Mkandawire’s Concept of Social Policy and Neopatrimonialism


The development concept is drawn up and shaped by patriotic leaders guided by ethics. In his article “Neopatrimonialism and Political Economy,” Mkandawire (2015) argues that the African cause is self-reinforcing Africanist scholarship. The call to neopatrimonialism forecasts government improvement to meet inherent long-term challenges (Mkandawire, 2015). This comparative ideology explains why most African countries lag behind other regions of the world (Adam & Dercon, 2009). Some patterns of behavior put African countries on a par with poor leadership. Deconstructing background behavior and building legal lines, in turn, can improve modernity. Neopatrimonialism is similar to personalist autocracy, in which the relationship between the ruling elites is based on loyalty and personal ties and not on ideology and law. In the African context, bureaucratic institutions apply a patrimonial logic, limiting the degree of freedom of political competition and controlling access to power (Mkandawire, 2015). The specificity of neo-patrimonial systems lies in the fact that the government does not take on the functions of an agent of modernization, and any changes are promoted, as a rule, through protest social movements.

Achieving Social Cohesion

Social cohesion is one of the significant conditions that can make it possible to implement appropriate economic and socio-political changes. In this regard, the concept of neopatrimonialism is a controversial approach to achieving this perspective. As Mkandawire (2015) states, the deterrents that emerged due to nationalist movements in African countries did not allow existing opportunities to be adapted to achieve social compromises. This, in turn, makes it challenging to move towards positive change and productivity. When considering the African restrictions, the practices designed to reform individual spheres cannot provide social cohesion and do not help achieve the desired results. According to van Niekerk (2013), in the middle of the 20th century, adequate attempts were made to perform democratically sound welfare interventions. However, these attempts were unsuccessful, and neo-patrimonial approaches were the reason for the failure to establish a favorable interaction. As a result, the experience of African countries confirms that the formation of rational methods of political management directly correlates with the effectiveness of establishing social cohesion.

State’s Role in Achieving Social Cohesion and Development

The state’s role in ensuring social cohesion and development is high, and the current gaps in the socio-political structure of South Africa prove this. For instance, Bond and Malikane (2019) mention the policy of apartheid in this region and note the negative social consequences, including poverty and apparent class inequalities. In the 1990s, the local government made efforts to reorganize the economic sphere through commercially-oriented projects; however, South Africa’s corrupt system prevented the successful distribution of funds (Williams, 2003). This, in turn, affected the social order and slowed down development since redistributive economic practices could not address the existing difficulties in the region (Mkandawire, 2015). As a result, the state, responsible for the development and implementation of reasonable initiatives to increase the economic potential and social well-being, could not get rid of outdated approaches to control resources. Thus, the role of the authorities in achieving social cohesion is significant.

Social Policy Strategies Needed for Development

While taking into account past and present approaches to establishing a social order in Africa and its regions, individual policy strategies can be identified as improvement initiatives. One of the alternatives is an egalitarian social policy that van Niekerk (2013) assesses as a practice aimed at realizing basic democratic values, thereby increasing citizens’ well-being. The policy of racial equality is another idea that can help in the development of society in Africa and its individual regions. Bond (2020) views apartheid as an unacceptable form of social relationships and promotes the idea of ​​equality as one of the key concepts. Such a policy is designed to create an environment in which people of different cultures and backgrounds have an opportunity to contribute equally to the economy and influence the political order. Mkandawire (2015) argues that combining social practices with economic initiatives, such as adequate fiscal and trade policies, can enhance the sustainable development of society. Therefore, the aforementioned strategies are valuable in the context of African issues.

Role of Political Economy in Development Agendas

Political economy covers a wide range of state initiatives designed to create an environment in which society develops in accordance with the established relationship between the state and citizens. According to Mkandawire (2015), in the African context, specific constraints do not allow for the sustainable growth of economic and social infrastructures. The author mentions the restrictions imposed on policymakers by the political regime and assesses them as a significant barrier to development (Mkandawire, 2015). Adam and Dercon (2009) remark that political economy is based on two key aspects: the economic background and the empirical foundation. Given the weak financial base in many African countries, increased attention should be paid to the latter factor. However, given South Africa’s development indicators, one can note that the nature of public relations is not sufficiently successful in promoting sustainable improvement projects. Thus, the role of political economy in fostering and constraining development agendas is high only if the necessary efforts are made to meet the necessary conditions.

Political Economy Learnings Affecting Development Agendas

Political economy dictates special principles of interaction between the state and citizens, and in the example of African countries and, in particular, South Africa, the corresponding development approaches can be identified. Mkandawire (2015) highlights numerous gaps in the concept of neopatrimonialism, focusing on institutional failures. According to Adam and Dercon (2009), both group and personal levels are crucial to consider when building political-economic systems. Otherwise, one side feels biased, which is expressed in the infringement of rights and freedoms. Bond and Malikane (2019) compare the South African system of political economy to the new apartheid concept in which inequality and poverty have persisted. Given these findings, one can note that in attempts to address development agendas, the ruling elites should consider the interests of various parties when creating programs to optimize social, economic, and other areas.


The analysis of African socio-political deterrents, including the assessment of the South African region, shows that by following the concept of neopatrimonialism, the authorities do not act as an agent of modernization. In this regard, a tense situation is observed, and protests become one of the few forms to improve the situation for the better. Social cohesion is a significant factor in achieving state welfare. However, in the context of no apartheid policies promoted by governments, political economy benefits cannot be fully realized to get rid of constraints and improve citizens’ standard of living, including from a cultural perspective.


Adam, C., & Dercon, S. (2009). The political economy of development: An assessment. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 25(2), 173-189. Web.

Bond, P. (2020). Who really ‘state-captured’ South Africa? Revealing silences in poverty, inequality and structurally-corrupt capitalism. In Exploring the link between poverty and human rights in Africa (pp. 59–94). essay, Pretoria University Law Press, PULP.

Bond, P., & Malikane, C. (2019). Inequality caused by macro-economic policies during overaccumulation crisis. Development Southern Africa, 36(6), 803-820. Web.

Mkandawire, T. (2015). Neopatrimonialism and the political economy of economic performance in Africa: Critical reflections. World Politics, 67(3), 563-612. Web.

van Niekerk, R. (2013). Social policy, social citizenship and the historical idea of a social democratic welfare state in South Africa. Transformation: Critical Perspectives on Southern Africa, 81(1), 115-143. Web.

Williams, G. (2003). Studying development and explaining policies. Oxford Development Studies, 31(1), 37-58. Web.

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DemoEssays. "Mkandawire’s Concept of Social Policy and Neopatrimonialism." December 15, 2022.