In an article recently published in Social Anthropology, the journal of the European Association of Social Anthropologists, anthropologist Adam Kuper has proposed a stimulating approach to the study of power relations in what he refers to as pre-colonial political systems in Africa (Kuper 1995). He looks for, and quite convincingly seems to find, traces of a ‘distinctly Machiavellian style’ both in the strategies and in the principle formulations of two preconquest South African leaders in the early nineteenth century: Shaka, chief of the Nguni-Zulu, and Moeshoeshoe, of the Sotho-Tswana. Although, as Kuper reminds his readers from the start, Machiavelli’s work and ideas are ‘culturally specific’, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to study ‘exotic situations’ through a Machiavellian perspective: ‘Machiavelli, it seems, may be read with profit as a comparative sociologist, as one might read Weber or Durkheim’ (Kuper 1995:1, 12). More specifically, a ‘realistic, cross-cultural political anthropology’, interested in understanding strategies for grabbing and keeping power in different cultural contexts would greatly benefit from incorporating Machiavelli’s very general law of politics: ‘that the prince must use every means to secure his position, for rivals and enemies will be doing their best to undermine him, and moreover each regime has its intrinsic fault lines, which they will exploit’ (Kuper 1995:12). Clearly, then, an evaluation of the potential of conceptual tools like the notions of ‘empowerment’ and ‘disempowerment’ in fields covered by the political anthropologist might be enriched by being coupled with such a lucid analysis of the ‘power game’ as Machiavelli’s is. More to the point of the present proceedings, the acts and discourses of selfempowerment, the situations of disempowerment and the ambiguities of empowering strategies, could usefully be read within a Machiavellian framework, and understood as strategies for grabbing and keeping power, and as conditions where it might be gained or lost, globally affecting the overall system.