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African Agency in International Politics  

Jonathan Fisher

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.

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The Republic of the Congo: The Colonial Origins of Military Rule  

Joshua Shaw and Brett Carter

The Republic of Congo secured its independence from France in 1960. The French colonial apparatus bequeathed an ethnically divided society. Native southerners dominated the sprawling civil service and, owing to their demographic advantage, elected Congo’s first two presidents, themselves both southerners. Native northerners, otherwise marginalized economically and politically, dominated the military’s rank and file. This cleavage has animated Congolese politics since. In 1969, a clique of northern military officers toppled the southern-dominated Brazzaville government. Among its members was former paratrooper Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has ruled Congo for all but 5 years since 1979. His tenure has been marked by massive corruption, gross economic mismanagement, and persistent human rights abuses. Accordingly, despite its status as one of Africa’s leading oil producers, Congolese citizens remain among the world’s poorest. To secure his political survival, Sassou Nguesso has used Congo’s longstanding ethnic cleavage as a tool: by directing state resources to northerners and using the northern-dominated military to repress southerners, who, after enduring nearly 50 years of northern rule, are profoundly frustrated.