The debate on African agency in international relations is not exactly new, but despite of powerful contributions to this end – not the least the volume African Agency in International Politics edited by William Brown and Sophie Harman 1 –, the general perception in mainstream IR still is that African countries as well as African regional or continental organisations rarely leave an footprint internationally. This edited collection is one of the more serious attempts to destruct this myth. The editors address African agency through the prism of norms, i.e. shared expectations about appropriate behaviour of states. And to forestall my conclusion, Katharina P. Coleman and Thomas K. Tieku have done a remarkable job in this respect.
Coleman, the author of International Organisations and Peace Enforcement: The Politics of International Legitimacy and a number of astute articles on peace and security on the African continent, is associate professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver; Tieku, author among others of Governing Africa: 3D Analysis of the African Union’s Performance and more of a dozen of trend-setting articles in the field, is associate professor of political science at King’s University College, Western University in London/Ontario.2 The editors have assembled an illustrious crowd of contributors – a good mix of well-established scholars, seasoned practitioners and some younger colleagues.
The editors start from the observation that African actors influence international norms in four, sometimes overlapping ways: by shaping the international norm creation process, “diffusing” African norms beyond the continent, shaping international norms through creative implementation and directly contesting international norms. Apart from an appreciative foreword by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West African and the Sahara, Mohamed Ibn Chambas as well as the author’s introduction and conclusions, this edited volume comprises eleven chapters. Each empirical chapter is structured by an illustration of the importance of the respective case, a description of its key mechanism and a discussion of the limitations of the four pathways mentioned above relative to the case study.
In the first set of three chapters on African participation in the creation of global norms, Linda Darkwa from the Secretariat of the Training for Peace Programme, Addis Ababa, recalls African contributions to the norm of humanitarian intervention, or the responsibility to protect (which in the context of the African Union has been translated into a policy on non-indifference vis-à-vis gross human rights violations). This includes conceptual contributions of diplomats and scholars such as Boutros-Boutros Ghali (Egypt), Francis Deng (Sudan) and Kofi Annan (Ghana) as well as contributions through practices and institutionalization. The head of the Conflict Management Programme at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Accra, John Mark Pokoo, then takes up the issue of restricting the spread of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), with a particular view on the role of Mali. And, finally, J. Andrew Grant (associate professor for political studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario) revisits the case of conflict diamonds and other conflict-prone minerals. His emphasis is on the regional certification mechanism adopted by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
The second set of three chapters looks into how African norms are developed and diffused internationally. In the first chapter of this section Gerald Bareebe, at the time of publication a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto, develops ana analysis of “the Pan-African Solidarity norm” with a view to the African Union’s interventions in Somalia and Darfur/Sudan. This is followed by a piece from Gilbert M. Khadiagala (Jan Smuts Professor of International Relations at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg) who looks into the role of elder statesperson in conflict mediation. Khadiagala emphasizes the roles of Salim A. Salim (Tanzania), Joaquim Chissano (Mozambique), Thabo Mbeki (South Africa) and Kofi Annan (Ghana) as well as the AU’s Panel of the Wise. And in the last part of this section Issaka K. Souaré, a member of the UN Mediation Standby Team and former adviser to the AU High Representative for Mali and the Sahel, reviews the African union’s norm against unconstitutional changes of government (UCGs) which was developed in the late 1990s and finetuned through the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. This chapter prompts a post-script: In the few years after conclusion of the manuscript, the Union’s legalistic policy script on UCGs has come under pressure of “realpolitik”. The dynamics unfolding in Zimbabwe 2017, Sudan 2019 and Mali 2020 put pressure on the Union to engage the perpetrators of a coup d’etat, in the interest of maintaining “stability”.
In the third part of the volume three chapters discuss how Africa is shaping global norms through creative implementation. First W.R. Nadège Campoaré (a post-doc in the Department of Social Science at the University of York) takes a look at attempts of localizing transparency norms in the context of the “resource curse”. His case study is on Ghana and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Second, Tim Murithi (Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Cape Town) discusses the localization of norms on transitional justice. And third, Annette Seegers (professor in the Political Studies Department of Cape Town University) debates how the issue of protecting civilians in violent conflict is localized, especially in the Great Lakes region. And in the final part of the volume, two chapters analyse how African actors contest global norms. Bright Mando, a legal officer with the AU Commission in Addis Ababa, provides a very informed analysis of the universal jurisdiction norm and how it is partly contested by the African Union. And, last but not least, Walter Lotze – at the time of writing with Stellenbosch University, now Senior Political Affairs Officer with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) – depicts how the primacy of the UN Security Council is challenged.
The editors have to be commended for bringing together a group of well-informed scholars and practitioners around an innovative and systematic conceptual proposition. Vice versa, the contributors must be praised to let themselves in for this approach. The results are refreshing and advancing the debate on the role of African states, but even more so the African Union and the regional economic communities (RECs) in international relations. On a critical note, the concept of norm diffusion cited in the introduction to this volume clearly reflects the state of the art in IR – but takes not into account more sophisticated debates about cultural transfers as discussed in cultural studies or the field of global studies. In contrast to the empirical dynamics described in most chapters, assumptions on “diffusionism” often lack the very agency which is at the heart of this well-rounded volume. Most of the contributions actually go beyond “diffusionism”, and detail succinctly how concrete African actors contribute in practice to norm building in international relations. This volume is a fine example for bringing African Studies and IR scholarship into a conversation on an equal footing.
1 William Brown / Sophie Harman (eds.), African Agency in International Politics, London, 2013.
2 Katharina P. Coleman, International Organisations and Peace Enforcement. The Politics of International Legitimacy, Cambridge 2007; Thomas K. Tieku, Governing Africa. 3D Analysis of the African Union’s Performance, Lanham 2017.