24 May, 2013

Africa and the rising powers: bargaining for the 'marginalized many'

Brendan Vickers, May 2013

With abundant resources and growing markets, the African continent is once again at the centre of a new 'great game of courtship' between the established and rising powers. However, compared with previous decades, African countries are no longer passive players in international relations.

This article explores Africa's recent negotiating behaviour in relation to a selected set of actors that animate the current shifting global economic order: rising powers, established powers and international organizations. Despite potential sources of bargaining leverage, most African countries (with some notable exceptions) are still reactive to the bilateral overtures of Brazil, China and India and unable to set the terms of engagement.

Nonetheless, the rise of these new powers provides alternative negotiating partners (and potentially more developmental outcomes) to the established powers. By comparison, at the multilateral level the African Group has been far more active and assertive in contesting global governance in the pursuit of greater distributive justice, particularly in the climate, trade and security regimes. This has taken place largely through the adroit use of distributive bargaining and tactics, supplemented by normative-based strategies highlighting Africa's underdevelopment.

The central argument of the article is that African countries require judicious negotiating strategies, improved deliberative capacities and coalitions with local/continental/global civil society and business networks in order to ameliorate their weaker bargaining power and reshape the terms of their engagement with their international partners, particularly the rising powers.

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