Poverty Alleviation as a Platform for Elite Configuration? The case of the cotton sector in Benin
It is commonly assumed that African elites are not oriented towards change and propoor economic growth. Rather, African political relationships and development are often seen to be embedded within political, bureaucratic and economic networks, characterized by patron-client relations and practices of rent-seeking. At the same time, poverty alleviation initiatives increasingly emphasize the importance of productive sector development and pro-poor economical growth through the creation of employment and enhanced livelihood opportunities. In Benin, a liberalization reform of the economically all-important cotton sector has been under way for more than 10 years, through which the profitable and state-owned sector ideally was to be accessed by new actors. Yet, it is still incomplete and milestones of the reform are regularly postponed. The main objective of the study is to understand how elite configuration in Benin is related to the prolonged reform of the cotton sector. Concretely, the project will, by mapping existing and emerging cotton sector elites and examining their relationships to political, bureaucratic and other economic elites, explore the extent to which constantly delayed reform initiatives within the cotton sector have influenced the configuration of cotton elite groups, by either consolidating existing elites, or actually engendering structural changes within the cotton sector, thus giving rise to new elite groups. The different ways in which reforms have been sought implemented, opposed and hindered will be of central interest. In order to explore these issues, the project will focus on: 1) the ways in which the legitimacy and authority of the various elites involved in the cotton sector reform is constituted; 2) how the different local and regional types of elites within the cotton sector are related to each other as well as to national elites, and: 3) the wider structural changes, if any, related to the cotton sector reforms in terms of elite configuration.
Project Completion Report:
The study argues that major reforms and development initiatives, such as the reforms of the Beninese cotton sector, have both intended and unintended consequences, and that the latter may be more siginificant than the former, depending on the particular context and concurrent processes into which such initiatives are integrated.
Moreover, the study asserts that the outcomes of the Beninese cotton sector reforms are not a reflection of deep-rooted cultural determinants, but rather of several complex, consecutive and concurrent processes and struggles over capital and power. While certain enduring practices, such as clientelism, are central to the way in which politics work in Benin, such practices are not static, and in relation to the cotton sector, they are more often than not an expression of situational clientelism rather than of primordial ties and loyalties. Furthermore, the case of the Beninese cotton sector demonstrates that clientelism and capitalism are not mutually exclusive, and the logics of both may simultaneously inform political systems.
At the same time, the study argues that legal-rational practices matter in Benin. Democracy matters. In fact, such institutions matter to the extent that they are employed as a central part of everyday strategies, and are objects of conflict, even if they exist alongside numerous and prevalent ‘informal’ institutions and practices, which emanate from (and adjusts to) various processes and eras.