Personalism and Patrimonialism in Developing Countries

The whole history of humanity is characterized by the never stopping process of development: existing society’s development and appearance of new societies and states. In terms of each society development it is possible to distinguish such phenomena as personalism and patrimonialism, they can be traced in all countries to a certain extent, but these phenomena are more vivid in developing countries.

Personalism implies the presence of a charismatic leader, who can enhance the authority of the ruling power or the whole state. Sometimes personalism may reach quite unrestrained forms, for example, such kind of leader can become a matter for “personality cult”, or even “the Saviour, Redeemer and Messiah” as the leader of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah (Calvert, P., p.266). But very often personalism exerts positive influence upon the state development. This can be illustrated by the example of Carlos Menem, Argentinean president, who succeeded in gaining support of members of domestic private sector, established strong relationship with international political powers and functionaries and enlisted domestic military forces’ support. Thus in 1990s he could control inflation and proceed implementing the necessary market reforms (Teichman, p. 126).

Patrimonialism is another form of autocratic power, which is characterized by the rule of authorized group of society. Pakistan can be taken as an example of this form of governing: approximately 80% of ruling powers arose from the old aristocracy, they possess substantial property and “have quasi-feudal relations” with the rest of the population and, thus, “form the basis of the “modern” claim to political power” (Calvert, P., 267). Another illustrative example of patrimonialism is tribalism in Africa, where tribal links are more important and prevailing “formal legal-rational relationships” (Calvert, P., 268).

As mentioned above these two trends are peculiar features of developing states, and they actually form societies of these countries. It is necessary to point out that both, personalism and patrimonialism, can contribute into the development of the state. Especially, it can be true for patrimonialism, for it is easily developed into the democratic governing of the state. It can be reached by the “shift from authoritarian patrons to more responsive patrons” (Henders, p.47). Such patrimonialism replacement took place in Indonesia, where the fall of Suharto led to the rule of Megawati (Henders, p.47). A great negative result of personalism and patrimonialism is corruption, which “results in the chronic waste of already scarce resources” (Calvert & Calvert, 2007, p.63). This, of course, can hardly reinforce the democracy in the state, and that is why it is necessary to establish international regulations in the developing countries’ political powers. But since the establishment of democracy is a lasting process, it is possible to overcome the negative impacts of personalism and patrimonialism, and reinforces the positive trends of these phenomena (Calvert & Calvert, 2001, p.251).

Thus, personalism and patrimonialism characterize the process of democracy forming in the developing countries. These phenomena impose different impact upon the democracy establishment, both negative and positive. Some countries witness the highest degree of personalism, “personality cult”, and their citizens suffer from the autocratic rule which can turn into the tyranny. But some countries succeed in forming democracy through the shift from personalism to patrimonialism, and the replacement of the former by the democratic power rule. And this process is quite prevailing, for the state can be formed by the strong authority of a leader or group of people, who will lead their state to the rule of their people.


Calvert, Peter (2002). Comparative politics: an introduction. Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited.

Calvert, Peter, Calvert, Susan (2001). Politics and society in the third world: an introduction (2nd ed.). London: Longman Publishing Group.

Calvert, Peter, Calvert, Susan (2007). Politics and society in the developing world. Essex, England: Pearson Education Limited.

Henders, S.J. (2007). Democratization and identity: regimes and ethnicity in east and southeast asia. Plymouth: Lexington Books.

Teichman, J.A. (2001). The politics of freeing markets in latin america: chile, argentina, and mexico. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press.

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