Readings in the International Relations of Africa

Readings in the International Relations of Africa

Readings in the International Relations of Africa

Readings in the International Relations of Africa


These readings in international relations in Africa grapple with the continent's changing place in the world. The essays confront issues such as the increasing tempo of armed conflict, the tendency of Western states and agencies to intervene in African settings, the presence of China, and the health of African states and their ability to participate in the global economy. Questions regarding sovereignty, leading regional actors, conflict and resolution, and the neoliberal African renaissance add to the broad thematic coverage presented in this timely volume.


Tom Young


Academic literature on Africa and international relations is still relatively rare, and what there is often consists of little more than lengthy complaints about the lack of consideration of Africa, or the non-Western world more generally, within the discipline of International Relations (IR). More often than not, such complaints go on to hint at some nefarious motive for this neglect, either, at worst, “racism,” or, almost as bad, lack of ethical concern, or, and perhaps more usually, conceptual and/or empirical irrelevance or blindness. Tempting though it would be to suggest that the endless repetition of the word racism is rarely illuminating in theory or in life (Hobson), that IR scholars might legitimately feel that there is little they can usefully say about volcanoes or mud slides (Thomas and Wilkin), and that it is not ethnocentric to suggest that the notion of “human rights” is of Western provenance (Kayaoglu), space precludes picking apart these arguments here. Rather, I will limit myself to the observation that much of this complaint is somewhat overdone, and we can see that there are a number of reasons for the relative lack of interest of IR in Africa, some to do with the state of the world and some to do with the way in which IR has tried to understand that world.

The first reason is that the object of IR theory, the world of states and their relations, is both relatively modern and of essentially Western origin. Many of its structures, practices, and norms were in place by the early nineteenth century. African polities did not participate in creating this conceptualization, indeed in some ways, they were victims of it. To make this point is not to commit the sin of “Eurocentrism,” but to assert simple fact. Second, IR theory also tended to concentrate its attention not merely on states, but even among them on the Great Powers, and this also tended to reflect the reality of international politics in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although African states have now been independent for some fifty years or so, none of them has yet become a Great Power, or even a medium-sized power. On any of the criteria normally used by scholars, and indeed other observers, to measure the strength of states— for example, population, economic output, size of armed forces, weapons manufacturing, and so on—all African states remain weak . . .

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