I wrote this piece for Africa is a Country a few weeks back and as COVID-19 continues to disrupt our economic, political, and social systems, I still find it to be an important read. Especially as countries like Tanzania and Zambia are pushing for the reopening of their countries to stimulate their economies. The African Union and the African Centres for Disease Control must be lauded for their commitment to tackling this pandemic through multilateral means. There is a clear understanding that given the continent’s interconnectedness, a solution will require countries to work together and not in isolation.
When, now former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, announced his five-day tour to Africa, I was a little skeptical as to how this trip would go given the alleged comments made regarding Africa’s “shithole” countries. Little did I know that this trip would end with the African Union failing to address the statements that caused anger and hurt and Tillerson getting fired immediately upon his return to the U.S. Still, this trip raised several questions about the role of the U.S. and China in Africa along with the issue of accountability of African leaders. Whose opinion matters most? Read my thoughts on these issues here.
“Bringing the State Back In” is a seminal work by Peter B. Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol (1985) that challenged the dominant paradigms in the study of comparative politics that failed to view states as autonomous, with a capacity to operate as individual actors in the political game. In the introductory chapter, Skocpol (1985: 3-37) discusses the need to reevaluate the role that the state plays in politics. When reading this work in my first semester of graduate school, I was struck by how I had always taken the state’s role in politics for granted. Growing up in Africa, the state is visible. Leaders faces are plastered, not only in government buildings, but at grocery stores (large and small), schools, hotels, etc. So how do you “bring a state in” when it’s all around you? It was interesting to see how these authors were challenging existing paradigms by asking scholars to rethink who the actors were. Thinking critically about this issue of the state once not being viewed a central actor in comparative politics theory got me thinking about Africa and its place in the world. Even though this text was published 30 years ago, the sentiment still rings true. As a continent, it is often taken for granted and efforts made immediately labelled as ineffective but what are the roles of African states vis-à-vis the other players in the game that is international politics? Even in a more weakened position (for lack of a better term) what are these countries doing to make a mark on global politics, both at a continental level and abroad? And what role to international organizations play in this whole situation?
Africa is redefining its place in the international community, namely through the increased visibility of the multiple international organizations on the continent. Despite the constant challenging of organizations such as the African Union (AU), Southern African Development Community (SADC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to name a few, these international bodies are playing a role in multiple areas – social, cultural, economic, and political. While the nature of their involvement can be disputed, it exists and must be assessed.
Going through all the literature for my dissertation sparked several thoughts that have ended up as scribbles on the side of my notebook. Considering this, I’ve decided to recommit to blogging these ideas and incorporate these ideas into what I observe on the daily basis. This blog stems from thoughts I want to expand on, articles that I read, debates sparked on Twitter or in the comment sections of various news outlets, and honestly any source of inspiration. As more people begin to ask these questions, conversation is imminent and “bringing Africa back in” is definitely a conversation that anyone interested in African politics, and international politics, should be having.
So, I leave you with one thought: Who, what, and where is Africa in international relations?
[Reposted from a previous version of this website]