Governmentality, Materiality, Legality, Modernity

On the Colonial State in Africa

Publication Date:

Journal: Perspectives on African Modernities

Reissue Date:

Editors: Jan-Georg Deutsch, Peter Probst and Heike Schmidt

Publisher City: New York and London

[W]hat happens to people without nations . . . ? Are they human beings if they are not citizens? Julia Kristeva (1993: 26)


It has become commonplace, in the anthropology of colonialism, to stress the contingent, constructed, cultural dimensions of the encounter between Europe and its `others’ (e.g. Dirks 1992; Thomas 1994; Cooper and Stoler 1997: 4f). Ever more attention is being given to the making of imperial subjects by means of objects, via the manufacture of desire and the commodification of need (Comaroff and Comaroff 1997a); to the reconstruction of `natives’ through dispersed disciplinary regimes (e.g. Thomas 1990; Mitchell 1991); to the importance of overseas `possessions’ as `laboratories of modernity’ (Stoler 1995); to the impact of the life-ways of colonized

peoples on European cultural practices (e.g. Trotter 1990: 5f). As received forms of modernization and Marxist theory retreat, dialectics give way to dialogics, political economy to poetics, class conflict to consumption, the violence of the gun to the violation of the text, world-historical material processes to local struggles over signs and styles, European domination to post-Hegelian hybridity.

This is something of an over-statement, obviously. There are many who still argue for older approaches. And some who essay positions in between. In my own view, none of these images of colonialism is simply right or wrong: each refers to different moments in, different perspectives on, different aspects of its workings over time. I also believe that the pendulum swing between them will turn out to have a liberating effect on the Western academy.

But I do have one lingering concern.
It has to do with the question of the colonial state.
George Steinmetz1 commented some three years ago, that, for all the recent attention given to colonialisms of various types, the colonial state itself is rarely theorized.2 True, its functions are often spelled out: for some, they lie in the regulation of material processes; for others, they are to be found in the establishment and maintenance of social order; for yet others, they derive from an ensemble of institutions created to protect European projects of expansion; for a few, they inhere in violence, terror, and coercion, framed as the guarantee of physical security for the colonizer against the colonized. This inventory is not exhaustive, of course; post-modern notions of the workings of the colonial state, as we shall see, include a broad range of disciplinary practices. But these, I stress, are all functional descriptions, a mode of knowing the beast by its effects (cf. Corrigan and Sayer 1985: 2). What is more, their conceptual and empirical bases are far from established. Hence Steinmetz’s caution. If he is correct, we have yet to answer some fairly fundamental questions.

What precisely is `the colonial state?’ Is it one thing or many things or nothing at all?3 Is it a process? A series of institutional mechanisms? A specific form of governance? A cultural construct? An existential state of being-in-the world?
And how does it differ from its Euro-counterpart, the metropolitan state `at home’?4

Is there anything to be derived from the fact that, just as the term `state’ has two connotations in its noun form–the state, that is, as political order, structure, institution; the state as a condition-of-being–so as a verb it denotes to `give voice,’ to `articulate,’ to `narrate’?5

It is to these questions that I direct my reflections on the colonial state in South Africa. And elsewhere. I do so by exploring, in a manner deliberately eclectic and fragmentary–at times even elementary–some of the dominant facts and fictions surrounding its social archaeology. Also by interrogating the major theoretical approaches to its description. My objective is not to tender a literature review. It is to cast radically new light on the nature of colonial governmentality, modernity, and the culture of legality at its core.


[T]he state is a territorial entity struggling to impose its will upon a fluid and spatially open process of capital circulation. It has to contest within its borders the factional forces and fragmenting effects . . . of capital[ism] . . . To do so effectively [it] must construct an alternative sense of community to that based on money, as well as a definition of public interests over and above the class and sectarian interests . . . contained within its borders. David Harvey (1990: 108)

There is no need, in this context, to open up the question of why European colonizers–Dutch, then British6–found their way to southern Africa; or how `the colonial state’ established itself here. At first, European governance covered a limited, though gradually expanding, territory (see e.g. Krüger 1969: 325f; below). Pragmatically speaking, it set itself a fourfold mandate: (i) the `discovery’ of dark lands, which were conceptually emptied of their peoples and cultures7 so that their `wilderness’ might be fixed and named and mapped by an officializing white gaze; (ii) the pacification of `natives’ seen to be endemically unruly and hence requiring, even desiring,8 Pax Britannica; (iii) the facilitation of `commerce and adventurous industry’ (Barrow 1801- 4,1: 8f), thus to civilize the savages, to draw them into the beneficence of empire, and, simultaneously, to enrich the `mother country’; and (iv) rational administration–itself taken everywhere to be a prerequisite for the economic `management’ (read `exploitation’) of colonies (cf. Ajayi 1969: 505)–subsumed in a regime of predictable bureaucratic and fiscal practices.9 `Sociologically speaking,’ Weber (1968: 1394) was wont to say, `the modern state is an “enterprise” just like a factory.’ This, certainly, is how administrations in many parts of Africa liked to represent themselves–though, as Lugard (1997[1922]: 574) stressed, it was always deemed important to make it clear, alike `to the educated native, the conservative Moslem, and the primitive pagan,’ that `Government [was] . . . sympathetic to his aspirations,’ protective of `his natural rights,’ and `in touch with [his] thought and feeling.’

The fourfold mandate taken upon themselves by colonial regimes in Africa implied that the master narrative of European imperial expansion, its narrative of mastery, would place `the state’ at the centre of the story: that `the state,’ in the singular, would be at once the ur-protagonist and the organizing trope of an epic history; that its heroic personages would be public figures–statesmen–who were agents of overrule and governance; also, as a result, that this history would, in its authoritative telling, be political rather than cultural, social, or even, in the first instance, economic.

Which, of course, has turned out to be the case.

It has been said, quite often recently, that history in its modernist form–as a chronicle of public events and heroic actions–is re-presentation (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992: 176); the authoritative self-representation, in particular, of the nation- state (cf. Anderson 1983). And, since colonialism everywhere has been inextricably imbricated in the making of European modernity (Stoler 1995), in the maturation of its sovereign communities (Cooper and Stoler 1997: 18f), it is hardly surprising that imperial encounters should have been written as the political histories of states acting out their destinies on other peoples, other places.

In South Africa both liberal and conservative histories10 place almost exclusive emphasis on the role of the colonial state in the domestication and development of the subcontinent; or did until very recently.11 Owusu (1975: 34-5), although writing in a more general key, describes nicely the epistemic bases of the orthodox historiography of South Africa. He observes that accounts in this tradition are, wittingly or otherwise, grounded in `theories’ of modernization. (The quote marks, signs of irony, are his.) These accounts take as axiomatic the inevitability of modernity. They emphasize its gradual evolution, presume the centrality of government in effecting its progress, and treat its narrative, ultimately, as political, even when focusing on material processes.

As told from this perspective, the story of the colonial state in South Africa is usually divided into four periods: (i) 1652-1806, the phase of Dutch mercantile rule, interrupted briefly by an English takeover (see n.6); (ii) 1806-c.1870, the early British years, in which imperial governance was restricted in geographical and administrative scope, and during which two breakaway white settler republics were established in the interior; (iii) 1870-1910, the age of the mineral and industrial revolution–and `scramble for Africa’–when the United Kingdom sought to extend its control over the subcontinent as a whole; and (iv) 1910-1994, the epoch of the Union of South Africa, a dominion within the British Commonwealth, which culminated in the rise and fall of apartheid.

Each of these periods is narrated around a few topoi. One is the role of the state in regulating (often antagonistic) relations among whites; in particular, between those Europeans who later congealed into the Afrikaner `people,’ an agrarian population which came to resent the liberal social attitudes of the British administration toward Africans, and English settlers, who saw themselves as much more cosmopolitan and enlightened (Coetzee 1988: 9f; Streak 1974: 5f).

Another is the centrality of the colonial state in governing `native’ populations, in overseeing their `discipline’ and `development.’ This took many forms, all clothed in a mass of legalities: among them, the introduction of `indirect rule,’ which ostensibly retained local government in the hands of traditional authorities (Lugard 1922) but, in fact, made most of them into menial civil servants of empire; the delimitation of African land into reserves and locations; the regulation–often by the naked manipulation of black economic viability–of flows of people to centres of industrial and agrarian production; the claim to be civilizing those people through enlightened rule, by such modernist means as the provision of education, public health facilities, and judicial institutions–and, more baldly, through wage work itself (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992: 199f.).

A third motif is the function of the state as a site of, and a mediator in, struggles between Europeans and Africans over land and labour, property and rights (cf. Gann and Duignan 1969: 5); this despite the fact that it was often an interested player in those struggles, sometimes annexing territory to further its own interests (cf. Lonsdale and Berman 1979: 496f). Its adjudicatory role was most dramatically enacted in the innumerable commissions of enquiry held by the British administration over the years (cf. Ashforth 1990; see below). These arbitrated disputes of diverse kinds and, in doing so, reinforced the legitimacy of the state as a superordinate structure of governance.

The last theme is the engagement of colonial states in the economics of empire, both at home and abroad. Liberal and conservative histories alike pay exquisitely detailed attention to the ways in which these states intervened to promote European commerce; to protect the enterprises of expatriate settlers and frontier farmers; to facilitate the extraction of raw materials and labour power; to develop trade networks and markets; and, from the 1870s onward, to interpolate itself into an unfolding mineral and industrial revolution.

As I said, all histories of colonialism in South Africa, written from orthodox perspectives, are ultimately distilled into sequences of actions around these topoi. What is more, they usually regard the state as a benign force,12 one which sought to balance the interests of the various parties under its jurisdiction. Its excesses and descents into violence, its scandals and corruptions, its inefficiencies and incoherences, its deployment for the enrichment of some at the expense of others–if recognized at all– are treated as aberrations, as ruptures in an otherwise seamless narrative of progress. And they are, by and large, blamed not on the systemic contradictions of colonialism, but on misanthropic or misguided individuals. In this respect, Harvey (1989: 108) is correct: the state is portrayed here–much as it represented itself–as embodying and serving a public good, a collective sense of being-in-the-world, against sectarian differences within its borders (cf. Engels 1968: 586).

Neo-Marxist historians13 of South Africa, influential in the 1970s and 1980s, contest all this. For them, it was the material logic of industrial capitalism that determined the colonial encounter–the state being the bureaucratic armature of business, a superstructure with little autonomy, will, or agency of its own. Its physical and fiscal capacity to coerce is held to have served one end: the exploitation and regulation of labour–and, concomitantly, the making of a quiescent black proletariat (e.g. Wolpe 1988; Magubane 1979). As Harvey (1990: 108) has said, after Marx, `the state, constituted as a coercive authority that has a monopoly over institutionalized violence, [is the] . . . organizing principle through which a ruling class can seek to impose its will not only on its opponents but upon the anarchical flux, change, and uncertainty to which capitalist modernity is always prone.’ Its tools of coercion vary, he adds. They include the imposition of taxes and levies; the provision or withholding of resources; control over incomes in the public sector; and a monopoly of the means of surveillance, of military might and police repression. Neo-Marxist historians in South Africa are wont to see political institutions less as a response to the anarchical flux or uncertainties of modernity–less, also, as a `principle’ through which ruling classes impose their will–than as a creature of the inexorable development of capital itself. But they would agree about the tools of coercion typically used by colonial regimes.

They would also go one further step with Marx himself (1967,I: 765). In the colonies, he argues, the capitalist régime everywhere comes into collision with the resistance of the producer, who, as owner of his own conditions of labour, employs that labour to enrich himself, instead of the capitalist . . . Where the capitalist has at his back the [state] power of the mother-country, he tries to clear out of his way by force, the modes of production and appropriation, based on the independent labour of the producer.14

The integration of black South Africans into the capitalist economy of colonial South Africa–through the forcible destruction of their modes of production–is narrated in a manner reminiscent of various species of dependency theory (see e.g. Bundy 1972, 1979; Marks and Rathbone 1982; Marks and Trapido 1987). Arguments over the details aside, we are told how African societies were deliberately impoverished, their economies subverted, thus to make them dependant on a mix of underpaid migrant wage labour in the urban industrial sector (done mainly done by men) and underproductive rural agriculture (done largely by women). The role of the state in this process was to provide the `overt political controls’ (Parsons 1977: 137) necessary to expedite the underdevelopment of the countryside and to guarantee the supply of compliant cheap labour. No more, no less.

A qualification here. From other parts of Africa have come efforts to write a more nuanced version of the neo-Marxist narrative. Lonsdale and Berman (1970: 487), for example, hold that the state was never just `a loyal minister to capital’s needs,’ that it was `relatively autonomous’ (cf. Wallerstein 1974: 402). Why? Because it had to appear as an `even-handed arbiter’ presiding over different, often inimical, material and social worlds (p.489); echoes here of Harvey (see above). Moreover, government could not simply oblige the interests of colonizers, as these were often contradictory and excessive. But, if it could `not be the servant of capital,’ it certainly was `the protector of capitalist social relations’ (pp.489-90). This is the nuance: it was capitalism, rather than capital, of which governance was a reflex. Indeed, the state is defined by Lonsdale and Berman as `the historically conditioned set of institutions in any class society which . . . secures the social conditions for the production of the dominant mode of production’ (p.489). Colonial administrations, they continue, `never ceased to provide the conditions for the reproduction of settler capitalism’ (p.504). Which suggests that, for all the effort to refine its role, state remain supporting players in the political economy of colonialism.

I shall return to this.


Aylesbury Prison, England, 1918. He was stripped and put in a cell with a stone floor and no glass in the window . . . [But] it was not the cold that bothered him, it was being watched all the time. The eye in the door . . . an elaborately painted eye [inside the cell] . . . , was deeply disturbing . . . `’S not so bad so long as it stays in the door. You start worrying when it gets in [your head].’

Pat Barker (1995: 36)

A new chapter has opened up in the historical anthropology of colonialism in South Africa. And it is evoking alarm in some scholarly circles,15 largely because it subverts a host of conceptual certainties. Born of the revisionism of which I spoke at the outset–and grounded in Foucault’s discourses on power, governmentality, and the modernist subject–it has not yet been fully worked out in this part of the world. Mitchell’s Colonising Egypt (1991) is perhaps the most completely realized example in Africa, and it is written about the other end of the continent. Nonetheless, it is a harbinger of post- structuralist and post-Marxist perspectives that are beginning to make themselves felt as never before. I do not intend here to offer an introduction to Foucault on power and governmentality; enough has already been written in that vein. I should like instead to make a few points of typification, sketching briefly how a post-modern `reading’ of the colonial state might proceed in South Africa.

From a Foucauldian vantage, the modernist state is itself a disciplinary formation. Its power is less instrumental than `capillary’: it stretches, autonomically and unseen, into the very construction of its subjects, into their bodily routines and the essence of their selfhood. Indeed, it is by inculcating a deeply interiorized, individuated sense of self-regulation–through its clinics, schools, prisons, and other sites of surveillance; its censuses, surveys, and cognate forms of accounting; its modes of objectifying personhood through the `human sciences’; its `natural’ institutions like the family, established religion, and commodified regimes of recreation–that the state imposes order. Order, that is, in both the sense of regularity and regulation, of convention and command, of civility and servility. This involves the insinuation of an entire space-time world into the mundane practices of citizens. Thus are subjects subjected to modes of control that are rendered unseen in their very enactment.

In order to analyze the workings of colonial states, then, it is necessary to look to their capillary modes of regulation. But there is a caveat here. Unlike the European polities with which Foucault himself was concerned, colonies were never places of even tenuously-imagined homogeneity. For the most part, their administration was vested in states without hyphe-nation: in states without nations. Here lay the ideological contrast between metropolitan and colonial governance. One depended, for its existence, on the cultural work of manufacturing sameness, of engendering a horizontal sense of fraternity (Anderson 1983); this notwithstanding the fact that its political sociology frequently fell far short of its own self-representation–or that, in many cases, the identity between nation and state was more aspiration than reality. The other, despite its rhetoric of universalizing modernity, was concerned with the practical management, often the production, of difference. Consequently, imperial regimes abroad were always caught up in a `doubling’: while they spoke of transforming colonized peoples into civilized–i.e. `modern’–right-bearing citizens, they dealt in heterogeneity by naturalizing ethnic difference and racial inequality.16 The former was entailed, if nothing else, in converting `savages’ into proletarians. The latter was implicit in the grammar of cultural diversity, the organic anthropology, which underpinned the hierarchical structure of European rule. This, we have argued (1997a), is the base contradiction of colonialism. Its telos pointed toward secular modern citizenship (and eventually nationhood), its reality toward a world of ethnic subjection. In the optic of empire, `natives’ were always subject/citizens-in-formation.

But how, exactly, did colonial states set about (re)constructing the identities, the being-in-the-world, of those over whom they governed? Wherein lay their applied anthropology? On the understanding that these were interlocking processes, let us look first at the making of the modernist citizen, then at the fashioning of the ethnicized `native.’

In Africa, the construction of the aboriginal as a colonial citizen owed a lot to the political economy and pragmatics of overrule. As long as they lived in their own communities, ruled by their own chiefs and customs, indigenes might remain faceless and nameless. But once they entered colonial society–as workers or commodity farmers, subalterns or servants, sellers or buyers–they had to have recognizable names, individual identities, rights and responsibilities.17 How, otherwise, could they enter into contracts or be prosecuted for wrongs? How, otherwise, could they be made to pay tariffs and levies? How, otherwise, could their movements, marriages and divorces, property and possessions be regulated?

In sum, the transformation of `savages’ into `citizens’–albeit always an incomplete process–was a corollary of the mobilization of a stable army of labourers into the capitalist sector, which demanded that employees be tied by legal agreements and defection be criminalized; of taxation, through which the cost of colonial governance could be offset and people coerced to work; of the introduction of `private’ assets, which entailed titles, estates, and testaments; and of the oversight of domestic life, including the formation, reproduction, and break up of families. All this was effected by a range of now familiar methods of enumeration, serialization, individuation, identification: the registration of births (hence, also, of names) and deaths (along, in time, with wills); the certification of lawful wedlock and its dissolution; the institution of population censuses,18 tax rolls, and identity papers; the ever more extensive documentation, bureaucratization, and rationalization of everyday life. In many places these things were actively resisted. Tswana, for example, referred to them as `the English mode of warfare.’ They were held to reduce `human beings to pieces of paper,’ and were seen as instruments of violence by which indigenes were relieved of their property and freedom of movement (J.L. Comaroff 1997: 256). Throughout the country during the twentieth century, moreover, `pass books’–notorious identity documents which blacks had to carry–were periodically burned in public, leading to bitter confrontations with police. In the late apartheid years, significantly, tax registers, census files, and the like often became targets of mass destruction.

In its effort to create colonial citizens of color, the state was abetted, if unwittingly, by other expatriates. The most notable were Protestant evangelists, among the earliest colonizers in South Africa. Also the most thorough. The civilizing mission was intended to effect a `revolution in the habits’ of Africans (Philip 1828,2: 355) by breaking down their `semi-communistic ways’19 and severing the `promiscuous’ webs of relations that bound them together; by clothing them in `properly,’ so that their bodies would be covered and enclosed; by persuading them to treat marriage as an ensemble of rights, a contract between two consenting adults, and to live in nuclear homes on fenced-off squares of land; by teaching their children to be disciplined and to improve themselves by dint of sheer effort; by encouraging each man to work on his own behalf as a wage-earner, thus to appreciate the virtues of money, the market, and property; in short, by ensuring that their would-be converts were biologically and legally self- contained individuals.

If these were the techniques by which colonizers recast Africans as citizens, their fabrication as ethnic, racialized subjects followed a different (dis)course.

The transformation of southern Africa into an ethnoscape depended, first of all, on a colonizing cartography. I noted earlier that the `dark continent’ was treated as an empty space until it fell under the European gaze, thence to be mapped, by means of conventional graphic images, onto an expansive world-picture. As a contemporary poem by Jonathan Swift had it (Curtin 1964: 198): `. . . Geographers in Afric-Maps//With Savage Pictures fill their Gaps.’ Colonial cartography replaced those pictures, and the epistemic void they covered, with `scientific’ charts grounded in a political geography intended to facilitate imperial command. It entailed the compilation of atlases on which aboriginal `tribes’ and `peoples’–invented sometimes20–were labelled and placed in bounded territories, each the designated realm of a legitimate monarch, chief, or headman. For the British, in fact, command without cartography did not actually amount to colonialism at all (Barrow 1801-4,1:67). As Harvey (1990: 255) has noted: `If space . . . is always a container of social power, then [its] reorganization . . . is always a reorganization of the framework through which social power is expressed.’

Not only a reorganization, of course. Also a re-presentation. Especially a representation of new ethnological fixities, of the geographies of governance implied in reducing the living worlds of local populations to timeless, two dimensional abstractions. Such were things that colonial functionaries understood well; they underlay `indirect rule,’ the creation of `tribal reserves,’ and the reduction of indigenous sovereigns into servants of empire, its lowly tax collectors and labour recruiters. Hence the obsession of imperial bureaucracies with mapping–and all that went with it.

One thing that did go with it, quite regularly, were government commissions of enquiry (see Ashforth 1990). These commissions investigated territorial boundaries and dealt with land claims; set the terms of `native’ authority and administration, particularly in respect of law and custom;21 inquired into labour relations and contracts, and framed the terms of wage work for blacks, including the master-servant provisions which tied employees to their employers;22 and so on. Some had specific mandates,23 others were given very general briefs.24 All were intended, ostensibly, to reduce chaos to order. But, whatever else they did, government commissions tended to see their task as ethnological; they documented vernacular life-ways, compiling the first official ethnographic records of the peoples of the region. True, they often relied on the writings of missionaries and explorers. But they also did their own research, interviewing chiefs and elders to ascertain their `traditions.’ Many of their descriptions were very thin by anthropological standards; still, they became compendia of authoritative information about local cultures. Later they gave way to (i) annual reports, submitted by district administrators, which documented change and continuity in customary practices; and, after the formation of the Union of South Africa, (ii) ethnological surveys written by the staff of the Department of Native Affairs.

Government commissions, then, gave bureaucratic currency to the categorical structures and cultural divisions emerging across the South African landscape. Also, by treating those cultures and categories as primordial, the state naturalized them, elevating them into hegemonic forms of naming-and-knowing–at least until anticolonial struggles began to unravel them. As we have shown,25 the genesis of modern ethnic identities and differences here had much to do with early encounters between autochthonous peoples and the civilizing mission; but the official inscription of such identities and differences increasingly became the business of government. In legitimizing labels and authorizing images of otherness–and in laying an anthropological basis for its dispersed regimes of regulation–the state tried hard to ensure the consent and the collaboration of the colonized. Glimpses here of Gramsci, foreshadowings of Fanon.

Mirroring back to the colonized images of themselves as ethnic, racialized subjects occurred in many contexts, both ordinary and awesome. Such images–verbal, pictorial, even musical–saturated the public sphere. They also found formal representation in museums, where `traditional’ cultures were displayed in lifeless dioramas; in scholarly treatises on language, habit, and lore; in national ceremonies and monuments, especially those evoking the `discovery’ and domination of South Africa; in the theology of settler Christianity; and in a range of other specular and spectacular events. Most potently of all, perhaps, they pervaded schooling, infused alike in formal syllabi and `hidden’ curricula (Comaroff and Comaroff n.d.). There is no need here to explain why European pedagogy, with its invasive technologies of mind and body, was a crucial vector in the effort to implant new signs and practices among African peoples. Indeed, for all their ideological differences, liberal apologists and Marxist critics tend alike to (over)stress the efficacy of education in assailing the consciousness of colonial subjects. And in recasting their epistemic world, endowing it with new axes of knowing- and-being.26

Those images, moreover, had a distinctive, refractory cast to them, portraying `the native’ as a primitive conservative.27 Having had their cultures objectified, primordialized, and dehistoricized, ethnic subjects found themselves depicted as benighted antimoderns. They were said to be governed by the primal sovereignty of their customs and customary rulers (J.L. Comaroff 1995), and cling, unquestioningly and unreasoningly, to their ancestral taboos. In response, the colonial state, practising its own politics of unreason, criminalized some cultural practices (e.g. witchcraft, polygyny, and `ritual murder’) and endorsed others (e.g. `customary law’)–depending, in part, on the exigencies of governance. It also appealed to the primal hold of custom to prevent social change, even when that change was demanded by indigenous peoples. Thus, to take one case, the British Bechuanaland Land Commission of 1886 (Great Britain 1886) invoked the `ancient system’ of `communal tenure’ to prevent a Tswana sovereign from introducing individual land ownership in one his dominion; this in spite of his having had strong local support, and sound economic and political reasons, for the move (Schapera 1983). Prior to overrule, this legislative innovation would have been within his jurisdiction (Schapera 1970). Now, however, the state authorized itself to decide that his subjects were `not ready’ for the change.

Similarly, and more seriously, in 1905 the South African Native Affairs Commission argued against universal franchise, claiming that Africans preferred traditional forms of representation; it went on to recommend reduced black voting rights in national and provincial elections. The Commission also declared that economic and social arrangements based on individualism were not suited to aboriginal peoples. Being under the primal sway of ancestral custom, they were `unready’ for this too. In the upshot, these peoples were encouraged to see themselves as faceless Zulu or Sotho or Xhosa or whatever, with no consideration of class or gender or generation or personal circumstances. As Sartre (1955: 215) once said, the distinctive experience of colonialism is being made to feel, and then to see one’s self, as a `native.’ It was an experience to which the actions of the colonial state were strongly to conduce.

This returns us to the contradiction at the core of colonialism. In South Africa, the state28 spoke, in a promissory voice, of making modern, right-bearing citizens out of `natives’ whom it persisted, at the same time, in treating as ethnic subjects. On one hand, `Non-Europeans’–an official term of negation–were said to be on the high road to civilization and citizenship, prosperity and propertied individualism. On the other, they were portrayed, to themselves and the world, as anonymous antimoderns, condemned for the foreseeable future to the primal mire of custom. The colonial state often engaged in its own internal arguments over this doubling; it was a recurring register in a broader discourse on `The Native Problem.’ The basic question in this discourse, as Cooper and Stoler (1997: 7) put it, was: `How much civilization was appropriate’ for aboriginal peoples? It was a question that was answered in many ways over time. But almost invariably with an eye to reproducing distinction, dualism, and discrimination. Difference, again, in three dimensions.


The actual history of states has been one of continuous growth, both in their claim to regulate the lives and property of their subjects, and in their physical capacity to enforce such claims . . . Yet, paradoxically, the increase in the state’s range and power has produced countervailing decreases in effectiveness. Kenneth Minogue (1987: 239-40)

How persuasive, then, are these paradigmatic perspectives on the colonial state?

The differences between them are stark, of course. Which is why the weaknesses of one appear as the strengths of the other. For example, modernist approaches, both orthodox and Marxist, would seem to be on uncontentious ground in interrogating political economy to get at the workings of colonial governance; the failure to account for material forces, it is often said, is a serious deficiency in post-marxist, post-modern accounts of the same thing. On the other hand, Foucauldians have pointed out that the construction of something called `political economy,’ hardly a category given by nature, is itself a function of the history of modernity. And of its forms of power. From this viewpoint, the reciprocal inattention of pre-Foucauldian sociologies of the state to its technologies of discipline and representation is even more egregious.

These mutual allegations carry considerable weight. But the matter is more complex than it may first look. For one thing, the obvious corollary does not follow: it is not possible simply to add a measure of political economy to post-modern approaches– or more concern with capillary power to older orthodoxies–and expect a better understanding the colonial state. As I have intimated, `political economy’ is an analytic term with its own archaeology, not a species of empirical phenomena. What it describes, how it is to be understood, is highly contested, both within and across theoretical paradigms. Conversely, capillary processes of governmentality pose their  own conundrum: the more comprehensive they were, the more persuasive in explaining colonial domination, the less colonial states ought ever to have encountered resistance. They did, everywhere. Of which more in a moment.

But, even taken purely on their own terms, both modernist and post-modern perspectives, in all their variants, suffer from critical flaws, fallacies, failures. Let us mention just a few and allow the matter to rest; this on the understanding that paradigmatic critique–by contrast to more specific forms of theoretical exegesis–occurs at a level of generality to which there are always exceptions and qualifications.

Modernist approaches, left and right alike, may be taken to task on four counts.

First, in dealing with imperial governance, they seldom distinguish sufficiently between its various spheres and levels; most notably between the metropolitan and the colonial state. I have already remarked the ontological contrast between them. Its political outworkings are as crucial. Functionaries `at home’ and `abroad,’ and in different ministries and departments, often came into intense conflict with one another over questions of policy, the material and moral economics of empire, and the proper means of extending European dominion. These `tensions of empire’ (Cooper and Stoler 1997) were in part structural, in part perspectival: the imperatives of colonialism, like the fiscal commitment necessary for effective governance, did not appear the same to everyone engaged in the business of overrule; such things varied a great deal according to time, place, and position. Their negotiation had a major impact on the historical destinies of particular colonies, on their modes of governance, and the well-being of their indigenous populations.

Second, in treating the colonial state as a generic entity, modernist discourses have tended to elide a wide spectrum of political, ideological, and imaginative forms. To speak of the Raj, at the height of its elaboration, in the same breath as the administrations of, say, Lesotho or Zanzibar is to stretch a monothetic category far beyond its breaking point. `The colonial state’ describes not a thing but a genus of historically fluid forms and processes; `it’ cannot be typified or theorized in the singular, in the indicative mood, or in the continuous past or present tense. Concomitantly, abstract statements about its workings, especially those derived from paradigmatic cases, are inherently open to disaffirmation. For example, when Kaviraj (1995: 25f) states that the state was the `controlling structure’ at the epicentre the colonial world, he seems to take South Asia as his point of reference; in nineteenth-century Africa this claim would be flatly wrong.

Third, modernist discourses–again, conservative, liberal, and Marxist alike–have failed to address `the Minogue Paradox.’ Recall Kenneth Minogue’s (1987: 239f) observation: while states in general have had a history of cumulative growth–in their institutional complexity and the range of their authority over the lives of citizens–their elaboration has been accompanied by a proportional decrease in the efficacy of their control. This has had many manifestations, from the collapse of once potent regimes to the creeping inability of others to control the means of violence, to contain the workings of the market or the flow of money, to meet the costs of reproducing infrastructure or to limit the expansion of the `private’ sector (J.L. Comaroff 1996). Colonial administrations, likewise, appear to have evinced the Minogue Paradox. The more powerful they became, the more they managed the life-worlds of those whom they ruled, the less effective they seem to have been, over the long run, in making `natives’ into compliant subjects, in yielding a profit to the metropole, in stifling resistance, in sustaining the coherence of their modes of governance (Bissell 1998)–and, finally, in surviving the onslaught of anticolonial forces. The Minogue Paradox, in other words, raises a elemental challenge: how to explain the exquisite counterpoint of legitimacy and limitation, of regulation and resistance, of power and paralysis that animated the history of the colonial state.

The fourth concerns the relationship between the colonial state and capital. As we saw above, both Marxist and liberal traditions have emphasized the indissoluble connection between them. From the perspective of the first, recall, the state was a reflex of capital(ism). For the second, it existed to administer the economy for the common good: to manage and monitor the money supply and the banking system; to levy taxes, oversee public spending, facilitate the development of commerce, and ensure law and order. While this view has been taken to task repeatedly for its ingenuous, roseate view of overseas administration–and for ignoring the role of the state in racializing and naturalizing inequality–the Marxist alternatives also underplay the sheer complexity of colonial political economy.

The state, goes the counter-argument, was never just a reflex of capital. It often did serve capitalist interests, of course; even more, there were moments when government and business appeared indistinguishable. But there were also times of struggle between them, times when colonial bureaucracies acted against the private sector (Lonsdale and Berman 1979: 489f). Furthermore, for all the idea that the primary function of political authorities was to superintend the recruitment and regulation of labour, a mandate discharged with variable success, the reality was a lot less straightforward (Comaroff and Comaroff 1997a: Chap.4). All else aside, many `natives’ migrated in search of work voluntarily, sometimes under the impact of missionary teaching, long before government intervened. In this respect, it is worth noting that the state, as a forcible presence, was a relative late-comer in much of the South African interior.29 All of which points to an obvious conclusion: that, for all their interconnections and articulations, the history of colonial governance is irreducible to a history of capital(ism).

Some of the same critical points apply as well to post-modern, post-structuralist, post-marxist analyses. There is no need to expatiate here on the allegation, noted before, that these analyses short-circuit the manifest materialities of colonial capitalism. More interesting, for present purposes, are three other lines of critique, each of which takes seriously the achievement of Foucauldian histories in illuminating the relationship between power, governmentality, and the making of the modern subject.

One is that the capillary processes associated with colonial governance–the inculcation of a self-regulating, biologically discrete, legally constituted sense of human being–were not a function of the state alone. They were, equally, the province of the civilizing mission pursued by evangelists, social reformers, and other `noncommissioned’ agents of empire.30 In part, this had to do with the unspoken division of imperial labour, in part, with the practical constraints of command. Even when European bureaucracies were at their most developed, their mastery over the lives of indigenous peoples was always incomplete; at times, it was notably limited. This is not to say that colonial rule was never intrusive, coercive, violent. It certainly could be. But it often ran up against the limits of its own possibility; which, in turn, led administrators to rely on other white expatriates to regiment, regulate, and refine `the native.’ Simply put, to see the state as the primary producer of racialized subjects–let alone of colonized consciousness, of remapped axes of space and time, of reformed ideas of selfhood–is to misrecognize the deus ex machina of capitalist modernity.

But there is another, more obvious problem with the stress on the capillary character of colonial rule. It is this. Colonial states everywhere depend(ed) at once on (i) instrumental, institutional, tangible forms of coercion, (ii) means of violence both immanent and manifest, (iii) diffuse modes of surveillance and discipline, and (iv) the positive production of consent. As this implies, the instrumental and the capillary are complementary dimensions of all governance; conditions, in fact, of its very existence. True, their proportions vary. But, insofar as power is the relative capacity to construct realities–to fashion human subjects and social forms, material value and truth-value, perceptions and intentions–it always has interiorized and exteriorized, spoken and unspoken, private and public, productive and repressive coordinates. It makes no sense, therefore, to reduce colonial rule, sui generis, to the insinuation of a singular kind of subjection; all the more so in light of its often incoherent, murky executive practices. And its simultaneously civilizing, criminalizing, exploitative, humanitarian, and punitive tendencies. One thing that Foucauldian approaches have not done is to explain the limits of the capillary. Until they do, the term remains a suggestive adjective, a partial description of colonial governance, not a theory of its workings. Nor does it elicit unanimous consent. Cooper (1994: 1533), for one, makes the case for a competing metaphor: `power in colonial societies was more arterial than capillary–concentrated spatially and socially, not very nourishing beyond such domains, and in need of a pump to push it…’

Which leads to the third line of critique. To phrase it in the interrogative voice: If capillary techniques of governance were effective, if they did inculcate disciplined subjection, why did imperial regimes abroad differ so widely in deploying them?31 Even more mysterious, why, ask Cooper and Stoler (1997: 8), did colonizers spend so much time defining and defending categories and representations which were untenable–and which interfered with their command over indigenous populations? Why did they sometimes go to absurd lengths to display their firepower, especially when it was flimsy?32 Why, in sum, were colonial states so prone to failure, to drawing disruptive attention to their own administrative practices? And why, when they did rely on those very capillary techniques–ostensibly silent, invisible, innocent means of imposing control–did they frequently incur angry reactions?

Colonial subjects, it seems, were not easily hoodwinked. Among Tswana, for instance, the government ahgent (Comaroff and Comaroff 1991: 295) was despised precisely because of his role in counting, taxing, and otherwise regulating the minutiae of their everyday lives. A few of these men were actually killed.33 But still more instructive, as a narrative of noncapitulation, is something alluded to above: that these same people spoke of the colonial culture of legality–the reduction of everything to documents, contracts, and titles–as `the English mode of warfare.’ Tswana knew violence when they saw it. Or, more accurately, when they could not see it. There is every reason to believe that their heightened awareness of invisible forms of surveillance and control arose out of the contradiction at the core of overrule; out of the fact that `natives’ were promised full, right-bearing citizenship in an enlightened new world, but found themselves delivered into racial subjection (see above). This `doubling’ could not but draw their attention, at times ruthlessly, to the means of colonial governance–rendering even the most subtle of them at once starkly visible and resonantly audible.

As a result, far from instilling compliant self-discipline, the capillary techniques of colonial states played a great part in sparking processes of challenge and riposte, of transgression, transformation, and hybridization; a greater part than did brute force. Which is the opposite of what a Foucauldian narrative, at least in vulgar form, might lead us to expect. That narrative cannot account for the essential paradox of colonial governance: its capacity to be ordered yet incoherent, rational yet absurd, violent yet impotent; to elicit compliance and contestation, subjection and insurrection. Often at once. And, disconcertingly, in ways that blurred the lines between apparently antithetical species of action.


States, if the pun be forgiven, state . . . They define, in great detail, 28 acceptable forms and images of social activity and individual and collective identity . . . in this sense `the State’ never stops talking.34

Philip Corrigan and Derek Sayer (1985: 3)

It is this paradox that makes it impossible to arrive at closure by (re)formulating a neat ideal-typification of `the colonial state’; to reduce it, that is, from an active verb to an abstract noun. Indeed, the point of composing my reflection as a contrapuntal critique has been to show that the beast resists two-dimensional representation; that its variabilities, limits, fluidities, and disarticulations over time and space were an overdetermined expression of its inner workings and its dealings with `others’; that it was an immanent structure of divers possibilities whose concrete political, material, and cultural forms were made, remade, and unmade in historical practice; that it was an ensemble of generative processes, not generic properties.

This takes us back to the Big Questions posed at the outset. Most importantly, what exactly is `the colonial state?’ Indefinite or definite article? One thing, many, or nothing at all? A series of mechanisms? A process? A specific form of governance? A cultural construct? A condition of being-in-the world? What is to be made of the fact that the word itself also connotes to `give voice,’ to `articulate,’ to `narrate’? We are now in a position to engage these questions–and, in doing so, to restate the problem of the state as a discourse in the interconnections of governmentality, materiality, modernity, and legality.

Let us begin with the first. The colonial state, in South Africa as elsewhere, was always an aspiration, a work-in-progress, a phantasm-to-be-made-real. Rarely was it ever a fully actualized accomplishment. An `ideological project,’ Abrams (1988: 75-6) called it35–adding, provocatively, that, being an `essentially imaginative construction,’ it was `the distinctive collective misrepresentation of capitalist societies.’ Shades, here, of things written long ago. Corrigan and Sayer (1985: 7) remind us that Marx (1967) believed `the State’ to be in an important sense an illusion. Of course, institutions of government are real enough. But `the’ state is in large part an ideological construct, a fiction: [it] is at most a message of domination–an ideological artifact attributing unity, structure and independence to the disunited, structureless and dependent workings of the practice of government.

Not just Marx either. Weber (1948: 78) too. For him, it was `a claim to legitimacy, a means by which politically organized subjection is simultaneously accomplished and concealed, and it is constituted in large part by the activities of institutions of government themselves’ (loc.cit.).

A truly curious force of history, this, at least if we agree with Marx and Weber: simultaneously a claim to authority, a cultural artifact, an illusion,36 a present absence/absent presence, a principle of unity masking institutional disarticulation, and a potent construct which manifested itself in the quotidian activities of government. But ought we to concur with Marx and Weber,37 whose perspectives derived from a very particular place in the modernist political history of Europe?

In nineteenth- and twentieth-century Africa, the colonial state was often an 30 elusive entity. Typically, too, it was many things at once, even when imagined as one: less a singular, definite article than an indefinite, variably integrated ensemble of sites, institutions, narratives, and material processes, it was the political frame (i) in which power sought to authorize itself thus to speak and act for a political community, for its past and its future;38 (ii) in which bureaucratic cadres ruled with differing degrees of autonomy, entering into common cause at times with various social fractions, usually defined by (if not named in the language of) class, race, and/or gender; (iii) in which cultural conventions, their coercive aspect camouflaged in the habits of everyday life, were posited as a precondition of collective being-in-the-world.

Colonial regimes contrasted widely in the extent to which they managed to condense legitimate power in themselves, to suppress a politics of difference, to manufacture consent, and to ritualize the subjection of citizens to the state. Such things, patently, depended on a range of historical contingencies too broad to list here. So too did the degree to which partisan blocs–often, but not invariably, colonial capitalists of one kind or another–succeeded in appropriating the means of government, including the use of force. Which is why some overseas administrations were weak, others strong; some highly intrusive, others scarcely visible; some energetically protective of expatriate enterprises, others less so; some brutally violent, others barely coercive; some contested, others accommodated; in; some prone to flamboyant ceremony, others matter-of-fact in their regulatory routines; some well-ordered and efficient in their technologies of rule, others in more-or-less constant disarray. Indeed, the explanation of these patterns of variance, and of their historicity, is the task awaiting the anthropology of colonialism once its conceptual groundwork is done.

According to modernist political sensibilities there can only ever be one state in a territory; vide any basic college course in political science. Hence the difficulty of contemplating imperial governance without speaking of `the colonial state’; this even when the term describes a largely unconnected set of administrative practices and institutions. Or, in extremis, almost none at all. Insofar as the singular, definite imagined article is the sine qua non of modernist politics, it exists, alike at the metropole and the colonial margin, as a narrated and enacted description of order: order again in the double sense of regularity and regulation, of convention and control, of civility and sovereignty. In other words, whatever its organizational lineaments, the state is a statement, an assertion: it expresses an authoritative worldview, sometimes backed by displays of might. Noun and verb do have a more than fortuitous connection. The first (`the state’) is the abstraction enunciated, realized, made manifest by the second (`to state’). And by the power that it takes to speak, persuasively, in the active voice.

But the argot spoken by colonial regimes was not arbitrary. Their vernacular was the language of the law. Modern state-formation, Corrigan and Sayer (1985: 1f) note, was a `cultural revolution.’ At its core lay the spirit of legality. Many have tied industrial capitalism, modernity, the nation-state, governmentality, the right-bearing citizen, and lex naturae into a single historical equation; the equation on which is founded the logos of our epoch, beginning with the Age of Revolution, 1789-1848. What I seek to add here, modestly, is the proposition that it was the deployment of this language of the law, its ascent to hegemonic authority, that held colonial states together, even at their most disarticulated, least coherent, most impotent; that afforded them a means to make fact appear out of phantasm, illocutionary force out of illusion, concrete reality out of often fragile fiction, one thing out of many; that allowed them to represent themselves as guarantors of civility against savagery; that legitimized all aspects of their power, capillary and coercive, volitional and violent, arterial and instrumental; that mandated their right to mediate diverse identities and interests.

This lexicon constituted two interrelated public spheres: (i) it laid down the terms and the terrain of cooperation, commerce, and contention among settlers and expatriates, thus establishing the state as the axis mundi of European colonial society; and (ii) it provided an ostensibly neutral medium for people of different cultural worlds, different social endowments, different material circumstances to enter into contractual relations, to transact commodities, and to deal with their conflicts. In so doing, it forged the impression of consonance amidst contrast; of the existence of universal standards which, like money, facilitated the negotiation of incommensurables across otherwise intransitive boundaries. But the law was also mobilized to delineate the moral frontiers of civil society, criminalizing `native’ cultural practices deemed uncivilized, politics deemed primitive, counter-modernities deemed dangerous (cf. Stoler 1985). To be sure, it was the hydra-headed, blunt instrument by which colonial states sought, in the name of `progress,’ to control and transform the space and time of their subjects. As Taylor (1989; see n.17) has said, there are good reasons why the language of legality and right should have emerged at the heart of European cultures of modernity. Its special significance here, however, lies in the convergence of two features of African colonial states, both of which we encountered earlier.

The first is that most of these states were states sans nations; as I said above, states without hyphe-nation; at least until the late years of the Age of Empire. True, white settlers, who persisted in talking of Britain or France or Germany as `home,’ liked to think of the colony as a proto-Euronation. It was an affectation in which expatriate regimes participated by creating many of the figurative trappings of nationhood; given that the imperial gesture represented itself as a civilizing mission, and as political modernity incarnate, they had no alternative. But the colonial state, precisely because it was not constitutive of a nation, was founded largely on the legalities of exclusion and the politics of difference. It barred the majority of `natives’–those over whose territory it asserted sovereignty–from full membership in the polity, rationalizing racial restriction in the righteous language of statutory `protections’; in the claim that, if allowed to, Africans would alienate their land, sell their birthright, and lapse back into barbarism. It will be remembered that colonial commissions regularly limited the rights of ethnic subjects; this, along with innumerable executive orders, prevented all but few blacks from becoming right-bearing citizens, equal before the law, in a secular modern political community.

Under these conditions there was little prospect of the emergence of a sense of nationhood based on horizontal connection (Anderson 1983)–even if colonial regimes had wanted it. Most colonies were, in any case, carved out with careless inattention to their cultural integrity or sociological viability, and were subjected to long periods of divide-and-rule. What is more, the very act of narrating and ritualizing a nation that did not exist, a practice often carried to symbolic excess, drew the attention of black elites to their legal disempowerment; also to the impossibility of their incorporation, as anything but `pariahs’ (Plaatje n.d.: 17), into colonial society. This, in turn, is often invoked to explain the rise of mass resistance across Africa, particularly after 1945.39 Whether true or not, many decolonization movements at the time did congeal into (often uneasy) nationalisms: that early counter-claims for an independent African modernity should have appropriated the language of constitutionalism and the law seems overdetermined (cf. Davidson 1992).

So too, in this light, was the Minogue Paradox; the contention that the more elaborate colonial states became, the wider the reach of their authority over the lives of colonized peoples, the less effective they were in making `natives’ into acquiescent subjects–even, sometimes, in sustaining the coherence of their own modes of governance. This, to round out the circle, tended to drive European administrations abroad to ever further binges of legalistic regulation, especially in dealing with insubordination and counter-violence. The latter were usually treated as crime, not politics (see above); they elicited forms of repression meant, in good proportion, to instil into settler populations and `respectable natives’ a faith in law and order.

Which leads to the second feature of the culture of legality at the core of the unhyphenated colonial state. Kristeva (1993: 26; above, p.1) hinted at it in asking, pointedly, `[Are] people without nations . . . human beings?’ The answer, in Africa, is clear: their humanity was rendered incomplete, ambiguous. This, after all, was entailed in the effort of colonial regimes to convert indigenes, contemporaneously and contradictorily, into both right-bearing citizens and culture-bearing ethnic subjects. The former might have epitomized the European bourgeois sense of refinement. But the latter were specimens of a primordial, imperfect homo sapiens, barely above beasts in their `natural’ proclivities and their promiscuous, `primitive communism.’ In colonial South Africa, blacks were regularly referred to by terms connoting animality, among them skepsels, Dutch for `creatures’ (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992: 52f).

There is no need to belabour the implications of this bipolar construction of the colonial subject/citizen–of its promises, its paradoxes, its unfulfilled telos–save to say that it had the effect of inculcating in Africans a `double consciousness’ of their place in the world (cf. DuBois 1968). And that, in the mass anticolonial struggles of the twentieth century, it expressed itself in the uneasy coexistence of two counter-discourses of constitutional entitlement. Many of those who contested European domination in the name of nationhood and self-determination spoke eloquently of jural equality and universal rights. Rights, that is, for individuals. Especially to new African middle classes, and to orthodox Christians, this liberal discourse of rights was appealing; which is why popular political movements–among them the ANC in South Africa–framed their aspirations in the language of legality, equity, and due process.

But there was also another discourse of rights. This one made political claims in the name of ethnic groups, many of them formed during the colonial epoch. It subordinated individual entitlements to those of collective identities, asserting–also in the language of the law–the liberty of indigenous peoples to sustain their sovereign self- determination within a federated national polity. And it made a case for a plural legal system cognizant of `customary law,’ for allowing a great deal of autonomy to `traditional’ authorities, and for a moral order based on `ancestral’ convention. This, in South Africa again, is the kind of political world to which, among others, the Zulu-centric Inkatha Freedom Party aspired.

In sum, these two discourses of rights arose, dialectically, out of the contradictory manner in which the colonial state sought to construct its subject/citizens. Each fashioned its own vision of the present and future. Each essayed its own idea of modernity. Each aspired to its own political culture, its own form of post-colonial governance. And each spoke its own version of legalese. Which is why, in the African postcolony, the legacy of European legalism has lost none of its purchase. Whether it be in `model’ democracies like Botswana (with its very British court system), in aberations such as Nigeria (where due process has been violated, vacated, and distorted), or in a host of situations in between, law still tends to provide the lingua franca of civil society, citizenship, and the state. Or, rather, nation-state; the hyphen, and everything it stands for, remains a compelling aspiration in many parts of the continent.

Given that post-colonial Africa inherited all the contradictions, paradoxes, and tensions endemic to the colonial world, it is little wonder that `the law’–as a universal standard of value, a medium of exchange, and a language of commensuration– continues to be widely fetishized. Not least in the breach. Note how its suspension by military dictatorships has almost always been effected in the most legalistic of terms. Alike in its presence and in its absence, the modernist culture of legality sustains itself as the dominant trope, the secular faith even, at the core of the (nation-)state; the state, that is, as both a political abstraction-made-concrete and a condition of being-in-the- world.


And so to a conclusion.

The problem of the colonial state begins with its very (mis)conception. With the fact that, much of the time, we speak of it sans specification. Worse yet, we take it so for granted that it is all but absent from our theoretical discourses. By juxtaposing orthodox approaches of the left and the right against Foucauldian revisionism I have tried to problematize it anew. And in such a way as to make sense, at least in broad lines, of the alternative African political modernities40 fashioned during the late colonial epoch and transported into the postcolony.

It will be clear now why I have insisted on treating colonial governance as a process of becoming: as both verb and noun, as a state and a statement, as an aspiration made real in varying proportions through human practice. Why it is, too, that `the colonial state’ was always both one thing and many; always simultaneously an ideological project and a (more or less articulated) institutional order; always both a fantasy and a reality–indeed, a reality with the capacity to affect the lives and deaths of those who fell within its purview.

As I said earlier, the historical variability with which colonial designs were accomplished in Africa, the contrasts over time and space among states, remains to be accounted for. In the meantime, I suggest that, beneath all the diversity–indeed motivating the polyvalent, disparate character of imperial governance abroad–lay a number of contradictions. These arose, in major part, from the most fundamental constitutive feature of the colonial state: from the fact that it was, until just before its demise, a state sans nation. It was this that expressed itself in, even impelled, the construction of an oxymoronic subject/citizen; that set in motion the Minogue Paradox, the inverse correlation between the elaboration of the colonial state, its technologies of rule, and its efficacy in regulating `native’ life; that threw a heightened emphasis on the language of legality in constructing an ordered world; that yielded two different counter- discourses of rights, two alternative conceptions of political modernity.

It is this last thing, the production of alternative modernities (see n.40), that is likely to be the final legacy of the colonial state in Africa; of the way in which it condensed a particular order of governmentality, legality, materiality, and civility. Perhaps also its most terrifying. The two images of nationhood and of political order– one based on universal rights, free citizenship, and individual liberty; the other on group entitlement, ethnic sovereignty, and `primordial’ cultural affinity–are, more than ever before, arraigned against each other in struggles for the determination of the continuing present and future of many postcolonies. In South Africa they almost derailed the end of apartheid. Elsewhere they have spawned genocide. Almost nowhere yet have they yielded easily habitable hybrids, new political orders that address the problem of post- colonial empowerment. This heritage of the colonial state, of its imperious civilizing mission, is the `black man’s burden’ of which Basil Davidson wrote (1992). It is also the challenge that awaits Africa as a new epoch, the epoch of global capitalism, dawns. And spreads new shadows over old horizons.

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