V-2. Africa’s Small States and Geopolitical Realignment

Convener: Niklas Hultin (George Mason University, Fairfax, USA); e-mail: ihultin@gmu.edu

It is widely recognized that we are living in tumultuous geopolitical times, with uncertain consequences for sub-Saharan Africa. While the rise of China as a play in Africa is much commented upon, the enduring influence of Russia and Eastern European countries as well as new players such as India, Turkey, South Korea, and Qatar, is less frequently discussed. Where this is discussed, the focus tends to be on Africa’s regional powers such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, and South Africa. In contrast, this panel will consist of papers focusing on Africa’s smallest countries, its island (SIDS) and enclave states. This is a geographically dispersed and politically and economically heterogeneous group – a World Bank definition of small states encompasses Botswana, Cape Verde, Comoros, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, Mauritius, Swaziland, etc. – but they have in common the fact they are overshadowed by larger and more powerful neighbours in the geopolitical imagination. Furthermore, small states have long been a focus of international relations scholars who look to their relations as a challenge to prevailing dogmas (e.g. Elman 1995, Keohane 1971, Vickers 2013). With this in mind, this panel seeks to gather together papers examining how Africa’s small states are interacting with countries not traditionally understood as significant powers in Africa (e.g. UK, France, US). The issues that presenters are invited to consider include, but are not limited to:
- Security relations and militarization of small states by new actors, e.g. China’s increased involvement in Djibouti, India’s maritime collaboration with the Seychelles, etc,
- Interactions with different powers to further international recognition by unrecognized states or breakaway regions, such as Somaliland’s push for recognition by Russia (and the Russian legislature’s push for recognition of Somaliland)
- Cultural and religious collaborations including support by Turkey the Gulf states for religious organizations.
- Attempts to strengthen ties with non-Euro-American powers in light of the latter’s critiques (or hectoring, depending on your point of view) of human rights.
- The role of China, India, Russia, and other newer powers as alternative models for economic development.
- The role of collective arrangements by Africa’s small states to foster relationship with new powers.
Presenters are asked to consider questions such as the above ones in order to examine whether there is something distinctive about small states in the context of African geopolitics or whether the present moment of a great deal of uncertainty surrounding US, UK, and EU policies toward Africa offers an opening for new countries to play a significant role in Africa’s small states.