History reveals that the African organizational bourgeoisie has its roots in the colonial administration. The 19th and early 20th centuries saw the emergence of the African petty bourgeoisie mostly working for the colonial administration. Among the petty bourgeoisie, children’s education was gaining ground, notably among the Creoles in Sierra Leone. For the first time in the Gold Coast, James Bannerman (the son of a Scottish father and African mother) was appointed as Justice of the Peace in 1820 and he later became lieutenant Governor. In 1864, there were already six to seven Gold Coasters practicing lawyers who used their educational capital to accumulate material wealth and these lawyers later on took the lead in the nationalist movement (Markovitz 1977: 216). School was not only the locus for the acquisition of knowledge, but also a place for networking among early African elites, notably among graduates from William Ponty of Senegal, Freetown (Cape Coast), and Lagos. They developed close ties, and used their newspapers for information exchange.
However, there were also other groups, notably the coastal merchants who were in favor of colonization because it allowed them to expand their business and power. Felix Eboué, the most famous French colonial governor was very proud of being French and loyal to France. He never encouraged rebellion against the French authority. In Senegal, the originaires guarded jealously their privilege in the electoral process and they managed to include only their friends in the election while preserving their role of mediators between the French and Creole elites and the African masses. In central Africa, Ndebele rich cattle owners purchased large areas of ranch land. Some “progressive farmers” developed market-gardening businesses near the cities. They also occupied successful positions in semi-political, semi-legal associations. All these signs indicated the making of the organizational bourgeoisie in Africa.
In his examination of class struggle in Africa, Cabrel saw three distinguished petty bourgeoisies in the making: (a) Petty bourgeoisie compromised with colonialism; (b) Nationalist and revolutionary petty bourgeoisie and; (c) The undecided petty bourgeoisie. But he believed it was only the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie that could inherit the colonial power structures in order to rule; not peasant/working class because it does not know how to read nor write. Literacy, and therefore education became key to accessing power. But, Julius Nyerere warned against the dangers inherent to such thinking (Markovitz 1977: 202-3) because this could lead to corruption and embezzlement of funds and lands at the expense of the masses.
Through these instances, Markovitz highlighted the historical conditions and ideologies that shaped the African elites/organizational bourgeoisie and its coming to power with independence. Postcolonial disillusionment was characterized by the consolidation of power of the African organizational bourgeoisie. Unable or unwilling to make clean sweep with its colonial roots, the African organizational bourgeoisie managed to control power by developing new techniques of “mass persuasion, organization, the military arts, and bureaucratic control” (Markovitz 1977: 200-1). Prior to coming to power, the African bourgeoisie was concerned with social justice, but once in power, it inherited the colonial power structures, which according to Ruth First, were incompatible with self-government, i.e., with independence (Markovitz 1977: 203). Authors like Ama Atta Aidoo, Wole Soyinka, Ayi Kwei Armah denounced such a postcolonial disenchantment in their writings and depicted the organizational bourgeoisie as oppressive and self-centered (Markovitz 199-200).
These African elites dominated post-independent African politics and economy. The post-independent African organizational bourgeoisie “grows through politics, under party systems, under military governments, from the ranks of business, and from the corporate elites that run the state, the army and the civil service.” Markovitz (1977: 205). It includes: “the top political leaders and bureaucrats, the traditional leaders and their descendants, and the leading members of liberal professionals and rising business bourgeoisie. Top members of the military and police forces are also part of this bureaucratic bourgeoisie.” (Markovitz 1977: 208)
The African organizational bourgeoisie exploits the labor and the votes of the masses to acquire power. It lays emphasis on quality education of its children by sending them to the best educational institutions. By so doing, it seeks to maximize its children life chances. Its life style is also characterized by its speech style, leisure activities, eating habits (food consumed and manner of food consumption), transportation means, games, wives’ conversations, work habits and values inculcated in their children, etc. These characteristics allow the African organizational bourgeoisie to consolidate its political and economic power while distinguishing itself from the masses through its educational capital. The African organizational bourgeoisie is the first beneficiary of economic growth. It consumes more than half of the national budget in the form of high salaries. It lives in houses with window glass, hardwood doors, and air-conditioners. Moreover, as noted by Barbara Lloyd (quoted in Markovitz 1977), the African elite have moved from the traditional family life style (extended family live together in a compound) to the nuclear family style. It lives in residential areas, encourages its children to socialize with other children from “good homes”.
The African organizational bourgeoisie increasingly developed taste for foreign goods, capitalized on education, and lived on the nation’s wealth to consolidate its power. Contrary to what Marx believed, the African ruling class gained its power from its relationship to the political apparatus rather than the means of production (Markovitz 1977: 209). It is more than a managerial bourgeoisie because it exploits the masses and it is very creative and innovative in its strategies of wealth accumulation (Markovitz 1977: 209). Further, it relies on family ties, ethnicity, and friendship in order to recruit its members. These various strategies of power consolidation led to the impoverishment of the masses and even those who were lucky enough to get jobs (Markovitz 1977: 228).
This behavior of the African organizational bourgeoisie also creates social and political tensions. African students from different background are aware of the value of education as a way to access the very power structures that they tend to criticize. Though they tend to be radical in their rhetoric and criticism of the organizational bourgeoisie, their strong desire is to gain access to the power “seats” and to replace the very people they denounce.
Markovitz invites us to “further investigate the role of African business in the consolidation of political power of the organizational bourgeoisie and their growing strength as major beneficiaries of independence and economic growth.” (1977:229)
Markovitz successfully highlighted the making of the African organizational bourgeoisie while underscoring its colonial roots and its strong maximization of educational capital as a means to consolidate power. Its class position is mainly characterized by its relationship with the political apparatus that it uses to acquire economic capital as well as social capital (extending the network of participants in the political process by privileging close friends and relatives). His analysis is grounded in historical data which helps illustrate his points.
Markovitz’s analysis can help us understand the situation of political power in present day Africa. Today, political power has become a “business” in the sense that it allows its players to acquire economic and material gains through high salaries, embezzlement of public funds, the use of administrative properties for personal gains, the recruitment of relatives and close friends as political allies.
However, what Markovitz failed to underscore is the role of natural resources in the consolidation of political and economic power by the African organizational bourgeoisie. Though he mentioned the involvement of the military elite in the struggle for power, he did not indicate the role of military coups and civil wars (the Biafra War in Nigeria or the Katanga war in former Zaire for instance), the ultimate goals of which is to gain political power, access to and control of natural resources. Further, since his analysis was in the 1970s, it would have been interesting to shed light on the role of the cold war (the global aspect of accumulation) in the making of the African organizational bourgeoisie. Political power was partly supported by foreign assistance (the West or the former Soviet Union), so underscoring the role of these external forces in the consolidation of internal political power could have brought in additional insight. Also, in South Africa, race played a major role in political and economic power struggle. In the 1970s, Apartheid was still dominant in social and political organization. It defined who had access to political power and economic resources.
Relation to other works: Markovitz uses concepts of class from Marx, Weber, and Bourdieu. From a Marxian perspective, Markovitz indicates that the African organizational bourgeoisie used its intellectual ideas and ideologies of social justice in order to gain power. But its claims for social justice rather created social and economic inequalities at the expense of the “uneducated” masses. The organizational bourgeoisie capitalizes on educational credentials and uses the state apparatuses to acquire economic wealth and political power over the masses. There is a parallel between Markovitz’s class analysis and the Marxian approach. Marx distinguishes two class systems: the capitalists (owners of the means of production) versus the proletariat (owners of their labor power). The owners of the means of production exploit the labor power of the proletariat. In Markovitz’s analysis however, the capitalists represented by the organizational bourgeoisie “owns” the state apparatuses thanks to their educational capital and then they exploit the labor power of the masses through taxation as well as their votes to gain political power. Though claiming to defend the interests of the working class for social justice, the organizational bourgeoisie is “still careless with respect to the interests of the masses” (Ruth First quoted in Markovitz 1977: 219).
Also, there is a Weberian touch to Markovitz’s approach, notably the recognition that the African organizational bourgeoisie is not homogenous. Its members are from different sources: the top political leaders and bureaucrats, the traditional leaders and their descendants, and the leading members of liberal professionals and rising business bourgeoisie. Top members of the military and police forces are also part of this bureaucratic bourgeoisie. However, Markovitz rather lays more emphasis on the organizational and bureaucratic nature and thereby neglects the gradational relationship within the African organizational bourgeoisie. He borrows expressions like “life chance” from Weber to explain how members of the organizational bourgeoisie improve their conditions through education, family ties and networking.
But his approach is much closer to Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital and social capital. By showing that the African organizational bourgeoisie uses its educational capital in order take ownership of the state apparatus and then uses the latter as a means to garner social and economic capital, this brings Markovitz closer to Bourdieu. Similar to Bourdieu’s approach, Markovitz illustrates how the organizational bourgeoisie develops different tastes in terms of food consumption, types of car and housing (air-conditioned houses), healthcare, speech style, children’s education and socialization, wives’ conversation, etc. The organizational bourgeoisie develops a close network made up of close friends and relatives in order to protect its power privilege. Its sends its children to the best schools and universities, distinguishes itself from the masses by breaking away with traditional family structures (extended family) in favor of nuclear family.
Markovitz’s analysis of the role and place of the organizational bourgeoisie in post-independent Africa helps understand how educational capital, family ties, friendship helped consolidate political power. But his analysis failed to highlight the role of trade union movements in its attempts to destabilize the organizational bourgeoisie, as well as the role of natural resources (gold, diamond and oil) in the consolidation of power. He also, failed to consider the role of the global political economy (cold war politics) in the rise of the African organizational bourgeoisie and its consolidation of power.
Markovitz, Leonard Irving (1977).The consolidation of Power: The Rise of the Organizational Bourgeoisie. In Power and Class in Africa: An Introduction to Change and Conflicts in African Politics. Pp. 198-229. Englewood, NJ: Prentice Hall.