Africa turned the corner of marginalization in international affairs at the beginning of the 21st century. The end of the Cold War and global shifts in power toward the end of the previous century were closely followed by “Africa rising.” This contrasted previous decades-long narratives of a hopeless, war-ravaged, and plague-ridden continent. The Africa rising mantra followed reforms implemented in the late 1980s and early 1990s that improved institutional capacities and established African countries on firm business, economic, and political trajectories. This promised improved business environment, economic vitality, and positive democratic outlook. Africa has thus become important to major powers. They court it for its support to govern challenges that necessitate international cooperation and to enhance the major powers’ influence in global institutions and on the world. Rising Asian economies such as China and India compete for Africa’s natural resources against traditional global powers like the European Union (EU). The EU has long been economically and politically involved with Africa and has generally dominated these relations. Leading theories, discussions, and research that examine the historic, economic, and geopolitical factors at play in the evolution of African Union (AU)-EU relations suggest that elements of dependency are a calculated creation of colonialism and encounters that occurred between Africa and Europe before the advent of colonialism. Dependency continues to characterize these relations, as shown by formal AU-EU pacts. Decolonial scholars argue that the dependency is real, as Africa did not demolish colonial structures at independence. Some critical scholars further argue that the history of colonialism is also pertinent to the history of the EU in that the history of European integration was partly influenced by the history of colonialism. That is, the history of colonialism contributed to the political creation of the EU, and attempts by Western European countries to form a pan-European organization coincided with early 20th-century efforts to stabilize colonialism in Africa. The European countries could only efficiently exploit Africa by combining their political and economic capacities. AU-EU relations face many challenges in the 21st century. Influence in the relations is predominately unidirectional, with the EU determining the terms of engagement even on issues peculiar to Africa or the AU and where the latter appears to have the upper hand. The challenges show that the AU and EU are interdependent, but the onus is on the AU to set priorities right and enhance capabilities for engaging the EU. This would be easier if the EU were not continuously devising ways to maintain its dominance in the “partnership.” An overarching challenge in the partnership, therefore, is finding common ground and leveling the playing field.
Christopher Changwe Nshimbi
In a seemingly virtual era, maritime commerce and shipping retain a central role in contemporary global capitalism. Approximately 90% of global imports and exports currently travel by sea on around 93,000 merchant vessels, carrying almost 6 billion tons of cargo. Oceanic mobility and long-distance networks of trade are made possible and sustained by the life and labor of over 1.25 million seafarers currently working at sea as well as regimes of global security and governance. Yet, this oceanic world and its role in shaping politics, sociality, and regulation remains, for the most part, obscured and hidden out of sight in everyday life. As one of the oldest perils at sea, maritime piracy is not only a daily threat to seafaring and global shipping but makes visible this oceanic world and the larger networks of security and regulation that govern maritime commerce. In recent years, coastal Africa, specifically the waters off the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Guinea, has seen an unprecedented rise in incidents of maritime piracy. The geopolitical and global trade importance of these areas has led to numerous national, regional, and international military and legal responses to combat this problem. While often seen as a seaborne symptom of failed states or criminality, maritime piracy has a more complex relationship with land- and sea-based governance. Occurring primarily in spaces that are politically fragmented but reasonably stable maritime piracy is better understood as a practice of extraction and claim making on mobility that emerges from deeper historical contexts and is linked to land-based economies and politics. Emphasizing maritime piracy in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Guinea within these wider historical and geographic contexts highlights the imbrication of the political and economic in shaping the emergence and transformations of this practice. This is not to deny the violence that constitutes maritime piracy, but to locate piracy within larger processes of mobility, governance, and political economy on the African continent and beyond. In addition to impacting local communities, seafarers, and global shipping, maritime piracy is key to apprehending challenges to global governance from the vantage point of the world’s oceans.