The last two decades of the twentieth century were not merely remarkable for the extent to which African states surrendered their autonomy in the face of aid conditionalities and the invasion of the NGOs. As striking was the rediscovery of competitive politics. Under one-party and military rule alike, the circles of decision-making had typically narrowed to nested cliques, even though the regimes in question often claimed to be looking out for the interests of the whole population and sometimes lured interest groups into quasi-corporatist structures. Large sections of African society operating outside the charmed circle may have appeared to confer tacit consent on these arrangements by remaining overtly quiescent, but the silences often belied a more complex reality. Ordinary Africans concentrated their energies on getting by and, if they were lucky enough, exploiting the opportunities for rent-seeking which accompanied the African crisis. Many also found coded ways of deflating the pretensions of the powerful through carnivalesque humour. By the start of the 1980s, cynicism abounded, not least within the single parties and military coalitions themselves. In the 1980s and 1990s, the pendulum swung back again as significant sections of society weighed into politics with a gusto which had not been witnessed since the heydays of nationalism — and often exceeding it.The cities became the crucible of political opposition, whereas rural populations had learned not to reveal their hand prematurely.
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