In a fix: Africa’s place in the Belt and Road Initiative and the reproduction of dependency

Co-authored with Ian Taylor

South African Journal of International Affairs 27(3): 277-295

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to integrate Africa into an ambitious Chinese-constructed infrastructure network. The terms of this integration however deepen Africa’s dependent position and perpetuate its terms of (mal)integration into the global political economy. These terms, which are characterised by external domination and socially-injurious and extraverted modes of accumulation, are likely to be exacerbated by the BRI’s focus on facilitating extraction from the African continent while importing huge amounts from China. While the BRI aims to resolve contradictions within China’s own economy, the latent dynamics within the BRI vision may result in an entrenched African dependency.

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Regionalism Revised: A Critical-reflectivist Framework for Engaging the Changing Nature of Developing Regionalisms in Africa

New article, co-authored with Anthony Leysens, in Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies

Abstract

The purpose of this article is a theoretical one, namely to make the case for a critical-reflectivist approach to the study of regionalism in Africa and beyond. We argue that contemporary changes in the global political economy require political economists to reconsider how we study regional processes and actors. The article provides insights into the sociology of the field of study by recounting its evolution, reviewing key debates and tracing the dominance of rationalist theories on regional integration and regionalism. Subsequently, the article questions the ontological premises of state-centrism and market logics in conventional regional theorization that does not take account of the complexities and multidimensionality of regions and regional processes. Traditional approaches to regionalism fail to do justice to regional manifestations and the repercussions of Africa’s changing transnational relations as well as to crucial dynamics within regional civil societies. In this respect, the analytical value of both Robert W. Cox’s World Order Approach (WOA) and the New Regionalism(s) Approach (NRA) for challenging the theoretical hegemony in the field of study is elaborated on. The theoretical framework proposed in this article points to neglected dimensions of regionalization and stresses both structural factors as well as the myriad of regional actors and their respective regional strategies as drivers of the changing nature of developing regionalisms in Africa. The authors’ claim that regionalism is everything but a ‘states only’ domain is substantiated by the proposed conceptualization of regional civil society, a persistent analytical ‘blind spot’ in the study of regionalism. Drawing eclectically on the WOA and the NRA, the article provides a theoretical ‘entry-point’ for the analytical incorporation of regional civil societies into the political economy of African regionalisms. The article concludes by arguing that analytical and theoretical sensitivity to potentially transformative societal actors and processes at the regional level becomes increasingly relevant in the context of shared experiences of neoliberal globalization/regionalization as well as of Africa’s new ‘partnerships’ with emerging powers.

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Civil Society in Southern Africa – Transformers from Below?

New article, co-authored with Anthony Leysens, in the Journal of Southern African Studies

Abstract

This article assesses the potential of civil society in the region of southern Africa to act as a catalyst for transformation towards broader inclusivity and a people-centred approach to regional integration and socio-economic development. This is done through an empirical case study which focuses on four regional civil society organisations (CSOs), namely the Council of NGOs (CNGO) of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Southern African Trade Union Co-ordination Council (SATUCC), the Economic Justice Network (EJN) of the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa (FOCCISA), and the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network (SAPSN). We found that the organisations are constrained by a lack of financial autonomy, and dependency on donor funding. Capacity is further hampered because the CSOs are managed by a small number of professional activists. Moreover, the organisations’ representativeness and legitimacy among the regional populace is limited. There are also important ideological and strategic differences between them, and a lack of effective (strategic) co-ordination has so far inhibited the creation of a broader, transformative regional civil society alliance. Yet we could also identify an awareness of the necessity to strengthen organisational capacity, to increase popular support and to enhance collaboration, using a strategy that combines the technocratic development of an alternative regionalism and meaningfully incorporates social movements and grassroots initiatives. Furthermore, there is evidence that regional civil society plays an increasingly important role in articulating popular contestation to neoliberal modes of governance in southern Africa, as well as in linking localised, nationalised and regionalised struggles in the region. Finally, the dynamics of regional civil society investigated here show that regionalism is anything but a ‘states only’ domain. Civil society regionalisation constitutes a crucial feature of the southern African region. Regional civil society as a force for transformation is constrained and must overcome some serious challenges, yet it remains a possibility.

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