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African Agency in International Politics - Seminar Series

Seminar 1
Emerging Agents of change? Africa in International Negotiations

2 February 2011 — Chatham House, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London

About the Seminar

Recent years have seen a heightened presence of African governments in international negotiations - the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009, diplomatic influence within the WTO and new roles for state and non-state actors within the processes around the granting and delivery of aid. In all three areas, Western and increasingly emerging powers, as well as international institutions such as the UNDP and World Bank have sought actively to promote greater capacity and participation by Africa in international and regional forums, often in support of specific international objectives. Do these activities signify emerging influence for African states within an increasing multipolar world, or merely continued subversion of the sovereignty of small states by larger powers?

PDF Executive Summary (112 KB)

PDF Seminar 1 Agenda (216 KB)

About the Speakers

Prof Donna Lee (Birmingham University)

African activism in the WTO: How effective diplomatic agency can (sometimes) overcome structural power constraints in the global trade regime

This paper focuses on the emergence of African states as key protagonists in the current WTO Doha Development Round and the impact of this on global trade governance. This increased activism is surprising given the relatively weak market power of states such as Kenya, Burkina Faso, Mali and Egypt in the global trade system; member states that have become significant players in the WTO during the Doha Round. These, and other African states, have overcome some of the structural power constraints inherent in the global trade regime by developing more effective diplomatic agency in WTO trade negotiations. That is, they have become more effective trade diplomats. They have enhanced their deliberative capacities in a number of ways in order to develop more effective diplomatic strategies in the WTO regime. This paper focuses on two such strategies. In the agricultural trade negotiations African's have deployed what officials in Geneva refer to as a “Crying Game” to reinforce moral appeals to greater fairness in agricultural trade governance. In the market access negotiations African trade negotiators have used what is termed a “won't do” strategy to block agreements in non-agricultural trade negotiations that they argue would not enhance their economic development.

Professor Donna Lee is currently Director of the 'Africa Activism in the WTO' project at the University of Birmingham and Co-Editor, of the Palgrave Diplomacy & International Relations Series. She is currently writing a book on Africa in the WTO to be published by Palgrave in 2012. She has published widely on multilateral trade negotiations and on Africa including 'The WTO After Hong Kong' (with Rorden Wilkinson) (Routledge, 2007), 'The New Multilateralism in South African Diplomacy' (with Ian Taylor and Paul Williams) Palgrave 2006, and, 'The Political Economy of Small African States in the WTO' The Round Table, Vol 97, No. 395. 2008.

Dr Jean-Christophe Hoste (Egmont Inst, Brussels)

From Copenhagen over South Sudan to the Nile: understanding the political economy of African decision-making in the climate change negotiations

This paper looks at the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen from an African perspective. Why did their carefully constructed common position fall apart? Why did Sudan torpedo the joint proposal of Ethiopia and the EU? What are the African dossiers that might have influenced this turn of events? The paper investigates the relation between Ethiopia and Sudan starting from the climate change negotiations over the Nile dossier and South Sudan to point to the complexity and fragility of the relations in the Horn that have an impact on the region and beyond, thereby illustrating that context awareness is crucial to make any progress in understanding the dynamics of African positions in international negotiations.

Jean-Christophe Hoste is a Research Fellow at Egmont, the Royal Institute for International Relations since August 2007. His recent research focuses on the dynamics of African decision-making, the climate change negotiations from an African perspective and Climate change and security in Africa. Before joining Egmont, Jean-Christophe Hoste was an Africa Research Assistant at Crisis Group Nairobi where he studied the effectiveness of sanctions regimes, the African Union, African Security Structures, Africom and terrorism in Africa.

Dr Alistair Fraser (University of Cambridge)

Weapons of the weak? Africa in Aid negotiations

Academic studies of aid to Africa have typically asked how 'we' in the West can get 'them' in Africa to adopt economic and political systems that look like our own. Suspicion of African political systems has led to a common assumption that governments seeking to resist the developmental models promoted by generous foreign donors are doing so for nefarious reasons. As a result, the negotiating strategies that African states have adopted to secure their own policies have been largely neglected. This paper starts with a positive view of African states' sovereign rights. It asks how they can use aid to pursue their own policy preferences, resisting donor priorities while still taking the money. In doing so, the paper challenges the fashionable construction of aid relations as a partnership, and the idea that recipients increasingly 'own' their own programmes, suggesting that these notions tend to obfuscate power relations. It considers the factors that account for the different negotiating strategies attempted by various governments and groups of African states both historically and in the contemporary period, considering the sources of leverage they have been able to bring to bear in negotiations, and the differing degrees of control that they have been able to exercise over the policies agreed in negotiations and those implemented after agreements have been signed. Finally the article notes some emerging trends, including exit from long-running debt-traps, an economic revival in a number of countries, the increasing role of Chinese investment, aid and debt relief on the continent and the influence of alternative ideologies and models from East Asia and Latin America. It considers their potential impacts on African governments' negotiating strength and the future of Western aid policies.

Dr Alastair Fraser is Philomathia Fellow and Lecturer in Politics at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge. He researches how Western donors, NGOs and multinationals promote their preferred economic and social agendas in Africa, and how African states and popular movements respond to these influences. His published work focuses on Southern Africa, and spans topics including participatory planning, electoral politics, mining, the new African populism and aid negotiations.

Dr Siphamandla Zondi (Institute for Global Dialogue, South Africa)

Africa in Multilateral Negotiations: A Critique of African Common Positions

It has become common for 53 member states of the African Union who constitute about 28% of the UN membership to harmonize their individual negotiating positions on major international issues in order to turn their numbers into real political clout in international negotiations. While the African Group has existed in UN processes since the 1960s, it is only in last two decades that it has gained prominence for pro-active approach and for advancing nuanced and distinct positions in key international negotiations. The idea of a discernable common African agenda is gaining currency in all global multilateral forums. The strengthening of continental and regional integration has given further impetus to this notion of concerted diplomacy by Africa. Using examples of the UN Reform and Climate Change negotiations as case studies, this think piece suggests that increasingly the common African positions are derived from an enlightened view of Africa's common interests than the interests of dominant African states. Yet, this positive trend in African diplomacy is undermined by a number of weaknesses including weak leadership, weak AU-RECs interface, and the exclusion of civil society in African diplomacy.

Dr. Siphamandla Zondi is director of the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD) – a prominent international diplomacy and foreign policy think tank. He was previously head of the IGD's Africa and SA Foreign Policy programme for five years. Between 2000 and 2004, he headed Africa Institute's regional integration (with specific reference to SADC) and sustainable development programmes. Dr. Zondi graduated with MPhil and DPhil in African Studies at the University of Cambridge. Dr Zondi has published widely in his areas of research interest, namely: regional integration and governance, South Africa's international relations and foreign policy, and public health. His recent publications are on the SADC mediation in Zimbabwe; the future direction of SA's foreign policy; and Africa's health governance. Dr Zondi is a regular media commentator and writes a weekly political column for The Witness newspaper.

Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP

Making Africa's voice heard in climate negotiations?

Africa is already feeling the effects of climate change, but is its voice being heard sufficiently in global negotiations? Hilary Benn – who led the UK delegation at the 2007 climate negotiations in Bali - will talk about the impact that Africa is having as it faces up to this huge global challenge.

Hilary Benn is member of Parliament for Leeds Central and served as Secretary of State for International Development (2003-07) and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2007-10). He is now Shadow Leader of the House of Commons.


PDF Negotiating Aid: The Structural Conditions Shaping the Negotiating Strategies of African Governments - Alastair Fraser (443 KB)

PDF Where was united Africa in the climate change negotiations? - Jean-Christophe Hoste (160 KB)

PDF Global Trade Governance and the Challenges of African Activism in the Doha Development Agenda Negotiations - Donna Lee (1.17 MB)

PDF Africa in International Negotiations: A Critique of African Common Positions - Siphamandla Zondi (186 KB)


William Brown,, or Tom Cargill,


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