This project, funded under a four-year grant from the Academy of Finland (2015-2019), seeks to address a lacuna in the theoretical understanding of contemporary African state formation. This attempt involves a comparative empirical interrogation of the category of post-liberal government in four southern African jurisdictions. Postcolonial legacies of sectional factionalism, state violence and corruption dominate popular impressions of African politics. Such pathologies of Africa government, both real and imagined, are not the focus of this study. Such legacies, do, however, highlight the practical accomplishments of state formation in our case jurisdictions – characterized by sustained political stability and economic growth, as well as by a growing culture of political pluralism and deliberation. This project is focused on understanding the complex governmental logics informing how state formation in such polities is co-produced through the fraught complicity of harried rulers and aggrieved citizen populations in the real time of contemporary African politics.

Through a systematically coordinated, cross-case comparison of ethnographic and secondary data in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, our project seeks to map the negotiation and instantiation, by the ruling elites and the governed masses, of political orders which elude understanding via the premises and analytical categories of liberal political theory. To accomplish this our case studies singles out empirical interactions between the rulers and the ruled that revolve around instances of popular claim-making by nominally ‘marginal’ groups (urban squatters and returning migrants, among others). These interactions are scrutinized against the backdrop of the postcolonial legal order, with its specific resonances of exceptionalism and discretionary powers, and in terms of the tangible ways that claim-making populations frame their entitlements to recognition.