Academic journal article African Studies Review

Informal Institutions and Personal Rule in Urban Ghana

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Informal Institutions and Personal Rule in Urban Ghana

Article excerpt


Contrary to expectations of modern democratic development, the establishment of liberal-democratic institutions in Ghana has not led to the demise of political clientelism. Instead, the underlying informal institutions of leadership- friendship, capitalist entrepreneurship, family, and religion-contribute to the persistence of personal rule in urban Ghana. Leaders amass political power by accumulating followers in daily life. The article provides empirical evidence to substantiate these theoretical claims in the form of two ethnographic case studies-a politician's primary campaign and the screening of a football match in an urban slum. It proposes an alternative model for the study of democracy and political accountability that extends beyond the formal institutional realm to include informal mechanisms that shape political clientelism in a democratic environment.

Résumé: Contrairement aux attentes du développement démocratique moderne, la mise en place des institutions de la démocratie libérale au Ghana n'a pas conduit à la disparition du clientélisme politique. Au lieu de cela, les institutions informelles souterraines d'influence gouvernementale telles que les réseaux de connaissances amicales, l'esprit d'entreprise capitaliste, le patronage, la famille et la religion, contribuent à la persistance de la domination du principe de relation dans les centres urbains du Ghana. Les dirigeants accumulent le pouvoir politique en accumulant des adeptes rencontrés au cours de leur vie quotidienne privée. L'article fournit des preuves empiriques à l'appui de ces affirmations théoriques sous la forme de deux études de cas ethnographiques-la campagne d'un politicien pour les primaires, et la projection d'un match de football dans un bidonville. Il propose un modèle alternatif pour l'étude de la démocratie et de la responsabilité politique qui s'étendrait au-delà du domaine institutionnel formel, afin d'y inclure les mécanismes informels qui façonnent le clientélisme politique dans un environnement démocratique.

Key Words: African politics; democracy; personal rule; informal institutions; clientelism; Ghana

During a recent community event in James Town, Accra, Ghana (Nov. 15, 2011), the man sitting next to me extended his hand and introduced himself: "I am Reverend Dr. Nii Owoo. I am the Head Pastor of this church, a renowned international ministry." He proceeded to give me two business cards with his contact information. One was for the international real estate business he founded; the other was a laminated card labeled "Elite: Royal of the Nii Owoo Family." He was proud of these three roles-preacher, entrepreneur, and principal elder-and explained that they were all important leadership positions that indicated his power in the community. When we Finished talking he shook my hand and said, "If you ever need anything, you know where to Find me. You are my friend now."

This interaction illustrates how leaders accumulate power at the local level in urban Ghana. Leaders, including politicians and chiefs, gain power by extending their social networks, accumulating wealth, being family heads, and speaking the gospel-they are friends, entrepreneurs, parents, and preachers. Contrary to expectations of modern democratic development that emphasize increasing secularization, decreasing personalization of political power, and gradual liberalizadon of the legal system, personal rule persists in Ghanaian society despite the strengthening of its liberal democratic institutions. Local residents struggle for political power and economic resources through the accumulation of followers, the most important metric in determining personal power (Sahlins 1963). In this árdele I provide an institutional explanation, based on how leaders accumulate power in daily life, to explain the persistence of personal rule in an African democracy. This explanation helps account for the evolution of political clientelism in Ghana today. …

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