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African Agency in International Politics - Seminar Series

Seminar 5
Southern Africa

2-3 November 2011 — Department of Political Science, University of Stellenbosch

The final seminar of the series takes place in South Africa with the aim of facilitating further collaboration between UK-based scholars and experts in South African academic institutions (already developing between the BISA working group and Stellenbosch University), think tanks and policy-related organisations. It also enables the dissemination of research to key constituencies in South Africa. South Africa is among the most prominent and influential African states in international politics and home to leading and innovative work on Africa's international relations. The seminar will engage with substantive and conceptual issues raised in earlier seminars, including reflections on the earlier seminars to be presented by UK-based academics. The seminar will also present leading research from scholars based in Southern Africa on: migration, identity/xenophobia and international relations; HIV/AIDS and health; South African foreign policy; the role of South Africa and other African countries in the changing global financial architecture; and the governance of water resources. Finally, the seminar will extend such substantive evaluations by considering issues of methodology, concepts and theory arising from these substantive areas in the study of Africa's international relations. Consideration will also be given to future research agendas in this area.

PDF Seminar 5 Programme (updated 27/10/2011) (308 KB)

PDF Executive Summary (154 KB)

Contact: Scarlet Cornelissen,

About the Speakers

William Brown (Open University)

African agency in international politics: scope, analysis and theory

This paper reviews the studies presented in the ESRC seminar series African Agency in international politics and outlines both the substantive analytical questions and theoretical problems that arise from those debates. The paperbegins with a schematic outline of some contemporary contexts within which questions of African agency in international politics have come to the fore. For each we are faced with a sense of a renewed level of activism by African political actors, but one that is still tightly constrained by historically-shaped structures of uneven development. The paper argues thatfour main arenas of African agency require our attention – multilateral, bilateral, intra-regional and sub/non-state. These arenas, alone or in combination, raise substantive issues around the importance of geopoliticalcontexts; state capacities and leadership; and discourses and issue framing. After this outline of the scope of the field, the paper then reviews some of the more abstract theoretical debates that have arisen, including the relevance of realism, governmentality, state agency and deeper questions about agency in international politics. These theoretical concerns in turn return us to a wider question about the relationship between IR theorising and the realities of Africa's international relations.

Will is Senior Lecturer in Government and Politics at the Open University. Dr Brown is a founder and the current convenor of the British International Studies Association (BISA) Working Group on Africa and International Studies. Previous research has included theoretical work (such as 'Africa and international relations: a comment on anarchy and statehood' Review of International Studies vol.32 no.1 2006) as well as contemporary political developments (such as 'The Commission for Africa: results and prospects for the west's Africa policy.' Journal of Modern African Studies vol.44 no.3 2006). He has written in particular on aid relations between UK/EU and Africa including the recent article 'Reconsidering the Aid relationship: International Relations and Social Development' which appeared in a special issue of the journal The Round Table (vol.98, no.402, 2009) which he co-edited.

Sven Grimm (Stellenbosch University)

Aid dependency as a limitation to national development policy? – Coordinating China and DAC donors in Rwanda

The international development debate has been marked by two major trends in recent years: intensified discussions on the effectiveness of aid, and the proliferation of actors involved in international cooperation. How can African countries use both trends in order to foster their agency? This study aims to contribute to the debate on development effectiveness by exploring challenges to the national coordination of DAC and non-DAC development partner, with Rwanda serving as the country case. This case study shows that Rwanda's government, despite its aid dependency, demonstrates strong ownership of its development agenda. However, the Rwandan government has clearly not been successful in integrating China into its aid coordination architecture. The study argues that the lack of integration of non-DAC DPs – not least so China – is a major challenge to the country's aid architecture if the leverage over DAC partners is to be maintained.

Dr Sven Grimm is the Director of the Centre for Chinese Studies. He is a political scientist and has worked on external partners' cooperation with Africa since 1999. The emerging economies' role in Africa, and specifically China-Africa relations, feature in his work since 2006. Dr Grimm has studied in Hamburg, Ghana and Senegal and has obtained his PhD from Hamburg University/Germany in 2002 with a thesis on EU-Africa relations. He has previously worked with the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the German Development Institute/Deutsches Institut fuer Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) in Bonn/Germany.

Stephen R. Hurt (Oxford Brookes University)

African Agency in World Trade Undermined? The Case of Bilateral Relations with the European Union

In recent years there has been a growing literature on 'African renewal', which contrasts quite starkly with previous characterisations of Africa's position in the global political economy. This paper speaks to the debate on 'African agency' by focusing specifically on the role of African states in world trade. In particular, it focuses on their bilateral trade relations with the EU and in doing so provides a contrast with the examples of agency exerted by African states in the WTO. The paper highlights the limitations to African agency in trade relations with the EU and suggests that the negotiation of Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) further undermines any notion of 'African agency'. This is due to both the content and the process of the EPA negotiations.

Stephen R. Hurt is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Oxford Brookes University. His main research interests are in international political economy and development, with a special interest in South Africa and European Union development policy. He has published articles in International Relations, Third World Quarterly and the Journal of Contemporary African Studies. In 2009 he was co-editor of a special issue of The Round Table on 'New Directions in International Relations and Africa' and his most recent work entitled 'The EU-SADC Economic Partnership Agreement Negotiations: 'Locking-In' the Neoliberal Development Model in Southern Africa?' is forthcoming in April 2012 in Third World Quarterly.

Happy Kayuni (University of the Western Cape)

African Traditional Trans-border Political Entities and Regional Integration: The Case of Chewa Kingdom of Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia

African states have been embarking on numerous regional integration projects that have mainly been inspired by socio-political factors. Several challenges have over the years emerged which have negatively affected this integration process. Some of the notable issues have been that the level and frequency of this integration has not been deep and profound as envisaged. This paper points out that a successful integration process has to among other things ensure that the integrating structure and process is more relevant to its immediate socio-political environment. In most African countries such as Mozambique, Malawi and Mozambique, the traditional socio-political structure has remained a significant force for political mobilization and community integration. Through decentralization programmes currently being implemented in several African countries, especially after the second democratic wind of change, the role of traditional authorities has become more and more apparent. Despite their well-documented shortfalls, their relevance and significance to the formal political governance structure has to a larger extent been recognized and legitimized through several policy documents. IR scholarship in Africa has tended to focus on the formal structures of integration and ignored the role of informal traditional political entities. Such ignorance has led to a scholarship vacuum in African IR of the potentiality of the informal to complement on the formal intra-regional state governance. This paper focuses on the Chewa Kingdom as a possible complement to regional integration is three countries of southern Africa. The Chewa Kingdom (formerly Maravi Kingdom) cuts across three modern African states of Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia and its paramount King Gawa Undi is based in Zambia. The King's authority was scaled down by the colonialists in 1934 but was revived in 1994. All in all, the major argument of this paper is that the recent revival of the informal trans-border traditional political entity of the Chewa of Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique offers an example of a new, unique, exciting and unexplored informal structure's potentiality to the enhancement of African socio-political regionalism.

Happy Kayuni is Senior Lecturer in the University of Malawi's Political and Administrative Studies Department but currently he is on study leave pursuing PhD (Political Science) studies in the Political Studies Department of the University of Western Cape. His areas of specialisation and publications are african politics, public policy management and development.

Gilbert M. Khadiagala (Wits University)

Theoretical reflections on African agency

Gilbert M. Khadiagala is the Jan Smuts Professor of International Relations, Head of Department, and Acting Head of School of Social Sciences at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. He is the recent author of Meddlers or Mediators? African Interveners in Civil Conflicts in Eastern Africa, editor, Security Dynamics in Africa's Great Lakes Region, co-author, Sudan: The Elusive Quest for Peace, and co-editor Conflict Management and African Politics: Ripeness, Bargaining, and Mediation; and When Elephants Fight: Preventing and Resolving Election-Related Conflicts in Africa.

Derica Lambrechts (Stellenbosch University)

The Impact of Organised Crime on the State in Africa: The Criminalisation of the State at Local Government Level – A Framework for Measurement

When analysing weakened states one common feature is limitations on the institutional capabilities of the state. State capabilities can be described as: the capability to penetrate society, regulate social relationships, extract resources, and use resources appropriately. Strong states are those with high capabilities to complete these tasks, while weakened states will find it difficult. In the case of weakened states the consequence is a void, due to limited state capabilities. This void is often be filled by a local non-state actor. Thus, more than one authority will attempt to exercise power on an inter-state level. The survival strategies of the state and the non-state actor will not be reconcilable. This paper will specifically examine organised criminal groups as an example of a rival non-state actor. As a rival non-state actor, what does organised crime threaten? One impact of organised crime on the state is the criminalisation of the state. This paper will investigate the method of how organised crime criminalises the state by constructing a framework that will measure the level of criminalisation of the state, specifically at the level of local government. In addition, the focus of the paper will be on the state in Africa.

Derica Lambrechts is a lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, and specialises in the teaching of Political Risk Analysis and Comparative Politics. She is currently working on her PhD entitled: The Impact of Organised Criminal Groups on the Social Control of the State: A study of South Africa.

Ulrike Lorenz (Freie Universität Berlin)

David vs. David vs. Goliath?
Mapping South(ern) African civil society actors in the SADC-EU EPA negotiations

Regionally conducted trade negotiations have become an important part of the EU's promotion of its idea of world order based on 'global regionalism', albeit so far with little success. Instead of 'constructing regions', the EU finds its attempts contested and criticised for rather leading to breaking up regional integration. This criticism was particularly raised by civil society actors in the recent Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations between the EU and the seven negotiation groupings of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries: Instead of fostering regional integration as a means to integrate ACP countries into the global economy, ongoing regional integration processes under the auspices of existing regional organisations were significantly disrupted. In multilateral forums like the WTO, civil society actors have significantly changed the course of negotiations. In the regionally conducted EPA negotiations, civil society actor groups like international NGOs, national trade unions and regional research institutes have played a role. But are civil society actor scenarios of multilateral trade negotiation simply replicated on a regional level? What role do South(ern) African civil society actors play in regional trade negotiations? How do domestic scenarios relate to it? From conceptual point of view, the concept of civil society has been criticised as normative 'Western concept' with limited analytical value in a non-Western context. Thus, how to conceptually make sense of the concept of civil society in a non-Western regional trade negotiation context? The paper scrutinizes these questions in the case of the EPA negotiation between the EU and the SADC EPA group and argues that these negotiations serve as a prime example to map the complex multi-level networks of national, regional and international civil society groups.

Ulrike Lorenz is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Freie Universität Berlin at the Kolleg-Forschergruppe 'The Transformative Power of Europe'. She holds a PhD from the University of Leipzig with a Doctoral Fellowship at Stellenbosch University (South Africa) and has published and co-authored articles and book chapters on EU-Southern African trade relations and negotiations.

Chris Saunders and Dawn Nagar (Centre for Conflict Resolution, UCT)

Region Building in Southern Africa

This paper is in two parts. In the first Chris Saunders, a Research Associate at the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR) will discuss how the edited collection that is to be published early next year came to be written and how it differs from existing literature on the topic, none of which is as comprehensive or is almost entirely the work of African-based authors. He will then run through the contents of the volume, before elaborating on political and security aspects of region building in Southern Africa. He will talk on how the Southern African Development Community emerged and its history since South Africa joined in 1994, the debates within SADC over regional policies and how the idea developed of a SADC Standby Force, as part of the proposed African Standby Force. In the second part of the paper, Dawn Nagar, a CCR researcher, will discuss economic aspects of region building in Southern Africa, including the Free Trade Area, relations between Southern Africa and the European Union (EU), and the hundred-year old Southern African Customs Union.

In discussion the presenters will be happy to answer questions on other issues relating to region building in Southern Africa, such as climate change, xenophobic violence and food security.

Chris Saunders is currently a Research Associate at the Centre for Conflict Resolution. He is one of the three editors of a book on Region-Building in southern Africa that Zed Books is to publish early in 2012.

Dawn Nagar is a Researcher in the Policy Development and Research cluster at the Centre for the Conflict Resolution (CCR), Cape Town. Her main field of research is regional integration in Southern Africa and she is co-editor of a book on Region-Building in Southern Africa: Progress, Problems and Prospects to be published by Zed Books, London early 2012.


PDF African agency in international politics: scope, analysis and theory - William Brown (65 KB)

PDF African Agency in World Trade Undermined? The Case of Bilateral Relations with the European Union - Stephen Hurt (257 KB)

PDF David vs. David vs. Goliath? South(ern) African civil society actors in the SADC-EU EPA negotiations - Ulrike Lorenz (380 KB)

BISA Africa and International Studies Working Group