ROAPE Editorial: The Political Economies of the Everyday publishes extracts from the editorials of our quarterly review. In this extract from Vol. 44, Issue 154 editor Tunde Zack-Williams discusses several important papers on Kenyan politics, debt and neoliberalism on the continent, gender oppression in Egypt and the collapse of Zimbabwe’s military and the intervention in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Specially prepared for the editorial introduces the issue in the context of the Mugabe’s fall from power, Zuma removal from the presidency and the recent elections in Sierra Leone.  

By Tunde Zack-Williams 

On Reading ‘The Political Economies of the Everyday’

As this editorial was being completed, Robert Mugabe was consumed by its flame following his ouster by his once zealous praetorian guard, to be followed barely three months later by the ANC palace coup, which resulted in the removal from office of the lamentable Jacob Zuma of South Africa. The struggle for democracy, economic and political emancipation for the toiling masses continues against those leaders who are prepared to utilise their position for the oppression of the masses and personal aggrandisement.

This general issue, ‘the political economies of the everyday’ deals with various issues impinging on the everyday experiences of many communities on the continent : such as neo-liberalism and its devastating impact on African economies (Carolyn Bassett), gender oppression in Egypt (Karim Malak and Sara Salem), extrajudicial executions in Kenya (Peris S. Jones, Kavita Ramakrishinan, Wangui Kimari), ‘land grabbing’ in Kenya by the political class (Jacqueline M. Klopp and Odenda Lumumba), the life of sex workers in Kenya (Egle Česnulytė), military corruption among Zimbabwean soldiers (Godfrey Maringira), state building and educational expansion in the DRC (Cyril Owen Brandt).

Bassett’s article draws attention to Africa’s growing indebtedness and warns against a new African debt crisis a short decade after debt forgiveness reduced Africa’s mountain of debt. Her concern is premised on the growing number of commodity exporters who are now beginning to experience debt servicing difficulties. Africa’s indebtedness impacted on growth as well as the welfare of the rural and urban poor, money destined for welfare relief ended up in debt repayment. For Bassett, the major source of this growing indebtedness is that African governments have increased their borrowing from several lenders, old and new, particularly from Africa’s international sovereign bonds, the focus of her article. She draws attention to the devastating sway of neoliberal thinking impelling African governments ‘down a dangerous path of higher levels of indebtedness.’ She draws attention to the conclusion of the Marxist political economists, such as Colin Leys, David Harvey and Giovanni Arrighi, who argue that African political economies have been impoverished by the nature of their incorporation into the global markets. The logical deduction from these analyses is that ‘Africa’s international sovereign bonds are but one tool developed by global financial capital to facilitate its accumulation strategies, by financing infrastructure associated with resource extraction and export, while at the same time cultivating profitable new markets  of borrowers.’ She points out that ‘under the current regulatory regime, a new African debt crisis is likely to further deepen the continent’s exploitation in global markets.’

Malak and Salem’s article which focuses on civil society in Egypt, examines the confluence of neoliberalism, gender and citizenship in rural Egypt. More specifically, the authors investigate the running of a microfinance project in al-Minya in Upper Egypt, aimed at empowering a group of rural Egyptian women. In the 1980s, microfinance was recommended by the IFIs and the United Nations as a new approach to revolutionise ‘thinking about how to provide small uncollateralized loans to the poor’. They draw attention to the fact that microfinance, which was designed to ‘keep administrative costs down, reduce risks and provide incentives for repayment’ (ibid, 194), was seen as crucial for economic development in an ‘unbanked population’, creating problems for the poor as they continued to be marginalised (see United Nations 1999). The authors point out that these new forms of production were accompanied by new forms of social relations, and that agriculture was the first sector to be liberalised in Egypt’s transition to an open market economy. The rural areas were stigmatised as backwards and starved of capital, largely because of the lagging status of women. The main question the article addresses is the meaning of womanhood in the hinterland, and it seeks to do this by scrutinising the singular gendered dynamics it creates through the discourse of the ‘rural’. In their critique of neoliberalism, Malak and Salem pose the question that if techno-managerial discourse, market forces and security, which are prerequisites for neoliberalism, are lacking in the Egyptian hinterland, how useful is it then to use neoliberalism to explore microfinance theoretically? Furthermore, they ask: ‘if microfinance so often fails to fulfil its stated goals of alleviating poverty and generating growth, what happens when microfinance NGOs choose to work in the hinterland?’

If it is true as Malak and Salem have argued in their study of Al-Minya that NGOs, the modern usurpers of the functions of the African state are not interested in microfinance, and in addition that women are processed and ‘disciplined in a way to create the market through defining what it means to be a “developed” woman’, then this runs contrary to the unique quality of village life, which is the existence of several enclaves of revenue generation that are impervious both to commodification and proletarianisation. This ran contrary to the aim of the microfinance project, which invited strong resistance from the women to the charging of high interest rates and borrowing due to cultural factors. A unique quality of the village is that it had several enclaves of revenue generation that are impervious both to commodification and proletarianisation. This ran contrary to the aim of the microfinance project, which invited strong resistance from the women to the charging of high interest rates and borrowing due to cultural factors. The authors point to the fact that, on the one hand, workshops or training designed to procure a skill set to liberate these village women ‘almost always translated into bids by urban-based Cairene “experts”’.

The article by Jones, Kimari and Ramakrishnan on Kenya addresses the disturbing politics of extrajudicial executions and civil society in Mathare, a collection of slums with a population of approximately 500,000 people, constitutes a world of its own, with its own informal leadership, structures and institutions away from the central government. The focus of the article is an exploration of a particular struggle, showing how frustration with civil society is being used by social justice activists to garner ideas concerning everyday violence and to mobilise for change. The authors start off by pointing to the unacknowledged shoot-to-kill policy of the Kenyan state, in particular the continuous violence during the presidency of Mwai Kibaki, and an upsurge since 2013 marking the beginning of the regime of Uhuru Kenyatta. The violence is particularly aimed at young men in what the authors call the ‘“other” Nairobi’, i.e. its slums.

Česnulytė’s article relates to another group, namely sex workers in Kenyan society. Her main theoretical tool is Jean-Francois Bayart and Stephen Ellis’s concept of extraversion. She argues that due to the gendered nature of the Kenyan state’s extraversion processes and the resulting dual accountability to national and foreign sovereigns, the Kenyan state’s approach to gender issues is inconsistent and thus produces a situation where social movements with a gender rights agenda can be both included and excluded from the national political scene.  On the one hand, sex workers are the target for state violence as well as from their clients and stigmatisation from the general public; on the other hand, in the context of the ongoing HIV/ AIDS crisis and high levels of inequality, organisations led by Kenyan sex workers are important partners working with the state. For Česnulytė, this ‘seemingly inconsistent approach to individuals selling sex, and to gender issues more widely, is a result of the dual character of the Kenyan state’s accountability and its gendered nature’. This special position of gender in Kenya, it is argued, points to the fact that the Kenyan state is accountable to two sovereigns: the citizens of the state and international donors. Thus, she observes: ‘Gender equality and engagement with sex worker groups is possible in those areas where the state has foreign donor constituents to account for and thus attempts to follow liberal values of equality and civil society inclusion.’

Godfrey Maringira’s article on military corruption in war examines the conducts of Zimbabwean soldiers during their operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) war of 1998–2002. The author argues that Zimbabwean infantry units were engaged in corrupt activities during their tour of duty in the DRC: by stealing army rations from the trenches to be sold to civilians in neighbouring communities and to Congolese soldiers. However, the practice did not end once soldiers returned home, but continued in the barracks of Harare and other garrison towns in the country. For the author this aberration points to the collapse of discipline in the armed forces in question, which in turn could reflect on the morale and ability of the infantry to fight for the cause. The author points out that this illegal practice continued among the Zimbabwean units during their tour in the DRC, a far cry from the highly professional army that brought independence to Zimbabwe after a prolonged war of national liberation.  The army was an amalgamation of the two nationalist fighting units (ZANU-PF & ZAPU) and the regular army of the white Rhodesian forces, which came together to form the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA), which was trained by the British Military Advisory Training Team, and as such was a well-ordered fighting force. However, the author argues that in the post-2000 period Zimbabwean soldiers became deeply unprofessional as they became enmeshed in politics, violence and ‘major corruption’; this was particularly true of senior officers and was symptomatic of other public institutions, including the judiciary, local government and the state. The cost of the war (with up to five battalions deployed in the DRC), in terms of both the numbers of personnel and the expense of maintaining troops abroad, impacted heavily on the Zimbabwean treasury and society. Furthermore, the shortages caused by Zimbabwe’s presence in the DRC led to demands for Zimbabwean troops to be withdrawn from the country. More than a battalion of soldiers deserted or resigned from the Zimbabwean army, with some soldiers alleging that they had not been cared for by the army. The desertion is symptomatic of the fact that a large part of the war resources were devoured by the army top brass. Thus, Maringira observes that many of the soldiers noted that instead of being recognised as professional soldiers, they were now living like ‘militias’. The failure of the ZNA to look after its own soldiers in war and in the barracks partly motivated them to engage in corrupt practices. The ‘abandoned’ Zimbabwean soldiers turned to ‘creative’ survival via ‘military entrepreneurialism’, i.e. revenue generation and a systematic sense of deprofessionalisation, including chirenje (individual initiatives in war, including soliciting food for the commanders).

Finally, as the blogpost of this editorial was being concluded the people of Sierra Leone were preparing for what is perhaps the most important election in the country’s history on the 7 March 2018. For once Sierra Leoneans had an alternative to the two discredited political parties that have ruled since independence in 1961: the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) the country’s oldest political party; and the All People’s Congress (APC). The latter have been in power longer than any other political party, yet it has never handed over power peacefully to a civilian regime. The approach to governance of both political parties is identical, to the point where people describe the two parties as ‘Alhassan and Alusine’ (twins or, different sides of the same coin). The emergence of a third political party, The National Grand Coalition, a coalition of ‘progressives’ from the two ‘failed’ parties, under the leadership of a former employee of the United Nations, Dr Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella who unsuccessfully sought the presidential nomination of the SLPP, largely due to him being on the wrong side of the ethnic divide, as a Susu from Northern Province. The ticket was handed to Maada Bio the failed bearer of the party’s nomination last time round in 2012 against the leader Ernest Bai Koroma of the ruling APC. Yumkella managed to bring vibrancy around which he was able to rally a substantial number of the youth, including the now infamous ‘trumpism’: ‘Sierra Leone First’, ‘Change is here’, ‘put an end to the wicked twins Alhassan & Alusine’. The governing party mobilised the army to march through the capital in military fatigue, sing intimidating songs to warn the people in the capital to keep their children at home. Among the population, there was widespread fear of foreign interference in the election, mainly from the People’s Republic of China, whose citizens have been seen in the governing APC political colours in party meetings; APC  supporters carrying the flag of the Peoples Republic of China, and the fear being expressed that the Chinese who had invested in in mineral extraction, road construction are partisan in their support for the governing party, and whose headquarters it is alleged to have been built by the Chinese Communist Party. [ will be carrying coverage of the Sierra Leone elections next week in an extensive interview with Tunde Zack-Williams]

The full editorial and issue can be accessed on the Taylor and Francis website while some articles can be accessed for free if you log-in/register on 

Tunde Zack-Williams is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Central Lancashire. He was President of the UK African Studies Association from 2006 to 2008. His books include The Quest for Sustainable Peace: The 2007 Sierra Leone Elections (2008). He is an editor of the Review of African Political Economy and a member of the Africa Panel of the British Academy.

Featured Photograph:  A woman carries water on her back as her son walks on her side in Kenya’s Mathare slum, Nairobi (20 February, 2017)




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