Nordic Journal of African Studies 8(1): 22-38 (1999)
Changing with the Tide: The Shifting
Orientations of Foreign Policies in Sub-Saharan
JOHN K. AKOKPARI
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.