International Relations theory has tended to overlook the role of Africa and Africans in the international system. Traditionally, the discipline’s most influential theorists have focused instead on relationships between and perspectives of “major powers.” A growing body of work, however, has challenged these more limited efforts to conceptualize African agency in international politics. This scholarship has emphasized the significant space available to, and carved-out by, African states in molding the agendas of international institutions, and the role of African governments and advocacy networks in influencing the trajectory of major international debates around issues such as aid, development, trade, climate change, and migration. The study of African agency in international politics continues to wrestle with two key debates: the meanings of “agency” and “African.” Much of the literature focuses primarily on the role and influence of African states rather than that of African citizens and communities. This focus provides, at best, only a partial and qualified view of the ways in which African agency is secured and exercised at the global level, particularly given the significant structural constraints imposed on Africa by global economic and political inequalities. The extent to which contemporary analysis captures the breadth of African engagement with the international system is also compromised by current state-centric approaches. It is thus necessary to examine a range of approaches adopted by scholars to deepen and nuance the study of African agency in international politics, including work on agenda-setting, mesolevel dynamics and microlevel dynamics.
The relationship between the Colombian armed forces and civilian leaders within the state has been marked historically with the continuity of civilian control and the general avoidance of military coups or regimes. After a series of major civil wars during the 19th century, civil–military relations were guided by the need to preserve the power of economic and political elites, with the military consistently acting as a central pillar in the survival of this elite. Interestingly, in the context of civil–military relations in Latin America, Colombia has been a model of how a regime can pair formal “civilian control” with intensive levels of state repression and violence against opposing forces within civil society. This model has been maintained during periods of relative political stability as well as during periods of widespread internal conflict. Thus, illustrating the limits that formal institutional arrangements within the Colombian state have led to shifts in the behavior of its military.
Sharath Srinivasan and Stephanie Diepeveen
From global amplifications of local protests on social media to disinformation campaigns and transformative state surveillance capabilities, digital communications are changing the ways in which politics works in Africa and how and with whom power accrues. Yet while digital information technology and media are relatively new, the role of communication in state power and resistance on the continent is not. The “digital revolution” provokes us to better account for this past to understand a rapidly changing present. From language and script, to print and broadcast, to mobile applications and digital databases, how information is circulated, processed, and stored is central to political power on the African continent. The story of political change in Africa cannot be told without attention to how power manifests with and through changes in the technologies that enable these communication practices. A communication technology perspective on the study of politics in Africa provides a more sober analysis of how power relations circumscribe the possibilities of political change than more normative approaches would. Even so, a communication approach allows for social and ideational factors to mix with material ones in explaining the possibilities of such change. Communication technologies have been central to what political actors in Africa from the precolonial past to the early 21st century can and cannot do, and to how political change comes about. Explorations across time, political era, and technological development in Africa allow us to unpack this relationship. In the precolonial period, across forms of centralized and decentralized political organization, oral communication modalities reflected and enabled fluid and radial logics of authority and power relations. Changes in moral and practical ideas for political organization occurred amid early encounters with traders and Islamic scholars and texts and the movement of people to, from, and within the continent. Colonialism, which heavily focused on narrow extractive aims, required alien central authorities to overcome the vulnerability of their rule through knowledge production and information control. Equally, the same communication technologies valued by colonial authority—intermediaries, print, radio—became means through which resistance ideas circulated and movements were mobilized. In independent Africa, political aims may have changed, but communication infrastructures and their vulnerabilities were inherited. The predicament facing postcolonial governments had a communications dimension. Later, their ability to forge rule through control and allegiance had to contend with a globalizing information economy and demands for media pluralism. A communications perspective on the history of power on the African continent therefore guides a fuller understanding of change and continuity in politics in a digital age by drawing attention to the means and meanings by which legitimacy, authority, and belonging have continued to be produced and negotiated. Transnational configurations of information flows, global political economy logics of accumulation and security, and communicative terrains for contesting authority and mobilizing alternatives have been shown to possess both distinctly new characteristics and enduring logics.
French civil–military relations are usually described as an example of subordination of the military command to political authorities. This subordination is the legacy of the mutual distrust inherited from the “events” in Algeria and, more specifically, the coups in Algiers in 1958 and 1961 that gave birth to the current Fifth Republic. With the end of the Cold War, civil–military relations have rebalanced to the benefit of general officers because of the increasingly technical nature of external interventions and the consolidation of interprofessional relations with diplomats and industrial networks, facilitating the return of some officers into decision-making circuits. After this functional reintegration, the antiterrorist framing, both outside of the country (Opération Serval in January 2013 in Mali) and within France’s borders (Opération Sentinelle , which followed the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris), seems to recast the military as the forge of the national community. The evolution of the political uses of the military forces in France shows how ambivalent the antiterrorist resources are in the contemporary civil–military game.
Political scientists use the concept of legitimacy to assess the rightfulness of political rule. Their research can approach legitimacy from two perspectives: When taking a normative approach, political scientists develop and justify their own evaluation of the rightfulness of political arrangements. When taking an empirical approach, they study how other people—such as political elites or citizens—evaluate the rightfulness of political rule. Both approaches have been used in research on the European Union. Scholarly discussions that approach the EU’s legitimacy from a normative perspective revolve around the question of which standards of rightfulness are appropriate for the EU. These depend largely on how the EU polity is conceptualized: as a technocratic regulatory agency, an intergovernmental organization, a federation, a demoi-cracy, or a system of multilevel governance. Since the EU is hybrid polity that possesses elements of each of these models, and is therefore difficult to classify, no consensus has emerged in this debate. Scholarship that approaches the EU’s legitimacy as an empirical phenomenon examines political attitudes and discourses in European society, asking whether, and why, societal actors treat the EU as legitimate. A diverse set of research methods—including public opinion surveys, content analysis of different kinds of texts, and qualitative interviews with citizens—have been applied to shed light on this question. While this research has not provided clear evidence of a “legitimacy crisis” of the EU, it does show that many Europeans relate to the EU with a sense of diffuse unease and skepticism, in part because they find it opaque and difficult to understand.
While migration has always existed, and its consequences have always been important, few people have lived a mobile life in the history of mankind. Population immobility has recurrently been part and parcel of political strategies of social control and domination. Since the second half of the 20th century, however, the extent of geographical movements of individuals has expanded enormously. In particular, the size and scope of international travel has increased at an exponential pace. Favored by globalization and technological progress, transnationalism, initially linked to migration, has emerged as a relatively widespread phenomenon that involves a growing portion of the general population, especially, but not only, in developed countries. Mainly on the basis of research carried out in Europe, there is evidence that transnational practices tend to strengthen cosmopolitanism and the legitimacy of supranational polities (particularly the European Union [EU]), while it is less clear whether they entail denationalization. Further research is needed to improve the quality of independent and dependent variables in this area and assess the effect of international mobility and transnationalism outside the European context.
With the victory of Hugo Chávez in the 1998 presidential elections, Venezuela became the first country in the Latin American “pink tide.” Up to then, mainstream political analysis had considered Venezuela a stable liberal democracy. Little attention had been paid to the country internationally. Former army officer Chávez was met with suspicion by the international left, which knew little about the Venezuelan left and the contemporary history of the country, and the right thought it could persuade him to act in its interests. The process of social transformation launched, named the “Bolivarian Revolution” after Venezuelan independence leader Simón Bolivar, became radicalized rapidly and was soon declared socialist. Internal policies were characterized by popular participation, expropriations, and redistribution of the oil wealth. Internationally, Venezuela took an active role in promoting regional integration and South–South cooperation. Chávez and the social transformation process in Venezuela rapidly gained strong sympathies among social movements and the radical left throughout the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region; for the same reasons, Venezuela came to be the number-one enemy of the Latin American right and the United States, which supported several attempts to overthrow the government. After Chávez’s death in 2013, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, faced an increasingly violent opposition, a severe economic crisis, growing hostility from the United States and the European Union (EU), and a regional context in which the rise of right-wing governments reversed the “pink tide.” Since early 2019, the situation has escalated because of sanctions by the U.S. and EU countries; the recognition of a self-proclaimed “interim president” belonging to the opposition, by the United States, most EU countries, and the right-wing governments in Latin America; coup attempts; and the open threat of U.S. military intervention. The unfolding of the Bolivarian Revolution, the forces at play, and the main points of conflict need to be analyzed in their historical context.