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Is 'Prebendalism' a Global Phenomenon Today?

Africanist asks if the appropriation of state offices exists today worldwide

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January 17, 2014 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Richard Joseph is thought to be the first person to use the term “prebendalism” to describe a central feature of Nigerian politics. Today (Jan. 17), the John Evans Professor of Political Science will discuss this unusual term and if it has become a global phenomenon when he speaks at noon at Northwestern’s Buffett Center.

Joseph is the author of “Democracy and Prebendal Politics” -- a book first published in 1987 and soon to be reissued by Cambridge University Press. He used “prebendalism” to describe the appropriation of state offices -- notably elected officials and government workers – and the diversion of their resources to serve themselves, their cronies and their ethnic and other identity groups. The book chronicles the disorder, group conflicts and economic failings that resulted.

In his Buffett Center lecture, Joseph asks if this kind of corruption is now a global phenomenon and reflects on democracy and politics in Nigeria today. He has devoted his scholarly career to the study of politics and governance in Africa, with a special focus on democratic transitions, state building and state collapse, and conflict resolution.

The reissue of Joseph’s 1987 book marks the beginning of an archival and research initiative that he hopes to launch at Northwestern on state, governance and development in Africa.