African Studies Quarterly
Africa’s Challenge to International Relations Theory. Kevin C. Dunn & Timothy M. Shaw, eds. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Pp. 242.

Africa’s Challenges to International Relations Theory is a fine collection of essays on the relevance of some African issues to International Relations theories. Africa is a neglected area in mainstream IR theory, but as Kevin Dunn argues in the introductory chapter, there is nevertheless no theoretical or empirical justification for the negligence. Craig Murphy, a noted scholar of International Relations, also notes in the foreword to the book that “more than one out of ten people are African. More than one out of four nations are African. Yet, I would warrant that fewer than one in a hundred university lectures on International Relations (IR) given in Europe or North America even mention the continent.”  The book has thirteen chapters clustered into conceptual, theoretical and policy-oriented issues. The volume raises important questions and offers counter-arguments to the ‘great power’ theories of IR after bringing to focus the relevance of certain themes in Africa’s inter-state and intrastate politics.

The first chapter, Assis Malaquias’s “Reformulating International Relations Theory; African Insights and Challenges” disputes the propriety of using state as a unit of analysis for explaining Africa’s international relations and, with the help of an illustrative case study of UNITA, suggests that nations and armed nationalist movements should instead be considered more important in this regard. The international relations of UNITA are certainly inexplicable if we were to rely solely on state-centric theories; even so, a question remains. Is analysis based on UNITA typical enough to warrant a call for a more inclusive conceptualization of Africa’s international relations anchored in nations and other sub-state actors?  Such an approach might succeed ‘in dethroning the hegemony of the Westphalian framework imposed on Africa through colonialism’. But it is far from clear if that would necessarily enhance our understanding of Africa’s international relations. The rapprochement between UNITA and the Angolan government following the death of Jonas Savimbi also seems to further undermine Malaquias’s model.

Siba Grovogui’s “Sovereignty in Africa: Quasi-Statehood and Other Myths in International Theory” is a well informed and rigorously argued critique of the predominant discourse especially in regard to the usage of the concept of sovereignty in African context. Taking the case of Belgium and Switzerland on the one hand, and the Congo on the other, Grovogui’s lucid analysis of aspects of the discourse on sovereignty concentrates on revealing in comparative terms “the analytical errors, ideological confusions, and historical omissions”.

Kevin C. Dunn’s “MadLib # 32 The (Blank) African State: Rethinking the Sovereign State in International Relations Theory” demonstrates “the ways in which the state–centric approach (of mainstream IR theories) misses important elements of African international relations”. He then illustrates his argument with the help of four examples of non-state actors in Africa’s international relations, namely international financial institutions, regional strongmen, extractive corporations and non-state military corporations. Dunn also elaborates on why the state in Africa should be viewed as a discursive construction that exists side by side with other forms of thoughts, actions and practices. The chapter concludes with a suggestion of a line along which state could be further reconceptualized.

Janis van der Westhuzien’s “Marketing the ‘Rainbow Nation’: The Power of the South African Music, Film and Sport Industry” introduces the concept of ‘marketing power’, an extension of the concept of ‘soft power’ originally advanced by Joseph S. Nye, as a useful tool for understanding IR. In sum, the author argues that power should be viewed as emanating not only from tangible resources, as the major theories of international relations have tended to do, but also from visibility or attraction. The author then analyzes the cases of apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa to exemplify the issues involved in the cultural ‘marketing power’ of the country.

The theoretical section which begins with John F. Clark’s “Realism, Neorealims and Africa’s International Relations in the Post-Cold War era” is the most ambitious part of the book. Clark claims that it is ‘traditional’ realism (and not its modern neorealist version, nor globalism, nor liberalism) that has more power and relevance for explaining the international relations of Africa. Except for a few paragraphs of passing references to Africa or specific African countries, however, the first part of the chapter reads for the most part like a modern critique of traditional realism rather than a statement of Africa’s challenge to realism or of the relevance of the theory to Africa.  

The thrust of Frank’s analysis, articulated in the second portion of the chapter, is that “the concept of regime security appears to be particularly useful in understanding the behavior of African rulers.” The concept is centered on the notion that “…[a] ruler needs the good will or tolerance of those who are in a position to directly threaten the control of her regime over the state apparatus.” However, the excessive elasticity of the concept of regime security critically undermines not only its predictive power, as the author himself admits, but also its explanatory power rendering it less useful for understanding the subject matter since in some sense or another virtually all aspects of Africa’s international relations fit such an interpretation. And yet Frank insists that “[the concept of regime security, the coordinate threats to regime security, and the indirect causes of such threats do much to help us understand the cycles of intervention and counter-intervention in Africa’s intra-continental relations.” Again, Frank argues, one of the best guarantees of regime security is the mutual assurance which rulers grant each other in respect to the inviolability of colonial borders. If this is indeed the case, it can be argued then that regime security can be best explained in terms of the neoliberal concept of “specific reciprocity” rather than the “realist appreciation for the axiomatic importance of power in politics of all kinds.”

Tandeka  C. Nkiwane’s essay, “The End of History?  African Challenges to Liberalism in International Relations” is a brief but a coherent attempt to situate liberalism in African political thought and Africa in liberal thought. Nikiwe specially concentrates on Africa’s challenges to the democratic peace theory, which, the author (wrongly) asserts, is the outgrowth of Francis Fukuyama’s the end of history thesis. Nikiwe concludes by adapting to Africa what the critics of ‘democratic peace’ have suggested all along: “Democracy…is not necessarily the primary factor that prevents war in African international relations; indeed it can actively promote war.” On the whole, Nikiwe’s analysis does also fit well into the major theme of the book: Africa’s Challenge’s to International Relation.

Chapter 8 is Randolp B. Persaud’s “Re-envisioning Sovereignty: Marcus Garvey and the Making of a Transitional Identity”. Persuad argues that Garveyism, or the “transnationalist movement aimed at the production of a global imagined community” is relevant to contemporary international relations especially in regard to the concept of sovereignty by introducing a new principle of legitimacy which “advanced the idea of the protection of human dignity, even if that implied challenging the assumption of absolute control of a state’s internal affairs”, and by delineating clearly “the dual character of sovereignty-namely, the sovereignty of the state and the sovereignty of the people.”

Sandra J. MacLean’s “Challenging Westphalia: Issues of Sovereignty and Identity in Southern Africa” is, in fact, less about Southern Africa than it is about challenging Westphalia. MacLean’s essay overlaps to a significant degree with some of the preceding essays dealing with the concept of sovereignty. However, MacLean also introduces a useful dimension to the discussion in her contention that “national identities and state sovereignty are challenged, or at least complicated, by new regionalisms”. Such a challenge, MacLean argues, “…threatens the acceptance of the immanence of statehood and the ontological assumptions upon which the Realist IR perspective rests”. The essay interweaves quite brilliantly a variety of internal and external challenges with which the Westphalian state has come to be confronted.

Part III of the book is titled “Implications and Policy Ramifications” and begins with James Jude Hentz’s chapter, “Reconceptualizing U.S. Foreign Policy: Regionalism, Economic Development and Instability in Southern Africa.”  His central argument is that “regionalism should replace bilateralism as the basic architectural principle of US-African relations, [because] bilateralism can be effective only if the African partner is a modern functioning state.” Hentz also makes important distinctions between market integration, “where economic integration focuses on trade and monetary matters and typically progresses along a linear path from a [Free Trade Areas], to a customs union, a common market, and ultimately (in theory) to an economic union” and developmental integration “in which under-developed production structures and infrastructure problems must be addressed before free trade can create new efficiencies.” Then Henz assesses the two approaches in light of the experience of Southern Africa and concludes his useful discussion by making specific policy recommendations as to how “the old edifice of US foreign policy for Africa must be torn down.”

All in all, except for a few obvious defects, the volume is a significant contribution to IR theory and African studies. With the exception of Janis van der Westhuizen’s piece, almost all of the essays in the volume seem to assume that IR theory is monolithic and state-centric, a wrong assumption which seems in turn to have inevitably led the analysts to dispense with the discussion of the relevance (or irrelevance) of IR theories that are not so state-centric. In other words, some schools of IR are omitted. These schools may deserve the omission or exclusion, but the volume would have been more useful if the authors explained why that is the case.

Africa’s Challenges to International Relations Theory is likely to serve as a stepping stone for further investigation and research on the relevance of African issues to International Relations theories in light of some unique features in Africa’s international relations. Even as it stands, the volume is beneficial reading both for African studies and IR scholars.

Seifudein Adem