African agency in international politics: an introduction

Brown, William and Harman, Sophie (2013). African agency in international politics: an introduction. In: Brown, William and Harman, Sophie eds. African Agency in International Politics. Routledge Studies in African Politics and International Relations. London: Routledge, (In press).



The study of Africa’s international relations has for a long time been dominated by a concern to explain how the continent has been shaped, dominated and marginalized by external actors. In periods of economic crisis and political upheaval (much of the 1980s and 1990s), in which powerful outside actors were prominent, this approach was perhaps understandable, if misguided. Even in those years, the portrayal of Africa as the inert victim of exogenous forces, bound by immovable structural constraints, was always a limited understanding of international relations in the region. In the second decade of the twenty-first Century, when African actors have established a sustained track record of assertive, high-level diplomacy and in which the continent has seen long-term economic growth, this approach has started to look ever more anachronistic. For this is an era in which African states, leaders and diplomats have been centrally engaged in global negotiations over climate change, world trade, aid disbursal and intervention norms, in which African politicians have made strategic choices in how they reshape existing relations with western donors and fashion new relationships with rising powers, and one in which African non-state actors have been critical both to the definition and implementation of policies in fields as diverse as governance, security, health, environment, and migration. It is thus high time that we approach Africa’s international relations from a different perspective

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