Skip to Main content Skip to Navigation
Book sections

The model of the political entrepreneur

Abstract : A great deal of aca demic work on neopatrimonialism in Africa, including Jean-François Médard’s pioneering ana lyses (Médard 1982: 125-72; see also 1991b: 323-53), initially laid emphasis on the features of the ‘imported state’ (Badie 1992) and of captive civil soci ety as they were defined during the co lo­ nial period. These scholars stressed the role of kinship for instance, and the manipulation of eth ni city while trying to explain vari ations in its empirical manifestations through the his tor ical tra ject ories of the coun tries concerned.1 However, a comparative study of African neopatrimonialism would not have been complete without an ana lysis of the polit ical leaders’ specific role and leadership styles (Jackson and Rosberg 1982; Wriggins 1969). J.‑F. Médard clearly perceived the central part played by some social actors in the polit ical dy namics at work in neopatrimonial sys tems. He origin ally coined the notion of the ‘big man’ in Africa to account for the polit ical career of Charles Njonjo (Chapter 4), a Kenyan ‘polit ical entrepreneur’ cum businessman (Médard 1992). Médard also drew insights from the sociological theory of polit ical and social exchange, the anthropological ana lyses of the big man in Melanesia (Sahlins 1977), and a groundbreaking art icle published by Jean-Patrice Lacam on the polit ical entrepreneur in France (1988). Beyond the dif fer ences observed in time and space, the concept of polit ical entre pren eurship captures funda mentally sim ilar strat egies of conquest and preser va tion of power, thus estab lishing a link between the polit ical actor and the neopatrimonial con text in which he operates. Contrary to an ethnocentric, evolutionist understanding of this concept – largely prevailing in polit ical science – it goes beyond modern forms of ‘polit ical markets’ – i.e. the Western demo cra cies. Political entre pren eurship has a long his tory indeed, and it is a tool for comparative ana lysis in a broad sense. In the fol low ing pages we have tried to remain true to the eclecticism of J.‑F. Médard who did not hesitate to break intellectual taboos, paid special attention to cultural dif fer ences in his comparative approach to soci eties but always steered clear from culturalism. We will first stress the potentially uni ver sal relev ance of the concept of the polit ical entrepreneur through a short reconstruction of its intellectual genesis, and then highlight its heur istic dimension for the understanding of African polit ical systems.
Document type :
Book sections
Complete list of metadatas
Contributor : Caroline Sagat <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, December 14, 2011 - 3:30:39 PM
Last modification on : Friday, March 27, 2020 - 3:02:41 PM


  • HAL Id : halshs-00651934, version 1


Daniel Compagnon. The model of the political entrepreneur. Daniel Bach et Mamadou Gazibo. Neopatrimonialism in Africa and beyond, Routledge, pp.46-57, 2011, Routledge Studies in African Politics and International Relations, 978-0-415-68793-5. ⟨halshs-00651934⟩



Record views