This week, our group discussed patrimonial politics. There is probably no better place to do that than Chicago! We looked more closely at the reality of the state-building project for Afghanistan, but tried to step away from the dominant Western discourse on human rights and democracy to understand how Afghan politics really work. We considered different cases and models of governance, and looked at various political actors, strategies and sources of power.
We focused most of our attention on two articles. In Warlords as Bureaucrats, Dipali Mukhopadhyay investigates two cases of “warlord-governors” and discusses their hybrid models of governance. It is fascinating to see how these two political actors have managed to combine formal and informal power to actually deliver services to the population, the central government, and the international community.
In Centre-periphery relations in Afghanistan: Badakhshan between patrimonialism and institution-building, Giustozzi and Orsini show that, since 2002, the state-building process in Badakhshan consists of a centralization of the patronage system. They argue that electoral politics are not necessarily compatible with patrimonial systems, because they create uncertainties and short-term calculations that have a negative impact on the stability of the region.
Interestingly, both articles show that institution-building and patrimonialism are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In Giustozzi and Orsini’s words: “they are ideal types that can engage in a dialectic relationship.” What is probably not compatible with patrimonialism is the overambitious state-building project that is promoted by Western institutions in Afghanistan. It is now time for Western policy-makers to adapt to the Afghan political reality.