Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Are European politics turning more African?

With the recent European elections, and 60% of voter abstinence, we have one more proof that democracy is in crisis world wide. Not that this is news, we have been reading about this for many years now, but clearly, citizens feel that it matters not much for their daily lives what goes on in the palaces of power. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the leader of the European green party, and the big winner of this election, stated that it was also the irrelevant media coverage, turning politics into a soap opera, that fuelled a diminshed interest in politics.

The Dutch anthropologist, Peter Geschiere, in a little and insightful article 'Le politique "par le bas": les vicissitudes d'une approche' (in Konings, Van Binsbergen, Hesseling, 'Trajectoires de liberation en Afrique contemporaine, Karthala, 2000) suggested that European politics was taking more and more its cue from Africa. It seems now that after the empire had written back, it was now the empire's politics that returned to the metropole.

Under the impact of globalisation, and such far-reaching policies as structural adjustment and the concomitant inequalities, post-colonial states saw a context with few political and policy options to spurn development and few, clearly defined political-ideological choices. Politics did not offer any clear alternatives.

Geschiere argues that it was the restraining influence of a global and transnational constellation on national politics, and the absence of space for alternatives that led to an increasing disentchantment with politics. In Africa, Geschiere writes, this restrained context had created the dominance of personalised politics, and the development of clientelist networks that asphyxiated the body politic.

Is the advent and triumph of Silvio Berlusconi emblematic for this transfiguration of post-colonial realities?

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