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By Stephen N. Ndegwa

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The clients’ potential threat to shift patrons, though rarely carried out, combined with the marabouts’ relationship with the state, makes the orders a means of both political participation and accountability, a part of civil society, though clearly not characterized by liberal democratic norms. “Self-help” groups and ethnic associations Closely related but conceptually distinct from patron-client networks are a wide array of ethnic, regional and “hometown” associations and self-help groups that are part of African civil society.

Following the broader definition outlined above, I will CIVIL SOCIETY IN AFRICA OR AFRICAN CIVIL SOCIETY? 27 argue that patron-client networks, ethnic associations, self-help and cooperative groups, and some “traditional” authorities are important elements of African civil society, based largely on the norms of moral ethnicity. Patron-client networks Patron-client networks are so pervasive in Africa largely because they provide crucial resources to all involved. Africans gain employment, political position, and help in a crisis from their patron-client networks.

Pursuing this challenge to the conventional view is essential if the concept of civil society is to reflect the full array of African political and associational life, but an analytically useful concept must be more precise that just all statesociety relationships. If under civil society we include analyses of the relationship between individual firms and the state, or between individual citizens and the state — as distinct from the role of those individual entities within some collective group — it is not clear what utility the concept of civil society can provide.

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