Wetenschap - 1 januari 1970

Patronage in Africa: death knell or blessing?

Patronage in Africa: death knell or blessing?

Patronage in Africa: death knell or blessing?


Are things in Africa really as bad as Roel van der Veen suggested a couple
of weeks ago. According to the Dutch Foreign Office official, who was the
first to lecture in a Studium Generale series, the continent has become a
prisoner of its own system of patronage. Wageningen researchers gave their
reactions to the black picture he painted. Applied technology could be the
answer.

Professor Paul Richards, anthropologist and chair of the Technology and
Agrarian Development group at Wageningen University:
“Roel van der Veen suggests that Africa’s problem is not one of external
exploitation, but that the problem lies in Africa itself: the power
exercised by the patrimonial elite through the control of resources. It is
true that the relationship between the African elite and the population is
problematic. Kin relations have always been important in Africa because
people do not inherit land but a social position. The importance of kinship
has been strengthened as a result of the enormous dislocations of people
through migration, disasters, war and the slave trade. Malaria and HIV/Aids
have only worsened the breakdown of social relations. One way that people
try to re-connect with each other is through patronage.

But the problem in Africa is not the power of patronage but the collapse of
the system of patronage. The war in Sierra Leone is a good illustration of
the problem. Young people with little social integration and weak patrons
seek protection from the state. But the state has shrunk through lack of
support from the international community, so no longer provides education
or petty jobs. African leaders are trying to restore the system of
patronage with the support of western countries, which appears to be
infinite as van der Veen observes. British Prime Minister Tony Blair took
courageous action which gave Sierra Leone a breathing space. It’s now using
the opportunity to restore the system of patronage that the British helped
develop during the colonial period. The problem now is that there are too
many clients seeking protection. Like many African countries, almost half
of the population of Sierra Leone is under eighteen. I once pointed out to
the British Army leaders that the twenty countries with the youngest
population are the countries with the most war and threat of terrorism. It
is not feasible to restore patronage. But the growth of a huge class of
youth without a leader is making it impossible to govern Africa.

What can we do? Science and technology can provide a solution. But it needs
to be in the form of applied science based on crafts and skills already
present. Science as we know it is more part of the problem than a solution.
What Africa needs is technology that is useful to the huge floating
population of young people. The average farmer in Africa – unlike what
donors believe – is not a man with an extended family network, but a
thirteen-year-old girl whose parents have recently died from Aids. This
girl needs to learn agricultural technology that she can understand and
apply herself. Africa has a big capacity for learning through
apprenticeship. The British army is training soldiers in Sierra Leone, but
doesn’t realise that each trainee in turn trains ten friends in how to use
weapons. This system of learning could be used with other forms of
technology. Vocational education should be developed to take advantage of
this. Despite the problems I am not negative about the future of Africa.
All those young people also have ambitions and enthusiasm.

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