Politik Anti-Politik


READING James Ferguson’s The Anti-Politics Machine: “development,” depoliticization and bureaucratic power in Lesotho (2005) reminds me of what the global developmentalist regime has done in Indonesia from the second half of 1960s until recent time; even though these two countries have different characteristics in many ways.

Nevertheless Ferguson’s presentation tells how the idea of developmentalism being spread through out what is then called and categorized the third world, developing, or under developed countries mostly in Africa and Asia. This idea has been used as political banners to widen and strengthen the developed countries’ power in the regions.

Development, Depoliticisation, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho
James Ferguson
University of Minnesota Press (2005)
xvi+320 pp.

Those countries are the victims of the political game in international arena, and their people are the victims of the strong cooperation between the global power and the existing government. What we have seen in these countries is that developmentalism discourse in fact is a process to accumulate the power to gain control over natural resource as much as possible.

For some scholars the development discourse and such is not really a tool to elevate what is called native or indigenous or local people to the higher level of life. The idea of development is vague. For some others development is not the cure for what is claimed as backwardness, but a cause of the existing problematic condition. I personally believe that poverty in one society or country is a structural problem. It is happened following the colonization with many forms.

The way global developmentalist regimes play their role is plain and common. We can see the similar pattern applied in many countries. First, there is a need to create political banners saying that the inferior country is in a nature of backwardness, then ignoring the local and traditional way of living. The developmentalist regime then will create a new regime in that country that can be its friend in applying whatever considered as prescription toward the backwardness. By using its allies, the global developmentalist regime will able to maintain its control over the country.

It can be the subjugated country’s natural resources (as in Indonesia) or its politically strategic point in certain regions. For the global developmentalist regime there is only one way to develop what is categorized as a backward country, i.e. modernization and industrialiazation.

Therefore the advocates of modernization tend to ignore local and traditional way of living, mode of production or local wisdom. For them, this kind of mode of production is a liability to the development and modern life.

In Ferguson’s work Lesotho has been assigned as an aboriginal country that has not yet incorporated into the capitalistic industrial modern world, and is assumed as an agricultural country even though its historical records tell that agriculture is not its people major way of living. Another important part of the theoretical premises in development project is the notion that the inferior country constitutes a concept of national economy. This is a must in order to support the idea of “national economy planning and nation- and sector-based economic program” and must be subject to the neutral, unitary and effective governmentality that is needed to secure the national economy planning and its application.

In fact there is no such of neutral government. Government is a group of elite politics that take power, thus make them legitimated, using whatever means to control the country. What people needs is a nationalistic government that prioritizes and protects them and provides goods for them.

Nevertheless, when global developmentalist regime says that it needs a neutral, unitary and effective government, what it needs actually is government that can control the whole country with whatever means including coercion and abusive power and would like to be an advocate and proxy for capitalistic developmental project. Only this kind of government can be used by the global developmentalist regime to make sure that all capitalistic modernization programs can be applied.

If there is no such kind of cooperative government, the global developmentalist regime will likely to create one.


James Scottt’s work, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (1998), focuses on the central governments attempt to force legibility toward the people. This type of relation tends to, again, ignore the local wisdom and way of living. In Indonesia, again as I remember when I am reading this work, the modernization introduced by the New Order regime has underestimated local mode of production. The introduction of paddy through out the country, for instance, have created problematic situation in many local areas, especially in the eastern side of the country, where the people originally consume corn and sagu instead of rice.

From these two readings we can learn how, in one way, the idea of modernization in “the third world countries” is merely a creation based on political interest of the superior power in global arena. In another way, it needs coercive national government as a proxy of the superior power to make it happened.

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Born in Medan, lives in Jakarta, loves Indonesia.

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