Essay on Revitalizing the African Agency in the New Cold War

Published: 2021/12/28
Number of words: 971

Africa has been described as having a history of colossal exploitation, with the continent grappling with partisan marginalization in the post-colonial world (Munene, 2005). The continent has often been ostracized in having a say in important global issues, even in matters that largely affect it. Moreover, Africa’s position in the international system has rendered it vulnerable to coercion and entanglement in the changing configurations of the global powers. In essence, the continent is largely viewed to be an exemplar of the world’s minor power as its actors have been perceived to yield little power that can sway global outcomes (Brown, 2011).

Africa’s attempts to have an influence on the global stage have led to the revitalization of an African agency that is multifaceted in the realms of social-economic, political and security domains. However, even with these efforts in place; Africa’s agency in the world system is still obscured in rationalized perspectives of the region as a supplicant actor (Chipaike, & Knowledge, 2018). Munene (2005, p. 121) highlights an instance of Africa’s coercion and subordination during the U.S and Britain invasion of Iraq whereby the U.S expected dependent countries such as Kenya to instinctively toe the line; only for the U.S to openly become hostile when it failed to get the desired support from the said dependent countries.

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The dominance of the U.S in world politics became apparent during the cold war period. In that era, the U.S foreign policy had little to do with Africa but instead, used African countries as pawns in an international chess game as the continent was perceived to be of less strategic and economic significance (Lawson, 2007, p.2). Amidst this subjugation, African actors utilized the East-West (U.S vs. U.S.S.R) ideological divide to accrue foreign support through the non-alignment stance. For instance, the ideological divide saw African states receive financial and weaponry support and even access to training (Chipaike, & Knowledge, 2018, p.5). However, African countries that chose to bandwagon behind the U.S had to endure its tacit ideological and economic conditionalities such as having to adopt structural adjustment reforms as a prerequisite to receiving aid. Therefore, regimes such as that of Zaire under Mobutu Sese Seko and Ethiopia’s under Haile Selassie were forced to present themselves as anticommunist rebels, an agency move that warranted economic and political support from the U.S.

It may be argued that the U.S policy influence on African states during the cold war was largely driven by the continents development stagnation. African countries therefore aligned with the U.S in exchange for flowing aid. The U.S however adopted a harsh policy change towards African countries that it deemed not to be liberal at the end of the cold war (Whitaker, 2008). To begin with, after independence, most countries across the continent got embroiled in political and economic hurdles (Kalu, 2020). Independence from European powers did not immediately breed the envisioned political, economic and social stability. This vulnerability coupled with the desperation for foreign assistance gave the U.S the leeway to influence the policy course of many African countries. Furthermore, the yet matured African agency made it hard to counter the unhealthy west centric policies.

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In the 21st century, the contemned feeling of being controlled like puppets by world powers including the U.S and financially muscled global institutions such as the World Bank have intensified the Africa’s agency need to salvage itself from the stripes of neocolonialism. To this end, the revitalized African agency does not only emanate from governments but has also witnessed the rise of multifaceted and actors who have started to gain ground in having influence on the international scene by exerting assertive agency in their various interactions with external actors (Chipaike, & Knowledge, 2018). As stated by Munene (2005), the revitalized and assertive African agency was first founded on moral grounds when African actors such as Nelson Mandela openly opposed the detrimental Anglo-American actions to the extent of gaining global respect and support. African intellectuals and civil societies have also stood up to back their governments against western dictates in response to protect Africa’s interest.

Unlike the post-cold war era that had the U.S at the helm of the world, the new cold war has seen the U.S drastically begin to lose its legitimacy and supremacy (Munene, 2005). The rise of China as Africa’s preferred economic partner coupled with the rise of the south-south political and economic corporation is slowly draining the soft power that the U.S enjoyed over African countries. The U.S can be argued to now present itself to Africa as a more suitable economic partner than China that is alleged to be economically exploitative. The rise of African elites as significant actors on the international scene such as Liberia’s Leymah Gbowee who received the Nobel Peace Prize for contributing to ending a civil war have seen the U.S employ more friendlier mechanisms to influence African policies.


Brown, W. (2011). African agency in international politics: scope, analysis and theory. In ESRC African agency in international politics seminar, New Directions in the study of Africa’s IR: Perspectives from southern Africa, Wallenberg Research Centre, University of Stellenbosch (pp. 1-18).

Chipaike, R., & Knowledge, M. H. (2018). The question of African agency in international relations. Cogent Social Sciences4(1), 1-16.

Kalu, K. (2020). The Cold War and Africa’s Political Culture. Vestnik RUDN. International Relations, 20(1), 11-21.

Lawson, L. (2007). US Africa Policy Since the Cold War Strategic Insights, 6(1), 1-15.

Munene, M. (2005). Africa and shifting global power relationships. Fletcher Forum of World Affairs.29, 117.

Whitaker, B. E. (2008). Reluctant Partners: Fighting terrorism and promoting democracy in Kenya. International studies perspectives9(3), 254-271.

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