On state closure and state capture
Posted By: Tatalo Alamu On: October 14, 2018
Clarifications and Elaborations
If one were to resurrect all the victims that history has tirelessly put through the mill, that it has tortured to this day, what an endless procession… Consequently, since he has realized that suffering is inevitable, man should at least be able to give some human meaning to his suffering….. From The Journal of Witold Gombrowicz
State formation is perhaps the highest innovation of human civilization. Before you can reach for the moon, you must be able to reach to the moaning. It is interesting that at a time when a well-reasoned scholarly paper demanding for a recolonization of Africa on humanitarian grounds has gone viral, Nigerian politicians and state intellectuals are quarrelling about state personnel and the rearrangement of the feeding order.
Citing the inability of the African post-colonial state, African nations and African elites in general to pass muster, the American professor argued for an overt and unapologetic form of colonialism in Africa in order to prevent the human condition from sliding into animal savagery. The international furore can be better imagined with death threats, mass resignations from the board and transatlantic academic missiles flying all over the place.
It is just as well then that this columnist often receives request from the numerous readers for further explanations, clarifications and even elaborations of some of the issues raised in the column. Very rarely do the discussions spill to the column itself.
But shortly after this newspaper hit the newsstand on Sunday morning and well before a columnist with The Punch newspaper and former senior academic colleague made a similar request for clarification of the difference between state capture and state closure, yours sincerely had already adjudged the issue as deserving of a public outing.
These requests and the tone of expeditious urgency with which they are often made speak to the critical ferment in the country today and the fact that there is an intellectual dimension to the crisis of the nation. As we have noted in an earlier column: “The crisis of the Nigerian post-colonial state is also a crisis of the intellectual class leading to a progressive debility of the thinking and critical faculty.
This is the ultimate designer crisis, tailor made like a Savile Row bespoke suit for clinical disorientation. For without the intellect, there can be no illumination. And without the flash of intellectual inspiration, there is no way to think the way out of the tunnel of abysmal hopelessness.
In this millennial darkness, all are like proverbial blind people clutching at different parts of an elephant and claiming that they have discovered the real thing. Keywords and important concepts such as “progressive”, “conservative” and “reactionary” are lost to the torpid void. Freely bandied about and loosely applied to forestall and even replace critical thinking, nobody is sure what these words mean any more. They have become catch-all slogans emptied of true meaning and essence. The damage of ignorance is only more devastating than the damage of pure mischief”.
To start with, there is nothing intellectually profound or earth shattering about the notion of state closure or state capture for that matter. As it ever so happens in the field of scientific research or intellectual inquiry with so many people subjecting the same data to intense interrogation, somebody was going to make the conceptual linkage sooner than later.
While some of their essential features can be abstracted and subjected to conceptual analysis, it is not possible to grasp the essence of captured states and closed states in abstraction. Like all social phenomena which share identity even in critical differentiation, they can only be understood in their concrete manifestation before being subjected to comparative evaluation.
In its modern incarnation, state capture occurs when a deliberate entrapment of the state and its machinery by corrupt elements leads to state-incapacitation and inability to discharge its principal function as a neutral arbiter of elite disputation. Before it found its way to South Africa to describe alleged interference of corrupt elements with the Zuma regime, the idea of state capture was a World Bank terminology for rogue regimes spawned by the collapse of Soviet autocracy.
But the major culprit was the post-soviet Russian state itself which was virtually captured by oligarchs until Vladimir Putin, a former KGB operative, put them to sword. In doing that, Putin ensured a firm and complete closure of the post-soviet Russian state which brooks no opposition. Thus we see how a concept loses its cutting edge acuity and vitality to sheer bureaucratisation.
Given this writer’s orientation in political activism and state struggle, our notion of state closure and state capture draws its inspiration from the Gramscian theory of state disbandment through intense deployment of intellectual artillery. As such, strong states with weak civil societies are to be distinguished from soft states with strong civil societies.
Given this important distinction and expanded brief, state closure and state capture are ideologically neutral phenomenon. They can be effected by right-wing forces or left-wing elements, depending on the balance of forces. They can occur as a result of a revolutionary rupture and smashing of the ancient society and old order by a new hegemonic order such as witnessed in the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions or they can be a result of a reactionary right-wing rally to protect the conservative status quo as seen in Hitler’s Third Reich and General Frank Franco’s triumphant siege.
At the level of superficial semantics state capture appears like a more radical and total version of state closure. Yet in reality while state capture implies a forcible and comprehensive seizure of state machinery, state closure suggests a deliberate and systematic closing off of the state often by pseudo-democratic means.
The two can also be incorporated in one overarching momentum. The Russian Revolution began with cohabitation and collaboration with a quasi-democratic arrangement before the Bolsheviks seized power in the confusion and chaos of a civil war. The Chinese Revolution followed pretty much the same pattern after a violent parting of ways between the communists and the Kuomintang Nationalists which culminated in the triumphant Long Trek.
Hitler’s Third Reich began as a democratic power-sharing arrangement with the ailing and senile General Paul von Hindenburg in nominal control. But in a dramatic civilian putsch famously known as the night of the long knives, the former Austrian corporal went rogue and seized control of the German state and nation with the connivance of the army. In the case of Fidel Castro and General Franco, they simply overwhelmed the state before sealing it off.
Africa has followed very much the same pattern with state closure often following violent state capture as we have seen in Togo, Uganda, Rwanda, Eritrea, Mobutu and Kabila’s Congo, the other Congo often referred to as Congo Brazzaville, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea. In other African countries such as Cameroons, Gabon and Somalia, state closure often routinized by sham elections is the norm of rogue democracies. In Algeria, Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau state closure followed national wars of colonial liberation.
In South Africa, it cannot be said that the Boer supremacists captured state power. With the possible exception of the inchoate Zulu nation, the other native African states are too remote and rudimentary to be accorded this status in modern political parlance. What the Boer overlords seemed to have put in place was a novel type of colonial statehood based on harsh and fundamental exclusion which found its ideological leitmotif in codified notions of racial superiority.
By sheer demographic superiority, the post-apartheid ruling African National Congress seems to have routinized this arrangement with the emergence of a new clan of Black overlords. But they cannot be accused of not holding inclusive elections if and when due. They cannot therefore be logically accused of state capture. It is state closure by any other means.
It is however in contemporary Nigeria that the notion of state closure seems to have reached its most poignant expression in contemporary Africa. As we said in an earlier piece, “Nigerians are incredible and incorrigible optimists, often clutching at straws in an effort to summon redemption. The alternatives are just too grim to contemplate. The collapse of their beloved country is not a fate many Nigerians are willing to imagine.
Yet local politics remain a bitter, fractious and cancerous affair which invites the very possibility of the implosion that the Nigerian political elite love to wish away. The Nigerian post-colonial state constantly romances and flirts with suicide, but the power barons find the possibility of national mortality an abhorrent prospect.
Why then is the Nigerian state so prone to sudden closures, which often require considerable national effort to prise apart? We saw this with Obasanjo. We saw this with Umaru Yar’Adua and his provincial cabal. Jonathan and his henchmen tried their very best until a dramatic intervention of lucidity at the very end saved the nation from the precipice of calamity.
Are we then on the verge of another near-death experience?. Nigeria’s history is replete with electoral nightmares. But electoral nightmares are merely the subtext or shorthand for something more fundamental; a symptom in search of a disease.
As we concluded in the earlier piece: “The humble lesson to be learnt from this is that no matter who is there at a particular point, there are certain structural configurations combined with a pre-colonial mental structure which lend the Nigerian state to zero-sum politics and easy closure. Until these structural and ideological disfigurements are removed, the Nigerian state will oscillate between forced closure and violent reopening before being overwhelmed by circumstances”.