Below is an excerpt from an interview, “Understanding “The Political Marketplace”and the Roots of Persistent Conflict,” conducted by the editor of the Fletcher Security Review with Alex de Waal, published January 27, 2015.

The full-length interview is available here.


In your latest book and in other endeavors, you’ve tried to explain much of the conflict we see in parts of Africa, and perhaps elsewhere, as a product of the “political marketplace.” Can you explain what you mean by the term?

de Waal:

My starting point is that business is politics and politics is business. It would be incorrect and a simplification to say that politics is all about money, because that would imply that politics is all about personal enrichment. My analysis, particularly about the Horn of Africa, but [with] wider resonance and implications in the rest of the world, is that the way the politics and economics function in these societies, politics and business are fused. In order to be a businessperson, you also need to be a politician. In order to run a business, one needs to have certain skills, aptitudes, and capabilities to network and analyze that politicians have. Similarly, to be a politician, one needs to have the abilities that a businessman has.

Most politicians in conflict zones, be they dictators, or military leaders, or others who have risen to the top, tend to run their political careers as if they are businesses.

In Sudan the political vernacular has two concepts. It’s almost a pun – [there is] the “political marketplace”, and the “political budget” which is also [referred to] as “political box” or “pocket.” And these two interact in the way that political budget involves the funds that a politician has that he can dispense for whatever purposes he likes… Typically [they are used] either for developing a security apparatus that is loyal to them personally or for patronage payouts, for renting provisional allegiance of clients. It is in the sphere of payouts that one has to deal with the political marketplace, in which the intermediaries demand certain amount of money to maintain allegiance. In a place like Darfur, where the political system is extremely fragmented, you cannot be a serious political player unless you have an armed group. The allegiance of that group will be worth a certain amount of money and the price of that allegiance can go up or down depending on the market conditions.

The full-length interview is available here.

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