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Pentecostals and Politics: Redefining Big Man Rule in Africa

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Chapter Summary

This chapter gives a review of scholarly perspectives on Pentecostalism in Africa, and then of the notion of big man rule as it applies to the political distribution of resources and loyalty. Focusing on the role of informal institutions and the importance of ethnic ties in patron-client relations, it characterizes the region's politics as deeply reliant on reciprocal relations between big men patrons and their loyal followers. The chapter explores the contemporary breakdown in the traditional system that has created space for the charismatic Pentecostal movement to emerge, as an alternative to kinship ties. The chapter argues that the financial crisis of the late 1970s sparked a change in social values and an opportunity for new norms to develop. It considers the impact of Pentecostal big man rule on the three dimensions of African politics: formal electoral politics, contestation and conflict, and the informal institutions central to African political exchange.

Keywords: African politics; big man rule; pentecostalism



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