Nordic Journal of African Studies 8(1): 22-38 (1999)
Changing with the Tide: The Shifting
Orientations of Foreign Policies in Sub-Saharan
The National University of Lesotho, Lesotho
Foreign policy orientations in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are in flux. Since the full-
scale adoption of structural adjustment programmes (SAP) by SSA countries in the
mid-1980s and the abatement of the Cold War at the end of the decade, new
anxieties have emerged to challenge established assumptions, analysis and praxis.
The last decade has seen a phenomenal proliferation of armed intra-state conflicts,
which have not only shaped Africa's foreign relations, but also featured on the
foreign policy agenda of its states and regional organisations. This trend contradicts
old assumptions in which the foreign policies of SSA states were explained
exclusively within the contexts of colonialism, the Cold War and its aftermath, debt
and structural adjustment.
The growing incidence of conflicts and their ancillary effects, including
economic and political insecurity, interventionism, refugees and migration, not to
mention AIDS and drugs - have assumed critical importance for foreign policy
makers in SSA and actors within and outside the region with whom they seek
relations. In addition, foreign and local non-governmental organisations (NGO)
now pushing the dual agenda of development and democracy, also influence
foreign policy, albeit to a limited extent. Thus, impinging as these developments
and actors are on the region's affairs, intellectual discourse and analysis on the
foreign policies of SSA require a paradigm shift and a more holistic approach.
This paper demonstrates the shifting orientations and preoccupations of SSA
foreign policies occasioned by changing exigencies and pressures. It argues that the
containment of conflicts has become one of the most central, if not the dominant,
concern of foreign policy in SSA. Divided into sections, the first conceptualises
foreign policy and its objectives in SSA; the second examines the shifting
orientations in foreign policies since the 1960s; and the third, which is followed by
a short conclusion, demonstrates the extent to which conflicts are currently shaping
the region's foreign policies.
The Shifting Orientations of Foreign Policies
1. C
Conventional thinking holds that foreign policies aim at enhancing a state's ability
to achieve a specific goal or a set of objectives (Holsti 1990: 13). Thus according to
Hermann (1990: 5), foreign policy is "a programme (plan) designed to address
some problems or pursue some goal that entails action towards foreign entities."
Arguing about SSA, Kraus (1994: 257-9) notes that such foreign policy goals
involve two critical issues; namely, the quest for security, and the desire to extend
influence. In retrospect, security has remained a universal concern in almost every
foreign policy calculation. The ability to ward off external aggression is not only a
mark of statehood, but is also crucial for internal peace and development. It was for
this reason that realism, the dominant intellectual tradition during the Cold War,
depicted the twin concepts of power and security as the most central concerns of
foreign policy. Conceived of in largely strategic terms, the sources of security
threats were seen as primarily external. Thus the bolstering of national defences
through the acquisition of sophisticated military hardware became a popular
method of deterrence and the lessening of external security threats.
In the post-Cold War era, however, both the nature and sources of insecurity
have changed. Emphasis has shifted from military and strategic concerns to
economic and human security. This shift reflects popular feelings that military
security means nothing for a population in desperate want of food and shelter.
Zdenek Cervenka has argued that for regions battling with the challenges of poverty
and underdevelopment, "security should first and foremost include food, physical
survival, family and community security rather than military security" (Cited in
Ornas and Salif 1989: 15). Thus, a region displaying the worse human development
indices across the world, security in SSA should be concerned with improving upon
the quality of life. Furthermore, Africa's post-Cold War realities have amply shown
that the sources of security threats are principally internal, posed among others by
opposition elements, the unmitigated tension between structural adjustment and
democratisation, and the rising spate of armed rebellion against established regimes
(Rugumamu 1994; Fatton 1992: 110; Akokpari 1996a).
To a large extent, foreign
policies in SSA aim at assuaging the security threats posed by these conjunctural
The second concern of SSA foreign policies, the extension of politico-economic
influence beyond national borders, is itself dependent on the containment and
elimination of internal security threats. A collapsing or politically unstable state
will of necessity expend its resources on security rather than on the pursuit of
regional honours. The preoccupation with internal security therefore renders a state
inward-looking and thus reduces its ability and success to influence other external
actors. Morgenthau (1967: 106-144) postulates that a state's ability to extend its
influence through foreign policies is a function of, or contingent on, certain key
factors, including its geographical and strategic location, economic strength,
military prowess, the size of its population, the quantity and importance of its
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natural resources, and the type of regime. Lacking most of the above attributes and
in particular presiding over fledgeling economies, most SSA countries, with the
exception of South Africa and, to a lesser extent, Nigeria have limited capacities to
influence actors beyond their borders. Incapacity to pursue dynamic foreign
policies is further compounded by SSA's economic vulnerability, which is in turn a
function of the region's simultaneous marginality in, and dependence on, the global
economy (Callaghy 1991: 36-68).
In many respects, foreign policy is both a means and an end. The overt and
covert objectives of foreign policy are to persuade but sometimes to compel other
actors to behave in a manner that facilitates the achievement of stated goals.
Sometimes, however, even powerful states must redirect their foreign policies in
order to enhance goal achievement. Such foreign policy adjustments and redirection
are rare and are dictated either by expediency or exigency (Hermann 1990).
However, for SSA countries, policy adjustments are the rule, not the exception,
because of the continuing economic and security constraints confronting them.
Accordingly, SSA countries have had to constantly reorient their foreign policies to
reflect or accommodate domestic and external vicissitudes. Such orientational shifts
have rendered SSA's foreign policies innately malleable and pliable, deprived of
coherence or consistency. Since the independence decade of the 1960s, shifts in the
orientation of foreign policies of SSA states have been profoundly evident.
2. C
Since the 1960s, roughly five developments have shaped SSA's foreign policies,
each associated with a specific period in the post-independence history of the
region: (2.1) decolonisation and non-alignment; (2.2) the debt crisis; (2.3) structural
adjustment and democratisation; (2.4) marginalisation, and (2.5) armed conflicts.
These developments are by no means exhaustive or discrete. Indeed, in addition to
overlapping, all but the fourth were overlaid by the impact of the Cold War. To
what extent have these developments conditioned foreign policies in SSA.
2.1 D
There is general consensus that during the immediate post-independence years
Africa's foreign policies were informed by its colonial experience (Austin 1972:
167-172; Clapham 1977; Aluko 1977; 1991: 33-44). Agreement is also wide on the
view that these policies were dominated by presidents who reduced foreign
ministries to mere emissaries following the replacement of pluralist politics with
one-party rule. As Hill (1977) has noted, the overriding concern of Africa's first
generational leaders included the total decolonisation and deracialisation of the
continent, the establishment of the new states' identities, keeping the new governing
The Shifting Orientations of Foreign Policies
elites in power, reducing the influence of former colonial powers and, tackling the
challenges of development.
In addition, African leaders had to counter the now familiar pathological effects
of colonialism, which were manifested in various ways. For example, it established
strong ties between African states and their former colonial powers. Francophone
Africa in particular retained strong economic, political and military ties with Paris
long after independence, giving the latter considerable influence over the former. It
was even claimed that French Africa required clearance with Paris before
implementing most of its foreign policies (Africa Confidential, December 2
Also, colonialism forged closer ties among countries with similar colonial
experiences, creating political blocs and fissures which now characterise Africa's
post-independence continental politics. Further, with the introduction of cash
agriculture, which was a logical consequence of colonialism, Africa was
incorporated into the global economy. This process became the foundation of the
precarious mono-crop and agrarian economies that characterise African states.
Again, colonialism bequeathed arbitrary national boundaries, which are seen as part
of the causes of conflicts and insecurity in contemporary Africa. Considered largely
inimical to development and the pursuit of continental foreign policies, some
African leaders sought to address these legacies.
One approach to these ravaging colonial legacies found expression in the
proposal for African unity. However, as it became clear, subsequent on the subject
were characterised by wide disagreements, dramatised in the emergence of three
ideological coalitions: the radical Casablanca bloc which advocated total political
unity; the conservative Monrovia bloc which wanted economic and cultural union
instead; and the ambivalent Brazzaville group, sandwiched between the two poles
(Tordoff 1993: 235-241). These blocs were significant in that they symbolised both
the lack of consensus among African leaders on the form of African unity, and the
deep fissures and fission that had emerged on the African continent. While stronger
linkages developed among coalition members, the gap between these camps grew
irreconcilably wide, making subversion of regimes in the rival camps an implicit
goal in foreign policy (Aluko 1977). With the demise in 1966 of Kwame Nkrumah,
the leading exponent, rhetoric about continental unity receded.
But, if disagreements arose over the nature of African unity, there was broad
consensus over the need for a non-aligned posture in a bi-polar world. As the Cold
War gathered momentum, African countries chose to remain neutral, a position that
ideally guaranteed some leverage in foreign policy choices. However, as inter- and
intra-African conflicts erupted and intensified, and as the challenges of
development became more poignant, non-alignment as an ideology became more
pretentious than practical. In reality, Ghana, Guinea and Tanzania, among those
adopting radical and statist approaches to development opted for socialism or some
version of it and thus tilted towards Moscow, while Liberia, the Ivory Coast and
Kenya, among the pro-market candidates, inclined towards the West. As the Soviets
overtly armed Ethiopia, the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola
(MPLA), and Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) from the late
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1970s, and as the Americans in turn aided Somalia, the National Union for the
Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) and the Mozambique National Resistance
(RENAMO), Africa became a de facto Cold War battleground and the facade of its
non-aligned posture became even more palpable.
2.2 T
While the rumblings of the Cold War continued, shaping and influencing foreign
policies, SSA's mounting debt was already deflecting attention from post-
independence anxieties and non-alignment. At the close of the 1970s, majority of
SSA countries were deep in debt following the cumulative effects of crushed
primary commodity prices, oil shocks, discredited statist policies and dysfunctional
military rule. By 1984, for example, SSA's debt had soared to $91 billion up from
$14.8 billion in 1974. Against a backdrop of increasing debt and decreasing
prospects for repayment, Western interest in SSA waned. To a considerable extent,
the debt crisis atrophied the interest of Western private banks and EEC countries in
SSA as the latter increasingly became unprofitable for any form of investments.
Thus as indebted SSA countries attempted to reclaim western attention and also
lessen the crippling effects of debt, rescheduling - the arranged postponement of
debt repayment - became a key preoccupation of their foreign policies. Evidence of
this was reflected in the fact that of the 42 countries rescheduling their debts
between 1975 and 1985, 19 were from SSA and of the 144 rescheduling world-
wide during the same period, 67 were for SSA countries. It was, however,
paradoxical that while rescheduling dominated its foreign policies SSA still
remained "by far the most rescheduled region of the world" (Callaghy 1987: 154).
Worse yet, far from being an act of charity, rescheduling neither alleviated nor
stabilised the debt of SSA countries. Rather, this process compounded the interest
on the capital, eventually increasing the original debt. As a result of rescheduling,
for instance, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo - DRC) paid $191.5
million more to its creditors than it received in 1984 alone. Similarly, between 1983
and 1993, the World Bank and the IMF injected a total of $9.3 billion as aid into
Ghana's economic recovery effort. During that same period Ghana paid back to, or
repurchased from, the IMF more than that amount resulting in a negative net
transfer (Ofori-Atta 1993: 1813). On the aggregate, SSA's interest payments rose
from $221 million in 1980 to $7.2 billion in 1989 (Kraus 1994: 251; Parfitt and
Riley 1989: 88; New African, October 1991: 32). With an overgrowing debt,
foreign policies had a clear objective of endearing countries to creditors, especially
the London and Paris Clubs, in order to achieve debt relief, rescheduling or fresh
loans. Because SSA economies were dependent and fragile, generating only small
revenue, much of which was siphoned away by insidious corruption, external
borrowing continued unabated. With the rate of debt escalation completely
outpacing economic growth and creating bleak economic recovery prospects, SSA
The Shifting Orientations of Foreign Policies
became a high-risk unattractive region to investors. Consequently, Western private
banks totally retreated from SSA.
2.3 S
The void left by private banks was filled in the 1980s by multilateral financial
agencies, notably the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF),
which had hitherto maintained a low profile in the region's development effort.
With structural adjustment, the neo-classical paradigm which calls for the
replacement of the state with the private sphere in development, the Bank and Fund
sought to reverse SSA's economic malaise. In the process, the twin Washington-
based institutions both initiated and determined the contents of domestic and
foreign policies in virtually all countries aboard the structural adjustment wagon.
For the most part, Bank/Fund-initiation of foreign policy in adjusting countries was
covert, but quite conspicuous in Ghana, which was eventually depicted by Western
creditors as a successful structural adjuster (Africa Report 1987; World Bank
1994; Akokpari 1996b). Zaya Yebo, an ex-cabinet member of the Rawlings regime,
notes that shortly after Ghana concluded a stabilisation agreement with the IMF in
1982 World Bank officials were attending cabinet meetings in Accra (Ankomah
1992: 14). This development was not surprising; it represented a logical
consequence of heavy dependence international aid. As one United Nations
Committee Report noted,
"Countries which are dependent on concessional financial flows . have also
been constrained in their national policy-making as a result of pressures from
international financial institutions and the loss of relative autonomy vis-à-vis
those institutions." (CDP 1997: para. 45)
For a region constantly struggling to revitalise its ailing economies, submitting to
foreign influence may not be atypical for SSA once this promises economic
assistance. Agyeman-Duah and Daddieh (1994: 44) have persuasively argued that
the foreign policies of developing countries are driven primarily by the quest for
financial assistance and development aid.
From the mid-1980s discussions and implementation of adjustment policies
dominated SSA's development agenda, altering both the content and locus of
foreign policies. To better meet the requirements of SAPs, foreign policies shifted
effectively from politics to economics, and from presidential mansions to central
banks and finance ministries. Here, not only did Bank and Fund officials set the
development agenda, but they also exercised unfettered control over foreign
economic relations. The intricate interconnection between politics and the economy
meant that control over the latter led inexorably to the domination of foreign policy.
Indeed, Callaghy (1987: 149) could not have been more correct to argue that SSA's
"foreign economic relations are in many ways [its] high foreign policy writ large".
Nordic Journal of African Studies
The fragility of SSA's economies and the compelling need to secure Bank/Fund
support or simply their ‘seal of credit worthiness’ in order to qualify for bilateral
assistance, obligate SSA countries to waive their sovereign rights and to succumb
to extra-regional dictates in the determination of their foreign policies.
The beginning of the 1990s brought further intrusive, second generational
conditionalities to augment existing compulsions under adjustment. Underscored by
liberal beliefs, these new conditionalities obliged SSA countries to, among other
things, dismantle authoritarian rule in favour of Western-styled multiparty politics
and the respect for human rights in exchange for Western aid, credit and
investments. Desperately hungry for aid, the majority of SSA countries complied.
Even the leaders of Ghana, Kenya and Zambia who initially argued frantically
against multiparty democracy on the grounds of its incompatibility with Africa's
social reality, succumbed. In the meantime, the results of the multiparty democracy
experiment in SSA have so far been mixed, if not totally dismal. While a few
countries like Ghana, Benin, and Zambia made successful transitions, the majority,
including Sudan, Nigeria, Gambia and Sierra Leone, to mention a few, have either
remained impervious to democratic pressures, retreated to the old-style military
dictatorships, or are swinging back and forth between constitutional and military
rule. The euphoria about Africa's ‘second independence’ envisaged to accompany
the democratic transitions has thus waned and Western governments, which were
initially hopeful about nurturing genuine democracy in Africa, have become only
cautiously optimistic.
To be sure, the twin processes of structural adjustment and democratisation,
along with their attendant conditionalities circumscribed the foreign policies of
SSA states as their regimes came under close international supervision, scrutiny and
surveillance. Indeed, as Bank/Fund officials, election monitors, representatives of
NGOs and human rights investigators made ceaseless trips to individual SSA
countries to check on the proper utilisation of aid, the preoccupation of policy
makers was to demonstrate their countries' simultaneous commitment to market and
democratic reforms. It was clear though that in most countries typified by Nigeria
such commitments particularly towards the latter project were dubious, if not totally
Structural adjustment and its vast panoply of conditionalities also spawned
further pernicious implications for regionalism in SSA. Among other things, it
reinforced linkages between SSA countries and Western countries and institutions
at the cost of intra-African ties. Some observers contend that such adjustment-
inspired extra-African orientations are certain to make effective regional
cooperation among African states a permanent nirvana, never a reality (Shaw 1989:
112). Moreover, SAPs emphasis on export agriculture in a region whose countries
are predominantly agrarian, producing similar primary commodities, creates strong
disincentives for regional integration. Not only does the production of similar
commodities among a group of countries undermine the possibilities for
specialisation, but it also limits opportunities for exchanges. In brief, with
adjustment and democratisation, SSA foreign policies became severely constrained.
The Shifting Orientations of Foreign Policies
In the main, foreign policy was aimed at improving the credit-worthiness of
countries through policies of strict adherence to international conditionalities.
2.4 M
As SSA grappled with the adjustment-imposed constraints on foreign policies, the
attenuation of the Cold War brought new challenges. The collapse of the Soviet
bloc terminated the ability of SSA states to play one superpower against the other,
as their strategic importance became superfluous. Even so, SSAs gains from the
Cold War should not be overstated. With the exception of Zaire, Malawi, Liberia
and Somalia whose regimes, in addition to economic aid, enjoyed western
protection against popular accountability; and those in Angola, Ethiopia and
Mozambique which also received large amounts of Soviet military aid, the majority
of SSAs 48 countries hardly gained from bipolar politics beyond the leverage to
freely switch between patrons (Copson 1994: 117).
The end of the Cold War neither reversed this situation nor brought new gains.
On the contrary, SSA, including former Cold War beneficiaries, became
competitors with the liberated economies of Eastern Europe for dwindling Western
concessional credit. With political turmoil accentuating SSAs economic
uncertainties, Eastern Europe enjoyed unquestioned preference as the pattern of the
flow of Western aid and investments shows. In 1992, for example, the Organisation
for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) pledged an estimated $45
billion to Eastern Europe for its 24 members. That year the Overseas Development
Administration (ODA) total pledge to the entire African continent was $34 billion.
Similarly, although global flows of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) rose by 40
percent between 1994 and 1995, reaching $315 billion, those for SSA fell from $5
billion to $4.7 billion, or just 1.5 percent of the 1995 world total (Kraus 1994: 256;
Africa Recovery 1996: 23). For much of SSA, then, neither the Cold War nor its
abatement brought gains for foreign policy making. It is clear that the proverbial
grass which only suffers when two elephants fight is safer, perhaps luckier, than
Africa which continues to suffer (even more intensely) when the fighting elephants
now make love. Worse yet, while its foreign policies remained circumscribed by
debt, structural adjustment and marginalisation, armed conflicts and insecurity have
further limited the contents and scope of SSA foreign policies - an issue to which
we now turn.
2.5 A
Armed conflicts and wars are not new in SSA. However, the increase in their scope,
intensity and frequency has been phenomenal since 1980 (Copson 1994; Brown
1995: 101). In addition to generating insecurity, conflicts induce refugees and
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migration (Akokpari 1998). These, along with the attendant economic and
environmental implications, compel beleaguered states as well as adjunct and
regional governments to respond through the reordering of their foreign policies. In
general, such foreign policy responses aim at mitigating the effects of the conflicts
on their countries. In some cases such policy responses are intended to make
diplomatic gains through the extension of the state's influence in the region.
That conflicts influence the foreign polices of SSA is hardly disputable. At the
height of their civil wars, Angola, Burundi, the DRC, Liberia, Rwanda, and
Uganda, to name just a few, hardly followed any coherent foreign policies beyond
measures designed to suppress internal insurgency or salvage the collapsing state.
In pursuing these goals, the foreign policies of conflict-torn states have focussed on
either one or both of two concerns. First, they aim at increasing the defence budget
to enhance the state's ability to contain internal security threats or repel invading
rebels. For example, by 1988 the regime of Mengistu had increased Ethiopia's
defence expenditure to half the national budget, about $1 billion annually, in
response to the Tigre and Eritrean rebellions, and the Ogaden war. Much of this
budget went into meeting the cost of imported Russian-made military hardware, the
maintenance of Cuban troops, and the remuneration of Soviet military experts. The
war budgets of Sudan, Western Sahara, and Namibia were similarly estimated at $1
million a day, while that of Sierra Leone accounted for 75 percent of total
government expenditure by early 1995 (Copson 1994: 15; Reno 1997: 227-230).
Second, the foreign policies of beleaguered regimes seek to solicit external
military assistance. In the wake of the advance of Charles Taylor-led National
Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), for example, Samuel Doe, on 7 May 1990,
appealed to Nigeria to intervene after an earlier request to the United States was
rejected (Ofuatey-Kudjo 1994: 272). Similarly, President Ahmed Kabbah of Sierra
Leone extended an invitation to the Economic Community of West African States
(ECOWAS) to restore him to power after being deposed by the country's military
on 25 May 1997 (Pan African News Agency, May 29th 1997). In the same way,
the regime of Laurent Kabila in the DRC is currently sparring no diplomatic efforts
to elicit support from a host of African and non-African governments in its fight
against the country's mainly Tutsi rebels who have coalesced into the Congolese
Rally for Democracy (CRD) (The Sunday Times, August 9th 1998: 4).
Unilateral intervention in which sympathetic regimes attempt to rescue the
besieged government is most often covert. However, some beleaguered regimes
have openly hired corporate mercenary armies to bolster their defences. Both the
Angolan and Sierra Leonean governments have at various times engaged the
services of the South African-based Executive Outcomes (EO) to repel the
incursions of UNITA and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) respectively. Also,
in December 1996, the ailing regime of Mobutu Sese Seko hired 400 extra-African
mercenaries, including Belgians, Croats, Russians and Serbs to augment its forces
as the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL)
closed in on Kinshasa (Rubin 1997: 44-55; Africa Today March/April 1997: 22).
In general, the foreign policies of states threatened by conflicts or collapse tend to
The Shifting Orientations of Foreign Policies
focus on ways of ensuring regime survival as well as the maintenance of internal
However, where the conflict is one in which the state is not a direct combatant
but one mainly between contending factions, such as the violent conflict between
ethnic Gonjas and Konkombas of northern Ghana in 1995, the objective of foreign
policy will often, though not always, include securing external humanitarian
assistance for war-ravaged communities and for displaced persons. Often, where
the scale of the conflict and the number of casualties threaten to raise security
concerns for investors and the international creditor community, the state-controlled
media may either underreport destruction or may simply not carry any news about
Just as war-torn states reorder their foreign policies, neighbouring countries also
respond to political turbulence across their borders. Such responses include direct
and covert intervention and may be driven by various motives, including the desire
to protect their economic and strategic interests. Thus, as Lemarchand (1988: 109-
110) argues, Libya's support for Chadian dissidents in the 1980s was motivated not
only by Qadhafi's suspicion that Chad backs Libyan insurgents, but also because of
his belief that Aouzou strip, the main bone of contention among the country's
protagonists, had large deposits of uranium, phosphate and manganese from which
he could benefit. Intervention may also aim at either toppling or entrenching the
incumbent regime. Rwandan support for the ADFL in the 1996-7 Zairian conflict
was aimed principally at overthrowing the regime of Mobutu in retaliation of
Kinshasa's support for Rwandan rebels, while the involvement of UNITA forces in
the same conflict was orchestrated at strengthening the regime's capacity to counter
the AFDL. Angola and Uganda are now openly involved in the current conflict in
the DRC for strategic reasons - to create buffer zones in which to contain Hutu
extremists (Trench et al. 1998: 1).
Prior to 1990, ideological considerations influenced some policy responses to
conflicts. Somalia's covert support for Ethiopian separatists was dictated by the
logic of the Cold War. The same could be said of Zaire's support for UNITA. Other
times, neighbouring states intervene non-militarily as, for example, Kenya's current
mediatory efforts between Sudan and Uganda whose relations have suffered sharp
deterioration in recent years because of support for each others' dissidents, and the
attempts by Zimbabwe to resolve the dispute between the government of the DRC
and its rebels. In doing this, both Kenya and Zimbabwe enhance their own
diplomatic images in the region. Yet still, foreign policy responses from some
neighbouring states may be purely defensive and non-interventive, aimed primarily
at averting the spilling over of the conflict or its effect. Thus, fearing the overflow
of refugees and the possibility that the war might extend into the country, Sierra
Leone closed its border with Liberia at some point in 1990 (Sorenson 1994: 179).
Also, in December 1996, Tanzania ejected thousands of Rwandan Hutus taking
refuge within its borders mainly for economic and security reasons.
Since the effects of conflicts are felt beyond their epicentres, governments in the
region also formulate appropriate foreign policy responses. These responses depend
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on their perception of the consequences of the conflict. Essentially, such policies
aim at ending the conflict, but the method may involve mediation or the clandestine
aiding of one faction. Generally, unilateral military intervention may prove costly
for states that do not immediately border on the conflict-ridden country except
when undertaken in concert with other countries or under the auspices of regional
organisations. Nigeria's current military intervention in Sierra Leone under the
aegis of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the
Botswana/South African intervention in the 1998 Lesotho conflict under the banner
of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are illustrative
examples of this point. Non-neighbouring states, however, tend to support one
faction for economic, security or ideological reasons. South Africa's involvement in
the Angolan civil war from 1978 in support of UNITA was both for ideological and
economic reasons - to outgun the Soviet and Cuban-backed MPLA and thereby
contain communism in the region.
Other times, regional states intervene diplomatically to achieve specific foreign
policy goals. South Africa's mediation in the 1996-7 and the on-going Zairian
conflicts illustrate this point. Since the inception of the new political dispensation,
South Africa has emerged as an undisputable regional hegemony and a custodian of
democracy and human rights. Its foreign policies have aimed at exporting these
ideals. However, in a few instances, South Africa suffered setbacks in its campaign
to promote human rights beyond its borders. For instance, not only did it fail to
dissuade Nigeria's former strongman, Sani Abacha, from executing Ken Saro Wiwa
and other environmental activists in November 1995, but it also failed to garner
African support to impose punitive sanctions on Nigeria after Abacha defied
international pleas for clemency and carried out the executions.
Moreover, although South Africa's president, Nelson Mandela, succeeded in
getting Central and East African countries to impose a trade embargo on Burundi
following the Pierre Buyoya-led 25 July 1996 coup, that new military regime has
survived much to the displeasure of South Africa. Again, in October 1996, besides
failing to dissuade Frederick Chiluba from barring ex-president Kenneth Kaunda
from contesting the 18 November presidential election, Mandela was accused by
Zambia of unduly interfering in its internal affairs. Occasional foreign policy
failures are normal in international relations. However, for a leader with
considerable international stature like Nelson Mandela, a leader perceived as a
symbol of freedom and democracy, this chain of foreign policy fiascos represented
major setbacks. Against this background of debacles, the South African president
was ultimately persuaded that engineering the resolution of the 1996-7 conflict in
Zaire would bolster his image, overshadow past failures and generally reassert
Pretoria's dominance in Africa. Although the 1996-7 Zairian conflict eventually
ended on a military note, only few would dispute the role of South Africa's shuttle
diplomacy. For similar reasons, using SADC as a springboard, South Africa plays a
pivotal role in the efforts to resolve the Lesotho crisis and the post-Mobutu conflict
in the DRC.
The Shifting Orientations of Foreign Policies
Like adjunct and surrounding states, regional organisations are also compelled to
reorder their foreign policies to accommodate the shocks generated by conflicts.
Since 1990, meetings of the ECOWAS Heads of States, for instance, have been
overshadowed by discussions on how to contain conflicts in the sub-region. Few
will disagree with the contention that conflict management has displaced and
replaced economic integration in priority as ECOWAS seeks lasting solutions to the
seemingly intractable conflicts in Liberia and now Sierra Leone. Preoccupied with
these conflicts, moreover, military intervention, peacemaking and peacekeeping
have become key components of the community's foreign policies. These new
policy orientations reflect changing trends at both the global and regional levels.
The UN is currently caught in a financial quandary and is unwilling to take on any
new peacekeeping roles in Africa. Also, because Cold War tensions have eased,
undercutting the strategic salience of SSA, Washington has no inclination to
sanction a US- or UN-led intervention in the region. Worse yet, since the ill-fated,
Nigerian-dominated Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU) military intervention in
Chad in 1982, the organisation has shown a weakening capacity to militarily
intervene in conflicts beyond mediation. The weakness of the OAU was amply
demonstrated when full-scale wars raged between Ethiopia and Eritrea; and
between rebels and the government of Guinea Bissau at the same time that the
organisation was meeting in Burkina Faso in June 1998. It was the perceived
incapacity of the OAU to resolve armed conflicts that compelled ECOWAS to
compose the Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in 1990 to contain the
Liberian conflict. After many setbacks, ECOWAS succeeded in overseeing general
elections in Liberia in July 1997.
Although a myriad of factors incapacitate the OAU from militarily intervening
in Africa's conflicts, its policies nevertheless reflect a desire to do so diplomatically.
Like ECOWAS, the recent agenda of the OAU has been dominated by conflicts.
The last two OAU Summits in Harare and Burkina Faso in June 1997 and 1998
respectively were dominated by the conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Angola,
Somalia, the DRC as well as the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea (Machipisa
1997). As the military is slowly but surely returning into politics casting doubt on
the sustainability of Africa's democratic revolution, and as threats of violence,
genocide and insecurity loom across many SSA countries, the OAU may be
compelled to dissipate a significant proportion of its meagre resources on conflict
resolution. Already, hitherto topical issues such as structural adjustment, debt,
environmental conservation, democracy and gender parity have relapsed to the
margins of policy as the containment and prevention of conflicts as well as coup
reversals assume prominence on the OAU's agenda.
The OAU is not the only continental organisation compelled by conflicts to
recast its foreign policies in recent years; the UN Economic Commission for Africa
(ECA), a policy and research-oriented institution, is now involved in discussions
about conflict prevention. Acutely aware that development is impossible in an
environment charged with turmoil and instability, the ECA shifted from a position
of apparent non-involvement to active involvement in the search for solutions to
Nordic Journal of African Studies
Africa's conflicts. This shift in position was reflected in the fact that during the
1997 OAU Summit in Harare, the ECA Executive Secretary, Mr. K.Y. Amoako,
made passionate appeals to African leaders to spare the already debt-ridden
continent of wars (Machipisa 1997).
The ECAs involvement in the search for peace
was a strong indication that discussions on peacemaking were no longer the
preserve of the OAU. In short, regional organisations have not been left out in the
reordering of policies occasioned by the ubiquity of armed conflicts. Like
neighbours to a warring state, the foreign policies of regional multilateral
organisations have of necessity been conditioned by conflicts and wars.
3. C
Without a doubt, the orientations of SSA foreign policies have undergone dramatic
and fundamental shifts. Since the independence decade of the 1960s, the foreign
policies of the region has shifted from one concern to another in accordance with
changes at the international and domestic levels. These shifts have affected not only
conflict-stricken and regional states, but also Africa's multilateral organisations.
Such orientational shifts also suggest that assumptions about SSA foreign policies
constantly require revision if they are to remain valid. While decolonisation,
African Unity and non-alignment dominated foreign policies in the immediate post-
independence years, this is not the case in the post-Cold War period in which SSA
battles with a hostile global economy, and the constant menace of conflicts.
Clearly, regional stability has become the dominant preoccupation of foreign
policy as states and regional organisations engage in frantic searches to prevent,
contain or terminate conflicts. It is uncertain how long conflicts will remain at the
top of the SSA largely pliable foreign policy agenda, nor is it clear what new
orientation will be spawned by the tide of change. It is certain, however, that while
the recipe for conflicts - debt, structural adjustment, poverty, scarcity and
undemocratic regimes - exist, internal dissent, rebellion and conflicts will in the
meantime remain SSA's worst nightmare, and the principal preoccupations of its
foreign policies.
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