In Sub-Saharan African countries, administrations are plagued with bogus policies, duplicated programs and countless agendas that yield little or no enduring results. It would seem as if it is forbidden or an abomination to continue with predecessors’ works and qualified team members. This may be linked to the antagonistic nature of political parties and sentiments in putting together an effective team. SSA foreign policy suffers the same fate as different SSA governments, desperate for foreign aid to achieve their own agendas sell foreign policy 'rights' for a morsel. Like Esau.
In this well-researched and articulated essay, John identifies insightful reasons for fluctuations and new anxieties rising to challenge established assumptions, analysis and praxis in foreign policy orientations in Sub-Saharan Africa which started before the inception of full-scale adoption of structural adjustment programmes (SAP) in the mid-1980s and the abatement of the Cold War at the end of the decade.

"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, he says, 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 because of the growing incidence of conflicts and their ancillary effects, including economic and political insecurity, interventionism, refugees and migration, not to mention AIDS and drugs that have assumed critical importance for foreign policy makers in SSA and actors within and outside the region with whom they seek relations.

Foreign policies are meant to enhance a state's ability to achieve government goals, which involve two critical issues; namely, the quest for security, and the desire to extend influence. Security has remained a universal concern in almost every foreign policy calculation and the ability to ward off external aggression is not only a mark of statehood, but is also crucial for internal peace and development. Therefore redirecting foreign policies in order to enhance goal achievement is rare in other regions but for SSA countries, policy adjustments are the rule, not the exception. This is as a result of the continuing economic and security constraints confronting them.

In retrospect, SSA countries have had to constantly reorient their foreign policies to reflect or accommodate domestic and external vicissitudes and these shifts have rendered SSA's foreign policies innately malleable and pliable, deprived of coherence or consistency.

John identified five developments that have shaped SSA's foreign policies since the '60s, each associated with a specific period in the post-independence history of the region. They are; the decolonisation and non-alignment phase, the debt crisis phase, the structural adjustment and democratisation phase, marginalisation phase and armed conflicts phase. These developments are by no means exhaustive or discrete.

In the first phase, he quotes that "there is the general consensus that during the immediate post-independence years, Africa's foreign policies were informed by its colonial experience; and these policies were dominated by presidents who reduced foreign ministries to mere emissaries following the replacement of pluralist politics with one-party rule. With the rate of debt escalation completely outpacing economic growth and creating bleak economic recovery prospects, SSA became a high-risk unattractive region to investors. Consequently, Western private banks totally retreated from SSA.

The structural adjustment and democratisation phase was plagued with void caused by the move of private banks. This was filled in the 1980s by multilateral financial agencies, notably the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which had maintained a low profile in the region's development effort. The Bank and Fund sought to reverse SSA's economic malaise and 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 a region constantly struggling to revitalise its ailing economies, submitting to foreign influence may not be atypical for SSA once this promises economic assistance.

John noted that 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.

Eventually, SSA countries, among other things, dismantled the authoritarian rule in favour of Western-styled multiparty politics and the respect for human rights in exchange for Western aid, credit and investments in the wake of the mid-'80s.

His report shows that the results of the multiparty democracy experiment in SSA have so far been mixed, if not totally dismal; identifying few countries like Ghana, Benin, and Zambia who made successful transitions while 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.
He concludes that without a doubt, the orientations of SSA foreign policies have undergone dramatic and fundamental shifts in accordance with changes at the international and domestic levels but uncertain on how long conflicts will remain at the top of the SSA largely pliable foreign policy agenda, or if the new orientation will be spawned by the tide of change.

However, he is certain that while the recipe for conflicts - debt, structural adjustment, poverty, scarcity and undemocratic regimes - exists, internal dissent, rebellion and conflicts will in the meantime remain SSA's worst nightmare, and the principal preoccupations of its foreign policies.
This trend indeed continues until SSA countries are weaned of external 'dictating aid'. That begins by looking inwards and developing the economy without corruption cutting the process at every stage. Hence the power lies in the hands of the government to diligently serve, and the peoples to demand accountability and push for strict prosecution of saboteurs.


Written by John K. Akokpari, summarized by Unen Ameji