Jon Schubert, MA, PhD


Jon Schubert studied History and Sociology at the University of Basel for three years before transferring to the MA in African Studies, which he completed in December 2007. During this time, he did several short-term consultancies and internships in Angola, Ghana and Mozambique. After his graduation he worked as a programme assistant in the peace policy section of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (2008-2009). After a first year of doctoral training at the Department of Anthropology and Sociology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London (MPhil/PhD 2009/10), he was offered a studentship at the Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh, where he pursued his PhD-project on political legitimacy and memory narratives in Angola (2010-14). He has worked in foreign affairs (2008-2009) and commercial risk analysis (2010-2015), and taught political anthropology and African politics at undergraduate and graduate level.

Today, Jon Schubert is a political anthropologist at the University of Leipzig, working on stateness, political violence, memory and affect, and technocratisation, mainly in Lusophone Africa. His current research project, Technocrats at the Hydrocarbons Frontier: Changing Stateness in Mozambique will look at how staff at the National Hydrocarbons Company ENH remake and rethink the role of the state at the interface of national bureaucracy and globalised capital. His previous research, based on one year of doctoral fieldwork in Angola’s capital, Luanda, was an ethnographic exploration of contemporary neo-authoritarianism through the emic notion of the ‘system’, and has resulted in a manuscript entitled Working the System: A Political Ethnography of the ‘New Angola’ (currently under review).

MA Thesis

Dez jogadores contra um guarda-rede. Angola. The Dynamics of State and Civil Society 2002-2007

Since the advent of peace, the Angolan government has repeatedly professed its intention to hold general and presidential elections. Although the date of the elections is not yet set, the process of voter registration was completed in September 2007. In retrospect, the two short periods of relative peace in the 1990s appeared to have opened up new spaces for civil society. This raised the hope that, in addition to the stabilization of the country, peace would bring about the opening up of political space.

I argue, however, that this is not the case. Based on interviews and observations made in Angola in March and August 2007, this thesis demonstrates that the Angolan government  is reinforcing its control over all aspects of social, economic and political life. Unchallenged by military or political opponents and buoyed by the oil-backed Chinese credit the president's position appears stronger than ever, and he shows little intention of relinquishing power. The government has become almost undistinguishable from the party and the state. Representatives of Angolan civil society organisations complain about the increasing partidarização that affects their daily work, and stacks the cards in favour of the incumbents.

The thesis examines the experiences of Angolan civil society during the voter registration process that took place between November 2006 and September 2007. It triggered a dynamic that engaged a large number of non-state actors. Angolan NGOs, the churches, and international donor organisations tried to influence the process and its outcomes.

Local associations who pursue a specific agenda in the context of the elections are, through this, interlinked with the broader system of international development cooperation and its democratization agenda. The focus on this relatively narrow set of actors allows us a close look at the interactions unfolding prior to the elections. These take place in political arenas that are relevant to the state, as they connect with the internationally predominant discourse on democratization. By entering this public space, civil society associations tap into the resources, media channels and international networks of the international system of states and multilateral agencies. The chosen unit of analysis enables the detailed examination of the strategies of different, unequal actors in a specific arena of contested public authority, the discursive repertoires they employ, and how Angola’s government like is equally instrumentalizing that discourse as a resource to consolidate its power.

While the registo eleitoral appears to have been a success in terms of registered voters, it seems doubtful whether the electoral process can really bring about political change and a tangible improvement of the living conditions of the Angolan population. Angola’s current political situation does not appear unique when compared to other African countries that have formally adopted multiparty democracy. Internationally, ‘competitive authoritarianism’ is emerging as a specific form of government that can no longer be viewed as an incomplete or protracted transition to democracy. These regimes ostensibly 'play by the rules' of democracy, while in practice they are constantly subverting its meaning. Under such circumstances, there is an increasing need for  researchers to re-conceptualize donor assistance towards democratization.