The committeefication of collective action in Africa

Paper by Caroline Archambault and David Ehrhardt: “Over the last century, Africa has witnessed considerable committeefication, a process by which committees have become increasingly important to organise collective action. Throughout the continent, committees have come to preside over everything from natural resource management to cultural life, and from peacebuilding to community consultation. What has been the impact of this dramatic institutional change on the nature and quality of collective action? Drawing on decades of anthropological research and development work in East Africa – studying, working with and working in committees of various kinds – this article presents an approach to addressing this question.

We show how committees have surface features as well as deep functions, and that the impact of committeefication depends not only on their features and functions but also on the pathways through which they proliferate. On the surface, committees aim for inclusive and deliberative decision making, even if they vary in the specifics of their missions, membership, decision-making rules, and level of autonomy. But their deep functions can be quite different: a façade for accessing recognition or resources; a classroom for learning leadership skills; or a club for elites to pursue their shared interests. The impact of these features and functions depends on the pathways through which they grow: autonomous from existing forms of collective action; in synergistic cooperation; or in competition, possibly weakening or even destroying existing local institutions.

Community-based development interventions often rely heavily on committeefied collective action. This paper identifies the benefits that this strategy can have, but also shows its potential to weaken or even destroy existing forms of collective action. On that basis, we suggest that it is imperative to turn more systematic analytical attention to committees, and assess the extent to which they are delivering development or crippling collective action in the guise of democracy and deliberation…(More)”.