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The Hegemonial Exchange Theory in Traditional African Political Thought

Hegemonic exchange is defined as a type of arrangement whereby the state facilitates coordination between the central government or ruling elite and other ethnic or regional interests to allow for mutual accommodation between them and facilitate peaceful coexistence (O’Flynn, 2010). The Hegemonic model lays emphasis on making inter-ethnic negotiations mostly in states that are ruled by a single party. The hegemonic exchange model is often applied in cases where the state is not able to employ complete hegemony over its people (O’Flynn, 2010). The state is therefore forced to exchange patronage and resources in order to maintain political stability within its region.

The Hegemonic model is authoritarian in nature and is often used in states with a single party or a non-party state. It is characterised by having a small number of rulers who make decisions on behalf of the state. There are several strategies that are used in the hegemonic exchange to manage ethnic disputes and disagreements. The first strategy is buffering. This involves the use of the state as mediator to resolve disputes that arise between ethnic groups. The second strategy is protection. In this case, the state provides protection in conflict areas to avoid further deterioration of the situation.

The third option is redistribution. The state may choose to redistribute conflicting ethnic groups in a way that will ensure minimal contact between them so that disputes do not arise again. The efficacy of hegemony largely depends on how it is practiced by the leaders. The success of the system relies on the ability of leaders to display imperial dominance through cultural imperialism. The state rulers have to dictate the internal politics of the state and ensure that the people under their rule conform to the system. Under a hegemonic system, rebellions are eliminated either through suppression or co-optation. In most cases, co-optation is preferred but the leaders often avoid direct involvement in such processes.

The type of relationship between the leaders and the people largely depends on whether the people see the leaders as legitimate or not. When people have confidence in their leadership, it becomes easy to succeed in governing them. In case of disputes, the decisions made on cases are easily accepted without hostility. The perception of legitimacy by the people determines what they expect from the leaders in terms of policies, and regulations. Hegemonic regimes tend to enforce their claim of legitimacy on the people. In most cases, particularly in Africa, the result is further conflict especially if a particular ethnic group is in power.

In Africa, the hegemonic exchange regimes are criticized for their anti-democratic practices. In most cases, people are not given a platform to air their grievances and only a few representatives are used to articulate their issues (Rothchild, 2010). This makes it difficult to get to the root of the conflicts and solutions are forced on to the people. As a result, the forced solutions only provide short-term respite to the communities. In most cases the inter-ethnic hostilities re-emerge within a short period and the conflict resolution process has to be repeated all over again (Rothchild, 2010).

Despite the criticism, the proponents of hegemonic system as used in Africa give several reasons for its adoption. First, they argue that it is not possible to practice democracy in multi-ethnic states (Rothchild, 2010). This is because every ethnic group will want the state to prioritize its needs and this often leads to conflict especially when some ethnic groups begin to feel oppressed or marginalised. The hegemonic exchange system as used in Africa believes that ethnicity is a stable and unavoidable aspect of the political process in the African society. Its proponents further believe that repressive tactics are a necessary tool for the government to contain ethnic disputes that may arise within the state (Rothchild, 2010).

The application of the hemoginal theory in Africa is a common practice. Many countries in Africa have cases of internal conflicts that have spanned for decades. Countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, Rwanda experience inter-ethnic conflicts and rebellions (Grovogui, 2002). These have been many efforts to solve these disputes through hegemonic exchange especially in the case of DRC where inter-ethnic clashes are rampant. In such a case where the suppression seems to be difficult, the government tries to co-opt the rebels into the national army so as to end the conflicts. For example, after the conflict in Rwanda in 1993, the rebels were integrated into the national army. This served to ensure that they did not go back to fighting (Grovogui, 2002).

Compared to models that practice consociation, there are several contrasts when it comes to aspects such as resource allocation criteria, ethnic group linkages, bargain methods, the state’s role in conflict resolution and how political systems are justified by the rulers (Rothchild, 2010). Some political experts argue that hegemonic exchange models practiced in Africa practice high a level of control that is often impractical. It is for this reason that they are not able to curb ethnic disputes (Grovogui, 2002). Furthermore, some ethnic groups consider their rulers as illegitimate hence limiting their ability to enforce laws. In their quest to shed off the illegitimacy tag, African rulers often end up fuelling further hate for their rule and hence worsening the political situation.

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