred in the world since WWII. Most of all, it seems to me clear that the UN still has to decolonize its power structures, before being able to incorporate any such new perspectives. That is a major and difficult challenge to surpass.

The modern developmental world, its models and structures (be it neo-liberal or neo-marxist), are at crisis, contested not only from the outside but mainly threatened from the inside, with populist and radical political tendencies, which have been extremely detrimental to the humanist universalist discourse and its values (which existed, at least at the theoretical discursive level). The EU influential role on development thinking and policies within major international organizations will greatly depend on the ability to keep the UK. In fact, Brexit is a major preuve de force to the EU project itself and to any idea of Europe and even the West as a socio-cultural entity in any way.

Read the article

Vidal, Nuno De Fragoso. (2018). International development strategies for the XXIst century and post-modern patrimonialism in Africa – Angola and Mozambique. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 61(1), e015. Epub January 24, 2019.

About the authors

Nuno de Fragoso Vidal, ISCTE – Instituto Universitário de Lisboa. Centro de Estudos Internacionais. Lisboa, Portugal (

Paulo Menechelli Filho – Ph. D. candidate at University of Brasilia

How to cite this interview

Mundorama. "International development strategies for the XXIst century and post-modern patrimonialism in Africa – Angola and Mozambique, interview with Nuno de Fragoso Vidal by Paulo Menechelli". Mundorama - Revista de Divulgação Científica em Relações Internacionais,. [Acessado em 18/06/2019]. Disponível em: <>.
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