CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1One of the most widespread explanations for the personalization of relations between service users and officials—and, therefore, for the supposedly distinctive forms taken by the state in Africa—is the existence of a “moral economy of corruption”. [1] According to this account, such an economy involves a set of practices and representations that are shared by service users and by the various layers of the public administration, and which encourage the personalization of these relationships. The development of “corruption” thus moves the functioning of the state in Africa away from the Weberian ideal type. Descriptions of these phenomena align, in this interpretation, with a large number of more general studies that emphasize the normative nature and Eurocentrism of this Weberian model, and question its descriptive value for Africa. [2]

2This approach has the advantage of placing the study of officials at the center of discussions about the African state. But its main explanatory contribution is to connect the development of these stigmatized transactions to norms that go beyond the framework of the interactions from which they originate. [3] By looking at the phenomena of corruption through a cultural lens, our understanding of them moves beyond the sensational; instead, we can locate the study of relations between officials and service users within a series of exchanges that extend before and after the interaction. In short, it contextualizes them. [4] When considered in this way, the personalization of links between officials and service users and the resulting relationships of corruption are clear examples of the state’s embeddedness—and especially the practices that embody it—within society.

3This explanation is novel, and helpful for studying corruption. [5] But most common readings of the studies associated with it tend, at least in part, to eclipse other logics that are specific to various kinds of face-to-face interaction. Paradoxically, by seeking to resituate the relationships between officials and service users within their everyday contexts, and particularly the interactions that embody these relationships, the cultural approach as it has been received removes these very relationships from their shared regime of everyday interaction. [6] These interactions are universally marked by the misunderstandings and other failures potentially inherent in any face-to-face encounter. However, the relationship between service users and government officials in Africa ends up being presented as though it is the product of an unambiguous relationship. The existence of a shared culture among service users and officials does not guarantee that these interactions will run smoothly. This is clear from a closer reading of later work on the same subject. [7] Officials are constantly subject to contradictory social and legal demands; there is a double language within public administration, with official legalistic discourses coexisting alongside unofficial, practical ones. [8] All these subtleties can lead to framing errors, and so obstruct the smooth functioning of face-to-face interactions between officials and users. [9] This highlights the importance of the distinctions made by state representatives and service users.

4This article argues that the existence of these potential missteps and distinctions shapes relations between officials and service users just as much as their shared culture does. It recalls the importance of maintaining the appearance of ideal bureaucratic functioning, even within forms of interaction that are, on first sight, wholly opposed to this ideal, and are commonly seen as forms of corruption. From this point of view, the state and its representatives are no less part of society than those from whom they try to distinguish themselves. Rather than opposing or excluding each other, these two conditions coexist; they both shape face-to-face encounters between officials and service users, and ultimately expose the Senegalese state and its representatives to the same tensions observed in other geographical contexts. [10] A specific case will allow us to reveal the respective weight of the two sides of this relationship: routine interactions in Senegal between public representatives and representatives of professional groups for public transport drivers.

This article is based on fieldwork, primarily conducted between 2011 and 2014 as part of a Ph.D. on the daily activities of members of the executive offices of professional organizations called “Regroupements de Chauffeurs“. [11] Regroupements are the main institutions representing public transport drivers in Senegal. [12] Each bus station has its own regroupement. As the postcolonial state has preferred to invest in roads rather than rail, and because only a very small percentage of the population have private cars, drivers, regroupements, and the bus stations that house them are inescapable. They play a central role in the daily movements of the Senegalese population. The fieldwork this article is based on was mainly carried out in and around stations in a number of secondary cities, in the spaces where officials and drivers’ representatives coexist. An initial series of observations was made at the municipal tax collection points within the bus stations, where regroupement representatives and municipal tax collectors perform their collections in parallel, often in the presence of the police officer assigned to supervise the station. Other observations were made at roads leading out of these cities, where drivers’ representatives work systematically with police, customs, and the Waters and Forestry Department to combat “maraudage“, the practice of picking up customers outside the bus stations. In addition, the article is based on a final series of observations made alongside particular drivers’ representatives as they performed “interventions“ in various government offices. The term “intervention“ is used here to designate the actions performed by this series of intermediates in connection with the government, such as obtaining driving licenses, changing registrations and license plates, and obtaining special privileges during technical visits. [13]

5The analysis of the forms taken by different exchanges between drivers’ representatives and officials, and the different degrees of accountability that these create for the latter group, allows us to describe two distinct logics, based on the personalization of administrative links and the privileges this confers. Some of the exchanges between officials and members of the regroupements are indeed “social exchanges”, founded on a shared culture and challenging any strict separation between state and society. [14] Through a series of gifts, corresponding to a series of “corrupt investments”, regroupement representatives try daily to build lasting relationships with officials. [15] These exchanges do not involve systematic accountability on the part of the officials. While these relations may provide the representatives with better treatment by officials, they have no control over its timing, occasion, or frequency. Only a handful of representatives are able to perform “barter exchanges” with officials—that is, exchanges that are sufficiently ritualized for the obligations they create to be systematic and clearly specified between the parties. [16] This second kind of exchange is based not only on a shared culture, but also on particular types of training that give drivers’ representatives the ability to involve representatives of the state in corrupt practices while keeping the bureaucratic ideal intact.

Social Exchanges

6We find the same logics of negotiation, brokerage, gifts, redistributive accumulation, and duties of mutual assistance that occur in the “moral economy of corruption” present in all officials’ day-to-day dealings with regroupement representatives, whether these are interventions or simple services related to their similar material conditions. [17] Even more than religious, familial, regional, or ethnic solidarities, the interpersonal networks that bring together officials and regroupement representatives at the municipal, regional, and national levels are based on their members’ daily presence within the same places. In some cases, these are anti-maraudage stations; in others, they are municipal tax collection points. Drivers’ representatives and officials also share the same relationship to the legal register, taking a position somewhere between bending and endorsing the law. The coexistence of these different logics even allows for careers to develop that transcend the boundaries between the drivers’ professional groups and the public administration. All this seems to indicate a lack of differentiation between drivers’ representatives and officials.


7The first driving force in the formation of networks that transcend the divide between officials and service users is spatial. Officials and drivers’ representatives use the same spaces. This is not merely an indicator of the existence of a shared set of practices and representations. It also has consequences: it produces proximity. [18] Numerous meeting places between representatives of these two groups exist in the city, which help forge a shared community among drivers’ representatives and officials. These location effects are further reinforced by the officials’ job rotation systems, which give a regional and sometimes even national dimension to the networks formed. The municipal tax collection points within the bus stations exemplify this situation. The physical characteristics of these sites encourage the formation of interprofessional networks.

An example of a municipal tax collection point in a rural bus station, June 2014. From left to right: the municipal tax collector, the regroupement tax collector, a visitor, the police officer assigned to the station, a driver, and a person who runs a tontine in the station.

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An example of a municipal tax collection point in a rural bus station, June 2014. From left to right: the municipal tax collector, the regroupement tax collector, a visitor, the police officer assigned to the station, a driver, and a person who runs a tontine in the station.

8With the exception of the uniformed police officer, it is difficult to tell the status of the different actors in the scene from the photograph alone. Nor is it easy to say whether we are looking at a municipal tax collection point, a police station, or one of the regroupement offices. In fact, the site belongs to the town hall, which owns the station. But the role played by drivers’ representatives in its daily management, and the local government’s lack of interest in it, means that the drivers’ representatives are in fact in control.

9The cause of the confusion is first of all material. Municipal tax collection is carried out in a very small, single-room premises. Tax collectors and those who register drivers leaving the station for regroupement records work side by side. The police officer assigned to the station often chooses to settle here. The crowdedness of the image is increased by the pile of lost property at the back of the room. The spaces used by drivers’ representatives for anti-maraudage activities are larger, but equally overcrowded. This results from the isolation of these sites rather than their size; they are located at roads leading out of cities, in peripheral or even abandoned areas.

10Such overcrowding has consequences. Officials and regroupement representatives might well coexist within the same places without ever entering into contact or exchange. By itself, a shared spatial framework would not act as a constraint, and would not contribute to the formation of a real network unless it was accompanied by a number of exchanges obeying the “logic of mutual aid” or a “general obligation of mutual assistance”. [19] The coexistence of officials and regroupement representatives in these different spaces is connected with a series of small mutual favors.

11When this cohabitation occurs in isolated places, such as the anti-maraudage stations, the drivers’ representatives use their fellow drivers to bring them lunch, drinks, and that day’s newspaper. The officials present alongside them also use this system. For instance, it is common to see a policeman give a driver an errand. The regroupement may also help provide a whole gendarmerie brigade with supplies. These brigades are often made up of several dozen men, often away from home. Daily life at the brigade requires coal, and the brigades use the drivers and their representatives to obtain this.

12Such exchanges can even involve each group substituting its normal role to deal with the heaviest influxes of passengers. Large numbers pass through the municipal tax collection points in the morning. Many passengers prefer to travel at this time of the day to avoid the heat and reach their destination before lunch. This phenomenon is compounded by drivers who have arrived during the night and, as they wake up, go to sign in with the regroupements and pay their dues. This sudden influx to the tax collection station produces intense activity, with no opportunity for anyone to leave their posts. It is common to see the municipal tax collector momentarily take over from the regroupement registrar, or vice-versa, so that activity does not have to stop when one of them leaves. On rare occasions, such shifts can also involve the police officer; if either the tax collector or the regroupement representative is absent, he may also cover the desk for the regroupement or the municipality and issue tickets on behalf of both, temporarily becoming their “collection assistant”. [20]

13Alongside these periods of high activity are quiet moments that allow for playful exchanges. At the tax collection point, these are moments for the police officer, the regroupement representative, and the municipal tax collector to gamble. Betting on horses is extremely popular among drivers. While Senegalese horse racing does exist, bettors prefer the French PMU. In the collection point shown in the photograph above, it is always the regroupement representative who picks up the betting grids and the leaflets indicating the odds for each horse, and handwritten sheets summarizing tips from various professional newspapers. These circulate from hand to hand, with everyone spending half an hour or so on what looks like careful calculation, mixed with superstition, putting together their predictions for the day.

14We should also note the important role that drivers play in distributing official mail. [21] Both individuals and various government offices use garages and regroupement networks to circulate their letters. Such exchanges arise not only because the representatives of the two groups are physically close, but also because of genuine practices of euergetism, as well as the administration’s limited means. Mail allows regroupement leaders to come into contact with a wide range of low-ranking public administrators and so diversify their portfolio of relationships.


Often, the prosecutor, the president of the court, and the chief clerk need to get mail. They’re told by telephone that it’s coming from Dakar, from the ministry. Whenever the state gives you mail, it gives you money for postage, but officials often prefer to take that money, pocket it, and tell the regroupements: “Gentlemen, I need a vehicle, I need someone to go over to the ministry and pick up two or three tables“. Then if there’s some intervention needed afterwards—for instance, if a driver has killed someone—he’ll see to it. [22]

16This range of exchanges is supplemented by monetary gifts made by the regroupements to officials. These can be as high as a million CFA francs, according to the figures from one regroupement. In comparison, the same regroupement’s largest expense (social assistance to drivers in difficulty) is two million CFA francs. These gifts can be individual, going to a single civil servant. They can also be collective, going to an entire government office or brigade. This second type of donation is made during holidays or on the occasion of deaths, marriages, or retirements in the police or gendarmerie brigades. [23]

17The “monetarization of everyday forms of sociability” plays a role in the development of these practices. [24] In the case of relationships between the regroupements and different administrative institutions, however, monetary exchange is not at the heart of transactions between the two sectors. Monetary gifts are present, but they exist on the fringes of a broader system of exchange. This is mostly composed of small services related to the organization of daily life, and occurs within a context of substantial overcrowding and lack of resources among both officials and regroupement representatives.

The Circulation of Civil Servants and Its Multiplier Effects

18Circulation exists alongside this cohabitation. The officials present alongside regroupement leaders are constantly moved from one post to another. Higher-ranking officials are also affected by this circulation—most importantly, the regional directors of Land Transport.

19Police, gendarmes, tax collectors, customs officers, and Water and Forestry Department agents all are subject to a job rotation system. These rotations always follow the same circuits and involve the same people. In twenty-four hours, for instance, a single policeman may perform guard duty at a bus station’s municipal tax collection point, and then at anti-maraudage stations on roads leading out of the city. The same goes for municipal tax collectors, who work shifts at markets, in stations, and on roads leading out of the city. In the case of one anti-maraudage station studied, for instance, municipal tax collectors rotated every two or three months, as did their team—that is, the two volunteers accompanying them. [25] Water and Forestry Department representatives change location every other day. Finally, police officers occupy a post from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.; a second shift takes over from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., and a final one runs from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.

20A tax collector or a policeman who has made the rounds of the various anti-maraudage stations doesn’t just know one of the drivers’ representatives; he has a daily relationship with at least four. The phenomenon is reinforced by the rotations that regroupements impose on their own staff, with anti-maraudage teams changing posts at least once a week. The regroupements model this on the administration, and for similar reasons: to prevent these teams developing overly strong links with the drivers. [26] Officials do not only move from site to site. Police officers’ shifting assignments can also bring them to places where the sort of cohabitation occurring in cramped or isolated places—like police checkpoints on roads leading out of the city or municipal tax collection points—does not exist. Such assignments may sometimes involve places of no interest to drivers’ representatives—in front of a bank, for instance. But they may also involve highly strategic locations such as the court, where drivers are tried in the event of fatal accidents.

21These changes in postings are reinforced by the shortage of police officers, who in many cases have to perform several different roles one after the other, and need to be versatile. This was the explanation the policeman in the photograph above gave for his drowsiness. This series of assignments means that a relationship with a police officer developed at an anti-maraudage station or a municipal tax collection point can be turned into a secure contact in the court, one who can provide information about prisoner arrivals and enable access to the prosecutor’s office in order to plead an offending driver’s case. The situation is reinforced by the fact that the police officers assigned to such posts have a career behind them. For instance, the policeman in the photograph had been assigned to his post for only eleven months, having previously been stationed at a locality in the region. He was then transferred to the prefect’s office, becoming a potentially useful contact for the regroupements. Job rotations and assignment changes provide the basis for regional networks of interconnections. And if regroupement representatives are absent from the anti-maraudage posts, this may be offset by the presence of their wives, who work as vendors and are always in the same place—unlike their husbands, who may change posts. This allows their husbands to maintain links with the team that has taken their place, and with any officials present.

22We should not limit our discussion of the circulation of administrative staff only to low-level officials. Job rotations also play an important role in interconnections between the two groups, at the national as well as the municipal or regional level. This is particularly true for the Land Transport directors of one of the regions studied. The director I interviewed was retired. [27] His career had involved more than five assignments. He began as a civil servant in the Ministry of Urban Affairs, and was then sent to study civil engineering in France for two years in the early 1990s. On his return, he became an “agent envoyé”—that is, an agent of the central administration assigned to local authorities. After returning to his ministry, he worked on implementing the Dakar Dem Dikk buses in the early 1990s and, later in the decade, on the Conseil Exécutif des Transports Urbains de Dakar (Executive Council for Urban Transport in Dakar, CETUD). He was then sent to Diourbel, and subsequently transferred to Thiès from 2000 to 2003. He held posts as regional director of Land Transport in various regions before finally arriving, for his final posting, in the region where I met him. This career had allowed him to meet everyone in local transport, during the elections of regroupement leaders, strikes, and—because he was responsible for registration changes and road safety campaigns—even the most common procedures carried out by drivers.

23The posts occupied by Land Transport directors benefit a limited number of people, ultimately in much the same way as those occupied by low-level officials. The directors’ circuit takes them through the whole of Senegal; the career just described is similar in every respect to the careers of national directors in other regions. Ministers and presidents draw their technical advisers from this same pool. If one of the Transport Department directors they know is appointed to a job in a minister’s cabinet, this situation can provide a region’s regroupement representatives with contacts in ministerial offices. [28]

A Shared Relationship to Legal Norms

24Regroupement and government members share the same relationship to the law. Unlike the exchanges described above, which may ultimately involve any interaction between a service user and an official, representatives of regroupements and officials share practices that are common to positions of authority. The members of these two groups cultivate the same logic of distributive accumulation, as well as the same predatory logic. [29] These shared representations of positions of authority and what they permit leads to collusion between regroupement representatives and officials.

25This collusion between members of anti-maraudage brigades and the public administration is primarily the product of a shared set of practices of daily misappropriations. Part of the N1 road across Senegal forms one section of a corridor heavily used by freight trucks to and from Bamako, in Mali. On the Senegalese part of the highway, those transporting large shipments typically have to pay more than 3,500 CFA francs in bribes every 100 kilometers. Senegal has the third highest extortion level among the six countries this corridor crosses. [30] Gendarmes are the primary authorities involved in these practices, followed by the police. All vehicles that are not in order pay 1,000 CFA francs. In one morning, gendarmes can collect 30-40,000 CFA francs, which are then distributed to their brigade.

26But it is not just officials who engage in such practices. While officials focus on freight trucks, the regroupement representatives working alongside them on the roads leading out of the city that this section of the highway crosses adopt similar practices toward public transport vehicles—buses, minicars, and “Taxis 7 places” (seven-seater taxis). Just like the posts of the police and gendarmes working alongside them, jobs on the anti-maraudage brigade are seen as “juicy”. [31] Those who occupy them can increase their daily wages and enjoy a number of advantages. Many drivers treat the drivers’ representatives working alongside the government employees precisely as they treat the municipal tax collectors or gendarmes. To prevent potential conflict, they give money almost systematically to all members of the brigade. Some drivers cultivate their connections with representatives from their profession by bringing them food or drink, just as they might do with representatives of the police or the gendarmerie. This allows them to use these relationships if they are ever caught picking up passengers outside stations, a practice that is strictly prohibited and severely punished. [32]

27The two organizations are thus connected by a number of shared practices. These are mostly small daily misappropriations and other deviations from the rules; the layout of the stations and checkpoints requires them to be performed in full view. The bureaucracy of the regroupements and of the government share the same conception of authority and the rights it confers. This collusion involves those on the ground, but also affects their superiors. Although few admit to doing so, the proceeds from each maraudage fine are shared between the regroupement and the police or gendarmerie brigade involved with the anti-maraudage campaign, with each receiving a different proportion. Both bureaucracies obey the same “moral economy of corruption”, with the suppression of maraudage being underpinned among both civil servants and the regroupements by the same logic of redistributive accumulation. [33]

28This complicity is not simply based on petty misappropriations. It is constructed against service users, whether drivers or passengers. Police officers, gendarmes, and members of the anti-maraudage brigades share anecdotes about the most unbelievable situations they encounter daily in carrying out their checks. Gendarmes and members of the anti-maraudage brigade can joke together because in certain situations they are on the same side—that is, both are in charge of punishing breaches of norms. Similarly, out on the roadside they are subject to the same refusals and the same attitudes among service users; they are also subject to the same “double bind”, trapped between solidarity with their family, their neighborhood, or their profession (in the case of anti-maraudage brigade members) on the one hand and, on the other, their duty to apply norms, whether the law (in the case of the gendarmes) or the regroupement’s rules for anti-maraudage brigades.

29It would also be wrong to situate this collusion solely in the deviant relationship that the representatives of these two groups have to legal norms. Both officials and drivers’ representatives share the same legal perspective, and maintaining their authority depends in part on their ability to pursue it. In the case of drivers’ representatives, this is embodied in their use of a series of official-looking accessories—fine-books, for instance, or registers that supposedly embody their ability to approach official and legal standards. Regroupement and government representatives share not only a “moral economy”, but also a set of attributes that are viewed as belonging to the state. [34]

30Regroupement and government representatives thus share a common relationship with legal norms. Both groups have the same views of the rights conferred by positions of authority. Both commit similar misappropriations—practices common to every level of these institutions, involving both those on the ground and their respective leaderships. At the same time, regroupement and government representatives exploit a set of legal attributes to legitimize their actions; they share a “legal culture”. [35] The two groups do not just bend the law. They also use it, and always try to give a legal gloss to their actions. This is the foundation of their ability to act. From this point of view, the actions of the regroupements and the professional representatives who make them up are, once again, a continuation of the government’s own actions.

A Policeman’s Life

31The proximity between the two groups’ practices and views enables the development of careers that straddle both of them; normally, such individuals begin in public administration and move toward the drivers’ regroupements. Police officers are particularly prone to such moves, and every regroupement has “its own” retired policeman. [36] Faye, for instance, worked for twelve years as a police officer in the garage’s municipal tax collection point. [37] When I first met Faye, he was still working. He always looked stern. When I interviewed him, he had been retired for several months. He still came into the collection point regularly. When he worked at the bus station, he had lunch at home with his wife, but on Sundays he still went to the station, for pleasure, in his civilian clothes, preferring the conversation there to spending time at home. Partly for these reasons, he continued to come to the station after his retirement.

32He began his career in the national police in 1977. Ten years later, in 1987, he was fired, a victim of a major purge of the police after two days of revolt, on 13 and 14 April, 1987, which flared up after seven policemen were convicted of causing the death of a young tradesman. [38] As a result of violence and looting by the police, 6,265 officers were fired. Faye saw his firing as an injustice: “Others who were a lot more crooked than me, a lot less honest, weren’t fired”. He did not mention the demonstrations, which mainly took place in Dakar and Thiès and in which, apparently, he did not directly participate.

33After being fired, Faye worked a variety of jobs. Having learned a few medical procedures, he worked in a hospital, and then as a salesman. He took a job on a ship, traveling all over West Africa and selling the goods he had brought with him at each stop. He was finally reinstated at the end of the 1990s, later than most of his colleagues, who had been reinstated as early as the late 1980s. He became part of the municipal rather than the national police and was initially assigned to the market, then transferred to the bus station in 2002. When he began, the garage was still at its former location in the city center. At the time, there was a wooden building for him and the municipal collector, and a concrete building for the regroupement. He was finally reinstated in the national police at the end of his career, at the regroupement’s request.

34Faye’s profile made him an individual who was socially dominated within the police. His career within this institution was chaotic, and for many years he belonged to the municipal police, which is far less prestigious than the national police. In spite of the length of time he spent in the police, he did not rise in the ranks. His career provides new insights into the consequences of the police revolts of April 1987, which is an important and largely under-studied moment in Senegalese history. Faye appeared to minimize his own involvement in these events. Such an attitude is understandable, given the consequences of these events on his career, but is undoubtedly overshadowed by the strong sense of injustice he feels. Faye only owed his late reinstatement to the national police to the pressure exerted by the regroupement, which wanted him to remain posted at the station. Today, Faye says that he is “at the regroupement’s disposal”. Moving between different jobs and different institutions throughout his career, moving from one posting to another, between the private and the public sector, and between the local and national administration, he found his greatest stability in the bus station and the relationships he forged with those working there. Mbaye Gueye, the regroupement’s registrar, explained to me that, in the case of Dramé, Faye’s predecessor, the sense of being available to the regroupement was reinforced by the hope that it would one day hire him. Dramé is now Gueye’s assistant.


Dramé is an old policeman: he used to be on duty in the bus station. I had to train him, and he took over the work when I went out, took over registrations [...]. He was a police officer, a public security officer. He was always with us because that was what we called the police office. That’s always how it is. It’s the police office, and it’s also where you register. We’re all in the same room, regroupement, municipality, and police. We’re all in the same space. [39]

36The time the officer is assigned to the station is also apparently useful for his training as a registrar, acting as “experience capital” that can then be used to the advantage of the regroupement. [40] With the police officer previously posted at the station the registrar gained an assistant, much like the representatives of municipal tax collectors. Contrary to Faye’s claims, he does not keep returning to the station simply to escape the domestic sphere; he also hopes to secure a position there in order to supplement his civil service pension. Such situations encourage the critical distance taken by officials toward the institutions that employ them, and are another reason for the development of close communities within the tax collection point. Badiate, who succeeded Faye, had a less complicated career, but he still presents something of the same discourse; so do other police officers, who complain about understaffing and the large number of hours required of them. Finally, this critical discourse is also present among municipal tax collectors and the volunteers who assist them. [41]

37Faye’s career in itself illustrates all the components that create a sense of community between regroupement representatives and officials. Because he had been at the tax collection point for so long, Faye was close to the regroupement’s leaders. He was also involved in tangible exchanges with them; his hope of one day being hired by the organization is a good example of this. Furthermore, the phenomena present in anti-maraudage stations are reproduced at the collection points. In such mediations, the police officer reinforces the authority of the regroupement representatives when this is challenged by a client or a driver. These representatives meanwhile extend the police officer’s authority in the station to places where, because he is the sole officer, he cannot be present. Faye’s career adds a new element to the argument developed thus far: the resentment of some officials toward their employer, a phenomenon that also contributes to the weakening of barriers between service user and official.

38Does the existence of this set of exchanges necessarily imply reciprocity? Is this method of personalizing administrative connections enough to guarantee preferential treatment by officials to those involved in them? Some of these exchanges are first and foremost part of a daily routine, and as such are not distinctive to interactions between officials and drivers’ representatives. Such exchanges could equally well arise between two neighbors living in the same part of the city. In this respect, they are part of a “moral economy of corruption”. But regroupement representatives are aware of the potential effects of such exchanges. Their systematic nature has the appearance of a strategy. Officials are not blind to this situation, and express a degree of reserve that often prevents regroupement leaders involved in these exchanges from systematically profiting from them.

Barter Exchanges

39A shared culture allows a close proximity to develop between drivers’ representatives and officials. This is a breeding ground for personalized administrative relationships. But the effect of this phenomenon is not automatically binding. The protagonists in these interactions, whether regroupement or government representatives, do not all respond to this proximity in the same way. The existence of shared representations and practices does not prevent regroupement representatives and officials from acting according to different logics, ones specific to their respective universes. For drivers’ representatives, relations with the government are rewarding and are to be publicized; for government members, by contrast, they are devaluing and are to be hidden. This asymmetry means that each protagonist in these interactions runs the risk of being exposed or, in the case of drivers’ representatives, of misreading the situation. [42] In order for these interventions to occur in large numbers, “tact” is required from regroupement representatives. [43] This quality is unequally distributed among drivers’ representatives, but is necessary if the officials are to keep face and continue to maintain the idea that the state and its representatives are “above” society. [44] From this point of view, relations of corruption are also moments where the borders between state and society are reaffirmed.

Contradictory Representations

40Relationships between officials and regroupement representatives are asymmetrical. While, for regroupement leaders, such relations are a mark of distinction and are to be publicized, they represent a danger for officials, undermining their status. As a result, they must be hidden, or at least pursued discreetly.

41For regroupements and their members, interventions, the fight against maraudage, and the acquisition of state resources all go together, and are central elements in the legitimation of their roles. In this context, they are heavily dependent on civil servants. Their representatives typically publicize these exchanges, which allow them to distinguish themselves and become figures of genuine importance. The ability to intervene with the administration is an integral, obligatory part of the regroupement representative’s role.


For example, if you don’t help a driver today, tomorrow’s going to be bad for you, because you’re gradually going to lose a lot of members. It won’t be seen as what’s expected. That’s why I pay each time. [45]

43Here, a prominent drivers’ representative explains how he is required to intervene. If he fails to do so, he will lose the drivers’ support. Maintaining patronage links between regroupement presidents and drivers does not just involve distributing positions within the regroupement executive board, or sharing the financial assistance that comes from drivers’ contributions; it is also based on the ability of the regroupement and its representatives to act as intermediaries between the administration and the drivers in order to obtain confiscated documents and other administrative procedures they have to perform, even if they have to pay a sum of money for them.

44Conversely, officials maintain a certain reserve about the various exchanges with regroupement representatives in which they may be involved. These relationships constantly jeopardize their status by damaging the ideal image of the official. Whether in France or Senegal, the practice of civil servants does not correspond to the Weberian ideal of bureaucracy. [46] But the gap between what is and what ought to be does not mean the latter has no effect on the former. Civil servants have the Weberian ideal present in their minds and, while the existence of cultural logics exerts a constraining effect on them, yielding to this constraint puts their status in danger. This double injunction generates a series of distancing strategies among government members. [47]

45A recently retired gendarme used an anecdote to summarize the ambiguity of these relationships. [48] Prior to his retirement he was the principal connection of one of the most important drivers’ representatives in the region. His nickname was “Superman”. He acted as a point of contact in the gendarmerie brigade, and it was mainly he who was called to the rescue when an intervention was required. When he left, regroupement representatives offered him various gifts, which he accepted. But he remarked that, if he had needed to remain in office, he would certainly not have accepted them. Why not? “Because once you accept that sort of gift, you’re in debt”, he answered. Drivers’ representatives offered these gifts because they still hoped for his help, even now that he was retired. He was not taken in. He remains influential in the brigade, where he still has his contacts. To use an expression used by Giorgio Blundo, the challenge here is to stay “king” without becoming a “kinsman”. [49] It is a question of maintaining the proper distance in front of those who remain subject to government action. For the police and gendarmerie, the most important thing is not to be caught up in relationships they have no control over, and not to be outmaneuvered by the various strategies of drivers’ representatives. This can be difficult when they are by their side day after day.

46Faye, one of the policemen at the municipal tax collection point described above, noted another aspect of this process of distancing oneself from regroupement representatives. As previously explained, Faye is to a large degree dependent on the regroupement, and is counting on it to guarantee his retirement. In addition, his chaotic career has made him very resentful toward his former employer, the government. But in spite of his closeness to the regroupement, he has to make himself respected. He cannot let everything go.


When you give the drivers a gift, they can go against you when you want to enforce the law. [50]

48Faye is “at the disposal” of the regroupement, but that does not mean that he is under its command. It is a matter of his ability to perform his duty. Such relations with the regroupement are, consequently, “double-edged”. [51] It is only by maintaining a certain distance from the organization that he remains valuable to it, and can hope to join it during his retirement. We can see how difficult it can be for regroupements to convert their “corruptive investment” into genuine influence over administrative decisions. The challenge they face is to successfully influence public servants without undermining the image these officials want to give of themselves; to do so would undermine their authority, which the regroupements need.

49This distance is also present among Land Transport directors. One explained to me how, when asked, he always waits a little before giving an answer in order to weigh the pros and cons and avoid getting “trapped”. [52] This view of regroupement representatives as calculating and malign coexists alongside another that partly contradicts it. In the eyes of law enforcement agencies and the directors of regional Land Transport departments, the regroupements exemplify organizations in the informal sector—with all the pejorative associations of that term. Their management is opaque and, unlike other organizations, such as market traders’ associations, they are “noisy”. There is also a degree of contempt for a community that is “98% illiterate”. [53] Here, the stigmas associated with the profession and the transport sector further reinforce the gap between the representatives of the administration and the representatives of the drivers.

50In the discourse of officials, their relationship with the regroupements does not lead to any abuse of the law—instead, it is the best way of enforcing it. To justify their relationship with these organizations, the officials rely, first of all, on procedure. Members of the police mobile brigade only deal with accidents, and nothing else. Prosecutors only refer to files. As they present it, regroupement representatives do not so much use government representatives; instead, the latter use the regroupements as a means of asserting the law and giving their own orders weight among the drivers. In this respect, the regroupements and the civil service are in partnership. Police and gendarmes rely on the regroupements to raise awareness, and the regroupements are therefore one of the institutions the government relies on to spread its authority. Regroupement representatives and representatives of public services are engaged in an asymmetrical interaction, where one party—the regroupement—is significantly more dependent than the other. Because it lies at the heart of the legitimacy of regroupement staff, and is an important point of distinction, the ability to maintain lasting relations with the government must be visible within the drivers’ group. For civil servants, maintaining long-term relationships with regroupement representatives instead brings with it a degree of stigma.

51When they are uncovered, these relationships and the contradictions they engender highlight just how little the practices of officials conform to legal norms; they are faced, once again, with a constant double demand, caught between external responsibilities and the ideal of a depersonalized public service. The contradictions inherent in the self-presentations of regroupement and government members generate misunderstandings and other ways of “breaking frame”. [54] They threaten the view of both the regroupement leaders and the administration. Drivers’ representatives must be tactful; they are engaged in an interaction for which they take full responsibility and want to be visible, but they must dress it up in a way that makes it acceptable. This dressing-up, or tact, occurs in a number of ways, which include promoting a particular ethic, in line with an ideal of public service that is also promoted by government members.

Learning Tact

52The fragility of these transactions explains why the capacity to enter into corruption exchanges is not evenly distributed among drivers as a whole, or among the population more broadly. While the series of social exchanges permitted by the existence of a moral economy of corruption may enable the existence of interventions, these are only on a one-off basis. In order for them to succeed for certain, they must involve a small group of individuals who can dress them up properly and behave with tact. During my fieldwork, while many of those in the bus stations claimed to be able to bring about interventions, only one or two individuals at each site appeared to possess a genuine capacity to do so in large numbers. In some cases, the rarity of such individuals compelled some drivers to seek help, as a last resort, from specialists from other social backgrounds, particularly religious representatives. [55] The employment of specialized brokers is also part of a distancing strategy on the part of officials. The brokers serve as a front, allowing the officials to yield to corruption without exposing themselves directly. [56] This section examines these individuals’ characteristics. What aspects of their careers explain their ability to act tactfully, to corrupt, and to publicize this corruption while allowing officials to maintain face? The career of Mbaye Gueye gathers together all of the characteristics present in the other individuals who are intensely engaged in these transactions. He is himself one of the most active brokers in the region.

53The organization of his workplace is a mark of his dual activity. His brokerage activity continues when he is present at the municipal tax collection point, carried out while he works for the regroupement, registering vehicles entering the station. Mbaye Gueye has a bucket full of blank driver’s license certificates at his feet, already signed. These papers are imitations of those issued by the police when they confiscate drivers’ licenses. Drivers sometimes prefer to present this document rather than their license out of fear that it will be seized. The document only has a short life span, and some drivers who do not have time to get their permits back from the police or gendarmes have a counterfeit made so that they will not be bothered by the police. When there is no signature, Mbaye Gueye himself copies it. He provides these to drivers for 1,000 CFA francs.

54Mbaye Gueye learned bureaucracy “on the job”. [57] He was born in Dakar in the mid-1950s and left school after the sixth grade. He can read and write French, which sets him apart from many of the drivers, who went instead to Koranic school. Not all transport brokers have this ability, and it makes it easier for him to understand bureaucracy and to become familiar with how it operates.


Every morning, I go to court to collect the mail, and to see if there are any drivers who have had accidents or who have been referred. Are there special cases for prosecutors, or magistrates who want to send mail to another destination? Afterwards, I go to the police to see if there’s any mail, or if someone needs to get some. I carry on to the mining service. I have some papers to do because I’m the one who makes changes, I change vehicle documents—I mean, documents that have got lost, like gray cards, you know. All this, I collected information in order to learn about it. I always follow procedure, wherever I go I ask, what’s the procedure? There are even collectors from Estates and Taxes [...] who met with me for hours so that I could find things out. I took my time with that. “That charge there, what’s it for, and what can we do if we’re late with it?“ All that has to do with my work, because there’s a lot of demand for me. How can I represent what I represent if I don’t know? I’ll ask anyone a question when I’ve got them in front of me to find out. [58]

56Being able to read and write is not the sole factor explaining Mbaye Gueye’s ability to intervene. As the interview excerpted above suggests, it also comes from constant work building contacts and enlarging his network and knowledge. He does not just do this using written material, but orally, simply by asking questions. [59] Mbaye Gueye acquired this network and his personal knowledge of how public administration works at three successive moments in his career.

57After school and six years working as a pump attendant, he decided to join some relatives working as a freight forwarder at Dakar airport. [60] This second job, which involved clearing goods through customs, allowed him to learn how the public administration works. The same feature is present in the career of one of the most important brokers in the same region, who also first learned about public administration from customs officials while he was regularly crossing the Senegal-Gambia border with goods.


Every day I cleared tomatoes through customs—I bought the goods in The Gambia, and when I got to the border I paid taxes, and when I got here I sold the product. I had a lot of knowledge, so it was really easy to get the goods around. [61]

59Mbaye Gueye was barred by the Dakar airport authorities after two years working there as he had been working on his own, and freight forwarding had to be handled by professional organizations. After working in construction for a time, he began to use a car belonging to one of his brothers. He moved to the area where he lives today and met his wife. His new work in the transport sector meant he continued to learn how public administration worked, this time as he came into contact with checkpoints.


That is, every time there were roadside checks I took the money and started to argue with the security forces. I’m not like everyone else, sometimes I stood up for my rights, I said what was wrong, that’s just how I was at the time. I get a bit rebellious when I see something that’s not right: I rebel. [62]

61At that moment, and for the first time, his training as a driver and his training in public administration came together, as all drivers are in constant contact with the police or gendarmerie during the various roadside checks they undergo, sometimes several times a day. Mbaye Gueye’s past experience provided him with greater resources than his peers in challenging and negotiating police sanctions. This ability led to him being named secretary of the regroupement of one of the main garages in the region, a position he has held for nine consecutive years. His ease with public administration could be directly converted into a resource for the regroupement. It is not the status an individual possesses within the regroupement that determines his capacity to intervene, but his capacity to intervene that allows him to win an important place within a regroupement and, more generally, within the trade union space.

62In Mbaye Gueye’s case, gaining a position as a representative nonetheless had an effect on his ability to intervene by allowing him to strengthen his network inside the government. This became a third key moment in his training. As he points out, his networks expand exponentially: the multiplication of contacts within the government produces others in turn, and these further reinforce his dominant position in the market for interventions, and consequently his importance within the regroupement.


Any authority in the area, I had to contact it and get to know it. That there, that’s police mail. I’m a civilian. Why does a police station get an official letter and give it to a civilian? It’s because of my connections. It’s often my connections with people who recommend me to others, and then to others. [63]

64Mbaye Gueye’s capacity to intervene is the result of the particular training he received. This alone has given him sufficient resources to defuse officials’ distancing strategies, to act with tact, to understand what he can ask for, and to know the limits to his requests that, if he were to cross them, would expose him to a refusal and endanger his relationship with the officials. It also allows him to benefit from the trust of those for whom he acts as a go-between and, especially, for whom he offers cover for their corrupt practices.

65Mbaye Gueye’s position puts him at the heart of everyday social exchanges with officials. At the municipal tax collection point he is in direct contact with the police officer on duty at the station. His position means he is the ideal person to send and receive mail from the capital. But it is other characteristics that enable him to barter, and that have allowed him to establish himself as one of the most active brokers in the city. His ability to read and write French and his training in the codes of public administration early in his career both allow him to avoid missteps and appear to officials as a trusted interlocutor. These qualities are reinforced by his age, his longstanding acquaintance with the administrative staff, and the position he has been able to occupy within the regroupement, over which he has presided as secretary for nine years.

66* * *

67The exchanges between drivers’ representatives and state representatives may be based on two distinct sources, which do not lead to the same degree of reciprocity on the part of the official. In social exchanges, which are based on a shared moral economy of corruption, Regroupement representatives are permanently unsure of the success of their attempts to intervene. They are unable to predict the time or nature of the favor they will be granted. Shared views make it easier to personalize relationships, but this does not guarantee systematic benefits. In order to secure such guarantees, specialized individuals, particularly adept at ensuring the success of these interactions, are required to act as intermediaries. This situation is the product of the logic inherent in interactions between officials and regroupement representatives. The use of intermediaries is the only way to resolve the contradictions that arise from the dual demand officials are subject to, caught as they are between their social and professional obligations. It also reduces the risk of face-to-face interaction with individuals with conflicting interests—interactions that are valuable for one group and devaluing for the other. Intermediaries make it possible to reduce the number of people involved in these transactions, and thus avoid being exposed or denounced by a third party. It also allows them to be dressed up—that is, it enables the use of select individuals who can allow the officials involved in these transactions to keep face; in other words, it allows them to maintain the appearance of a bureaucracy that is functioning as an ideal.

68The value of focusing on cultural logics just as much as those inherent in face-to-face interactions in the study of corrupt exchanges is not merely descriptive. It makes it possible to emphasize the influence of the Weberian bureaucratic ideal type on practices that are nonetheless thought of as the final proof of the uselessness of this model in Africa. As most studies on the state in Africa so far have rightly pointed out, this typical image is certainly a social construct. We cannot understand the day-to-day functioning of government or, more broadly, the formation of the state in Africa without first abandoning it. This image is nonetheless present in the minds of the officials who represent the state, and it helps shape practices—albeit paradoxically—that are quite opposed to the moral prescriptions associated with it. Ultimately, in spite of the fact that it suffers from a worse reputation, daily administrative practice in Africa appears to be affected by the same tensions as elsewhere.


  • [1]
    Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, “A Moral Economy of Corruption in Africa?”, Journal of Modern African Studies, 37(1), 1999, 25-52.
  • [2]
    See especially Jean-François Bayart, The State in Africa: The Politics of the Belly, Paris, Fayard, 1989.
  • [3]
    As a group, civil servants have long been neglected within “African studies”, and consequently have been a blind spot in discussions about forms taken by the State in Africa. See Jean Copans, “Afrique noire: un État sans fonctionnaires?” Autrepart, 20(4), 2001, 11-26.
  • [4]
    “Cultural” rather than “culturalist”, as Olivier de Sardan emphasizes in “Africanist Traditionalist Culturalism: Analysis of a Scientific Ideology and a Plea for an Empirically Grounded Concept of Culture Encompassing Practical Norms” in Tom De Herdt and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan (eds), Real Governance and Practical Norms in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Game of the Rules, London, Routledge, 2015, pp. 63-94.
  • [5]
    The originality, strong empirical foundations, scale of analysis, and absence of normative judgment in these studies are negligible compared to those undertaken in Southeast Asia, primarily by economists of corruption. See for example Krisztina Kis-Katos and Günther G. Schulze, “Corruption in Southeast Asia: A Survey of Recent Research”, Asian-Pacific Economic Literature, 27, May 2013, 79-109.
  • [6]
    See, for example, the critique of such work by Tarik Dahou, “Déculturaliser la corruption”, Les Temps modernes, 620-1, 2002, 289-311, as well as the response in Giorgio Blundo and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, Everyday Corruption and the State: Citizens and Public Officials in Africa, London, Zed Books, 2006, chapter 2.
  • [7]
    Thomas Bierschenk and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan (eds), States at Work: Dynamics of African Bureaucracies, Leiden, Brill, 2014.
  • [8]
    See, for example, a later article by Olivier de Sardan, “State Bureaucracy and Governance in West Francophone Africa: Empirical Diagnosis, Historical Perspective” in Giorgio Blundo and Pierre-Yves Le Meur (eds), The Governance of Daily Life in Africa: Ethnographic Explorations of Public and Collective Services, Leiden, Brill, 2009, pp. 39-72.
  • [9]
    For an example from a completely different historical and geographical context, see Vincent Dubois’ discussion of the personalization of links between officials and service users in The Bureaucrat and the Poor: Encounters in French Welfare Offices, Burlington, Ashgate, 2010.
  • [10]
    See, for example, Timothy Mitchell’s remarks on the state in general in “The Limits of the State: Beyond Statist Approaches and Their Critics”, American Political Science Review, 85, 1991, 77-96.
  • [11]
    This article is based on a chapter of a Ph.D. defended in December 2016 at the University Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, supervised by Jérôme Lombard and Isabelle Sommier and titled “Le contrat social sénégalais au ras du bitume (1985-2014): de la formation du groupe professionnel des chauffeurs au renforcement des institutions politiques”.
  • [12]
    For obvious reasons of anonymity, no further information is given about the stations that were studied in detail.
  • [13]
    Such interventions are part of a standard practice of brokerage with the public administration. The term is not exclusive to the world of transport; it designates more generally activity by any intermediary who has influence within the government on behalf of a third party. Blundo notes that the term exists in other social worlds: “The King Is Not a Kinsman: Multiple Accountabilities in the Postcolonial State in Africa” in De Herdt and Olivier de Sardan (eds), Real Governance, pp. 142-59.
  • [14]
    Jean-Gustave Padioleau, “De la corruption dans les oligarchies pluralistes”, Revue française de sociologie, 16(1), 1975, 38-40. “In cases of barter-corruption, the obligations of the ‘contract’ are clearly specified between the parties; the assets are exchanged at the moment of the transaction, and the contract precisely specifies the protagonists’ reciprocal obligations; and contributions are mostly offered by private actors who hope to obtain particular decisions. On the other hand, in a complex political society where power is’a generalized medium’, it seems to us that corruption comes about through other forms of transaction, closer to the sort of social exchange Peter Blau describes. These are more complex and more differentiated than ordinary relationships of economic exchange. Social exchange covers the actions that person A undertakes to receive rewards expected by others (B) who are present in the exchange situation. More precisely, to cite one of Blau’s examples, when a housewife gives a big dinner party, she expects future invitations from her guests; while she cannot negotiate the terms of those invitations, she can at least hope that they won’t be invitations to dinner in a fast food joint. In the sort of corruption we are calling social exchange-corruption, not all of the clauses in the transaction are precisely defined, and executing the ‘contract’ lies largely at the discretion of one of the corrupt actors, the one who has received favors. One party provides resources and, while there is an implicit expectation of reciprocity, the precise nature of the quid pro quo and the temporal terms of the exchange are not established precisely. This form of exchange is original because its character is not purely economic; otherwise, the act may appear from the outset to be barter-corruption, and consequently be unacceptable to one or both of the partners. In social exchange-corruption, it is the recipient (i.e. the political class) who often acts as the initiating agent, and who has discretion about whether to honor the transaction or not”.
  • [15]
    Giorgio Blundo and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, Everyday Corruption, chapter 3.
  • [16]
    Padioleau, “De la corruption”, 38-40.
  • [17]
    These different logics make up the “grammar” of the moral economy of corruption, and correspond to the main “cultural” traits that allow the “complex of corruption” to develop (Olivier de Sardan, “A Moral Economy”).
  • [18]
    In the social sciences, space is often thought to indicate and reveal structural mechanisms, even while it exerts an effect on the actors. See Choukri Hmed, “Des mouvements sociaux ‘sur une tête d’épingle’? Le rôle de l’espace physique dans le processus contestataire à partir de l’exemple des mobilisations dans les foyers de travailleurs migrants”, Politix, 84, 2008, 145-65. Online
  • [19]
    Olivier de Sardan, “A Moral Economy”, 40-1.
  • [20]
    Municipal tax collectors often have “collection assistants” who carry out collection work without official legal status. See Giorgio Blundo, “Négocier l’État au quotidien: agents d’affaires, courtiers et rabatteurs dans les interstices de l’administration sénégalaise”, Autrepart, 20, 2001, 87-8. Online
  • [21]
    This is something Blundo and Olivier de Sardan recognize in Everyday Corruption. Note that beyond just carrying mail—the only example we look at here because it is the most important and most common one—regroupements are involved in transporting prisoners, loaning vehicles for police raids, and simply acting as informants for investigators.
  • [22]
    Interview with Mbaye Gueye, tax collector for the regroupement, 8 April 2011.
  • [23]
    While they imply a financial exchange, gifts of money to the brigades remain part of what Padioleau calls “social corruption-exchange” rather than “barter exchange”, because the contractual obligations that connected the two parties of the exchange are not precisely specified (Padioleau, “De la corruption”, 37).
  • [24]
    Olivier de Sardan, “A Moral Economy”, 45.
  • [25]
    “We have noticed that each incumbent collector (locally called a ‘jutti’, a Wolof corruption of’duty’) has two or three helpers with them, who can hire their own helpers in turn. For the municipality of Kaolack, this pyramid of delegation increases the number of’jutti’ from eighteen to about a hundred” (Blundo, “Négocier l’état”, 85-6).
  • [26]
    Giorgio Blundo, “‘Je n’ai pas besoin de ticket’: négociations des droits de marché et petite corruption dans les collectivités locales sénégalaises” in Claude Fay, Yaouaga Félix Koné, and Catherine Quiminal (eds), Décentralisation et pouvoirs en Afrique: En contrepoint, modèles territoriaux français, Paris, IRD, 2006, pp. 323-42. As Blundo points out, the rotation of roles is also supposed to ensure that volunteers all have access to equally profitable sectors. We were not able to verify this claim in the case of the anti-maraudage teams.
  • [27]
    Interview, former director of Land Transport, February 2013.
  • [28]
    These remarks could be further strengthened by fieldwork that went beyond the workplace, because government and regroupement representatives share consumption habits that allow them to extend this community at various restaurants in the city.
  • [29]
    Olivier de Sardan, “A Moral Economy”, 41-2.
  • [30]
    IRTG/UEMOA, Report, 2010. The data was collected between 1 April and 30 June 2010, with no details given on how the collection was carried out.
  • [31]
    Blundo and Olivier de Sardan, Everyday Corruption, chapter 4. The term “juicy”, used by regroupement representatives for positions in anti-maraudage brigades, is borrowed from the emic classification of positions by officials. Note that position classifications differ with regroupements and government offices. For the Water and Forestry Department, posts at city exits are not seen as “juicy”. See Giorgio Blundo, “Une administration à deux vitesses: projets de développement et construction de l’État au Sahel”, Cahiers d’études africaines, 202-3, 2011, 427-52. Online
  • [32]
    Blundo and Olivier de Sardan, Everyday Corruption, p. 17. Once again, these practices resemble the corrupt strategies observed within public administration. It is a matter of building “lasting relationships”.
  • [33]
    Olivier de Sardan, “A Moral Economy”. In some garages, the sum is divided equally between the regroupement and the police or gendarmerie brigade. The division is different in other garages, where only 1,000 CFA francs of a 6,000 CFA franc bribe might go to the gendarmes. In some garages, the entire fine goes to the regroupement, and is apparently not shared at all. These differences are primarily related to different garages’ regional importance. The proportion of the fines going to each party is negotiated between the municipal garage and that city’s gendarmerie and police brigade. The larger the garage, the more balanced the ratio seems to be between the public employees and the garage.
  • [34]
    We might talk here in terms of “stateness”. See Christian Lund, “Twilight Institutions: Public Authority and Local Politics in Africa”, Development and Change, 37(4), 2006, 685-705.
  • [35]
    Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff (eds), Law and Disorder in the Postcolony, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2006, 22.
  • [36]
    Within regroupements, these police officers are found in many different positions: technical advisers, registrars, or, if they brought a vehicle after retirement, simply members. Hiring retired police officers is not just a way of thanking them for their services. The regroupements expect these retired police officers to perform services in return. They are, potentially, effective and valued brokers. For salesmen or business agents, for instance, who are often retired civil servants, the capital that comes from practical knowledge, and especially the capital that comes from their relationships means that it is difficult to refuse them certain favors, and allows them to establish or consolidate their relationships with officials. See Blundo, “Négocier l’état”, 88.
  • [37]
    Interview, retired police officer, 28 July 2012.
  • [38]
    Momar Coumba Diop and Mamadou Diouf, Le Sénégal sous Abdou Diouf: E?tat et société, Paris, Karthala, 1990, 285.
  • [39]
    Interview, 8 April 2011.
  • [40]
    Interview, police officer, 8 April 2011.
  • [41]
    The latter even went on strike in 2012 to protest new measures that the local administration put in place for issuing tax collection books.
  • [42]
    These features are characteristic of the collusive transactions Michel Dobry describes. Corrupt exchanges are vulnerable because they can potentially be reported. Moreover, “for actors to participate in this sort of exchange, they do not all, or always, have to share the same values, to possess a common habitus, or even, in a very weak sense, to share common interests”. The moral economy of corruption acts on officials as a limiting frame, and contributes to their sense that they “have to play the game, often in spite of [their] own values or convictions (what else can [they] do?)”. Michel Dobry, “Valeurs, croyances et transactions collusives: notes pour une réorientation de l’analyse de la légitimation des systèmes démocratiques” in Javier Santiso (ed.), À la recherche de la démocratie: Mélanges offerts à Guy Hermet, Paris, Karthala, 2002, pp. 103-20, p. 112.
  • [43]
    We refer here to Erving Goffman’s work, where “tact” is understood as an individual’s ability to interact with another while preserving their social facade. Tact is one element in “face-work”. See Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior, Garden City, Anchor Books, 1967, chapter 1. In work on corruption this line of thought has been followed, notably, by Alan Smart and Carolyn L. Hsu, “Corruption or Social Capital? Tact and the Performance of Guanxi in Market Socialist China” in Monique Nuijten and Gerhard Anders (eds), Corruption and the Secret of Law: A Legal Anthropological Perspective, Farnham, Ashgate, 2007, pp. 167-89.
  • [44]
    This expression comes from the work of James Ferguson and Akhil Gupta: “Spatializing States: Toward an Ethnography of Neoliberal Governmentality”, American Ethnologist, 29, 2002, 981-1002.
  • [45]
    Interview, drivers’ representative, 5 April 2011.
  • [46]
    In the case of France, for instance, see Alexis Spire, “Histoire et ethnographie d’un sens pratique: le travail bureaucratique des agents du contrôle de l’immigration” in Anne-Marie Arborio, Yves Cohen, Pierre Fournier, Nicolas Hatzfeld, Cédric Lomba, and Séverin Muller (eds), Observer le travail: Histoire, ethnographie, approches combinées, Paris, La Découverte, 2008, pp. 61-76; Dubois, The Bureaucrat and the Poor; and Pierre Bourdieu, “Droit et passe-droit. [Le champ des pouvoirs territoriaux et la mise en œuvre des règlements]”, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 81-2, 1990, 86-96.
  • [47]
    In a study on the relationship between gangs and the administration, Martin Sanchez-Jankowski talks about “prudential exchange relationships”. He notes the same difference in “framing” between the gang representatives and those of the administration. Unlike my example, this prudence concerns both gang representatives and the government. Martin Sanchez-Jankowski, Islands in the Street: Gangs and American Urban Society, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1992, chapter 7.
  • [48]
    Interview, retired police officer, 30 July 2012.
  • [49]
    Blundo, “The King Is Not a Kinsman”.
  • [50]
    Interview, retired police officer, 28 July 2012.
  • [51]
    Interview, retired gendarme, 30 July 2012.
  • [52]
    Interview, researcher, mining service, former Land Transport director, 27 January 2014.
  • [53]
    Interview, technical inspection director, technical advisor to the President, February 2014.
  • [54]
    Breaking frame is when one actor engaged in an interaction realizes they have perceived the situation wrongly. See Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience, Hanover, Northeastern University Press, 1975.
  • [55]
    A large quantity of historical writing on Senegal is devoted to religious brotherhoods, notably the Mouride brotherhood; this sometimes comes at the expense of social groups. Such work particularly highlights the role played by the representatives of these brotherhoods in the construction of the Senegalese state during the colonial and postcolonial periods. See, for example, Christian Coulon, Le Marabout et le prince: islam et pouvoir au Sénégal, Paris, Pedone, 1981.
  • [56]
    Blundo, “Négocier l’État”, 89-90: “But we can also admit that the intervention of brokers can help’cover up tracks’, erasing any proof <I’m assuming this is the author’s translation and thus can be corrected> of the illicit transaction. [.. . ] [M]ost of the touts are known to the civil services, which tolerates them because they can offer protective cover for embezzlement by public officials”.
  • [57]
    Unlike some brokers, Mbaye Gueye is not a former civil servant. See Blundo, “Négocier l’État”, 88.
  • [58]
    Interview, 8 April 2011.
  • [59]
    Maintaining networks and obtaining written documents from which to learn about the law are closely connected.
  • [60]
    A freight forwarder is a person or company retained by a shipper or the consignee of a delivery to deal with the various administrative procedures involved with transporting it, often across several countries.
  • [61]
    Interview, Pape Thiam, regroupement president, 5 April 2011.
  • [62]
    Interview, 8 April 2011.
  • [63]
    Interview, 8 April 2011.

One of the most widespread explanation to describe the relationship between users and officials in Africa and, therefore, the specific forms of the State on this continent, is the existence of a common set of practices and representations shared by those two groups. By exploring the potential misunderstandings in this relationship, this article shades this explanation. It aims to understand what those potential wrong notes and the various ways to prevent them tell us about what representing the state means.


  • State
  • Official
  • Professional Group
  • Corruption
  • Transport
Sidy Cissokho
Sidy Cissokho is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh. His publications include “L’enchâssement du moment électoral dans l’ordinaire syndical: le syndicat national des travailleurs du transport sénégalais en campagne”, in Guillaume Courty and Julie Gervais (eds), Le Lobbying électoral. Groupes en campagne présidentielle (2012), Villeneuve-d’Ascq, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2016, and “La compétition syndicale à la loupe: Débats, affrontements et arbitrages autour de la question de la représentation dans les gares routières au Sénégal”, Revue Tiers Monde, 224(4), 2015, 83-102. His research so far has focused on the construction of professional identities, work, and relations between professional groups, public administration, and political parties (University of Edinburgh [CAS], Office 4.04, 18 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9LN, United Kingdom, <>).
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