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Africa Today 49.2 (2002) 153-154

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Dunn, Kevin C., and Timothy M. Shaw, ed. 2001. Africa's Challenge To International Relations Theory. Houndmills, U.K.; and New York: Palgrave. 242 pp.

The best way to understand this collection of essays is in terms of Africa's marginality and in Africanists' effort to demonstrate that despite this marginality Africa is important. Why should anyone consider that Africa today is central to the study of international politics? Kevin Dunn and other contributors make two fundamental assertions. First, they argue that because the dominant paradigms in International Relations (IR) theory-realism, or neorealism, fail to explain much of the international political behavior of Africa today means that Africa has much to teach us about the need to reinterpret and reconceptualize IR theory. At the heart of this argument are the real-world limitations of the concepts of "sovereignty" and national interest in a continent where states are weakly institutionalized and interests, even of leaders, are more likely to be privatized than public and "national." Second, not withstanding the first argument, other contributors, notably Clark, assert that by reinterpreting realist theory, purging it of its artificial positivism and excessive emphasis on rationality, and by stripping it of some of its most basic tenets (such as "national interests" and balance of power), realism can be made to fit at least some African international behavior, notably the recent propensity to intervene, and the long-standing disposition to seek external support. For Clark, the heart of realism is the notion of the "security regime," whose defense from internal and external threats helps explain some international behavior.

These theoretical arguments about the real and supposed limits and merits of realist theory do not take the reader very far, particularly when they are laden with heavy doses of postmodern rhetoric. For example, to debunk the historical uniqueness of sovereignty as a Western Great Power [End Page 153] concept, Grovogui states that "the regime of sovereignty implemented in Africa did not involve a different morality than that which applied to European powers. It simply established a distinct degree of moral solicitation consistent with historical will and desires which effected specific modes of identities and subjectivity and corresponding modalities of allocation of values and interests (p. 31). Readers can be excused for not agreeing to parse whatever meaning may be deeply embedded in such a phrase.

What does make this work exciting and useful are the discussions and examples of the role of the state and its relationship to nonstate actors, and even the artificiality of this dichotomy (at times trichotomy, with the military as a third actor), given the widely recognized fact that even leaders of the state can and do operate on behalf not only of state interests, but their own private, commercial interests. Here, Shaw's closing essay is particularly helpful in pointing out and illustrating the multiple forms of association and alliance among state and nonstate actors, including corporations, international organizations, and national and international civil society, and how the motivations for these arrangements can reflect both the "realism"of the search for state security and regional stability, and far more personal and private interests. Other essays by Clark and Dunn also drive this point home.

Shaw is to be commended for his attempt to introduce several bodies of theory into his discussion of African regional political behavior, notably with the incorporation of international political economics, conflict resolution, and peace-building into the discussion of regional interventions and peacekeeping operations.

In a foreword to this work, Craig Murphy asserts that "from Herodotus on Western scholars have looked to Africa to see the future of humanity as a whole" (p. x). In the collection, several authors argue that the new transsovereign issues that Africa confronts, coupled with the multiplication of actors beyond the state that play meaningful roles in producing and dealing with these issues, may give us a glimpse of where the international system as a whole may be heading. This is surely a provocative notion and one worthy of serious consideration. It is regrettable that in...


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