Africas in the world

While simplistic representations of Africa in international relations continue, a work summarizes the main discussions on the place of the continent in the global space of yesterday today.

Sonia Le Gouriellec proposes in her unpublished work Gopolitics of Africa published by Presses Universitaires de France (Que sais-je collection?) a rare update in French of scientific views on the African continent, in particular with regard to its relations with the rest of the world space. For the author, lecturer in political science at the Catholic Institute of Lille and specialist in International Relations and the Horn of Africa, this involves a reassessment of the place of the continent (the components of which are conjugated in the plural), in world history. The Africas are a deeply integrated fragment and yet too often neglected from the stories that are told of them, particularly since the XVIIIe century.

Sonia Le Gouriellec usefully draws on the work of Achille Mbembe and Valentin Mudimb on this construction: it is important to get rid of the inventions of Africa of the last three centuries, and to reassess African participations and forms of modernity. The author thus recalls her position far from literatures noting the absence and passivity of Africa in the international system, or considering the continent as a homogeneous whole. She insists on the integration of the continent into globalization to better think about Africa itself. Above all, it is the story of this integration that is in question, in several ways: first, to record the different forms of agencies African countries and in Africa (including during periods such as the Cold War), but also take into account African discourses on Africa (illustrated by the two opening quotes and by references throughout the work).

A necessary historical approach

The first chapter reviews the long history of the continent's connections with the rest of the world, the interest of which is plural. First, it makes it possible to identify historical individuals familiar to Africanists, but less known to non-specialists in African issues (the figures of the jihads in the Sahel of the XIXe century for example, like Samory Tour or Ousmane dan Fodio and El Hadj Oumar).

Then, the historical approach makes it possible to trace the origins of certain contemporary questions, such as those of the materiality of borders in West Africa. On this point, Sonia Le Gouriellec paints a quick portrait of the latest proposals from specialists on the issue such as Michel Foucher and Camille Lefebvre. Finally, mobilizing history as the author does allows us to remember that African actors have never been passive in their relations with the rest of the world. This is the case even during episodes presented as responsible for their dependence, such as the Berlin conference of 1884-1885. The references to historians of Africa are crucial here, and illustrate the need for multidisciplinarity in the study of the continent. This is all the more true as historical studies of Africa have experienced a revival in recent years, and the first part of the book exemplifies the uses that political scientists can make of this work.

Articulate the classics and the latest works of African studies

One quality of Sonia Le Gouriellec's work is to offer a very concise bibliography of the questions addressed, despite the broad spectrum of themes covered by the book. It is all the more appreciable that without the references being too numerous, the recent texts sit alongside classic authors on African issues.

In the bibliography however, although a few African authors are mentioned, we can regret the imbalance in favor of Western publications: the former are largely present for the overall remarks, such as the opening or the conclusion, but the latter are far more numerous in the heart of the reasoning (we note the presence of Sindjoun and Ndlovu-Gatsheni, but other authors like Siba Grovogui or Ali Mazrui would have had their place on questions of security and the African Union). On this point, the work reflects the dominant structure of academic productions on African issues, which can be understood in the writing of such a synthesis.

It nevertheless remains that the references in the work show the infusion of African Studies anglophones in French-speaking political science, which is good news at a time when these African Studies are very dynamic and already integrate the reflections of African authors.

The chapter on Pan-Africanism locates the birth of the movement in the United States (which is commonly accepted today). The author cites the work of Amzat Boukari-Yabara, Africa Unite!a reference work on the issue, and takes the time to present the discussions on the directions of Pan-Africanism at the beginning of the XXe century in the United States. The very useful and accessible sum of Hakim Adi, Pan-Africanism: a short historyrecently translated into French by Présence Africaine, is still too recent to appear here.

Chapters 2 and 3 provide the keys to understanding the debates around the formation of states in Africa and their contemporary form, while noting unique situations such as Ethiopia or Djibouti, of which the author is a specialist.

The universality of African issues in question

Each specialist will sometimes regret not finding the details and nuances of their field, or a sentence clarifying a point. As far as we are concerned, the box on the International Criminal Court, CPI (p. 73-75), could have mentioned that Senegal was the first country to ratify the Rome statute. The dominant narratives thus sometimes regain their rights throughout the text. For example, with regard to the Cold War, chapter 3 has a structure which leaves little room for the continent's agency, and the discussion made about it occurs at the end of the part, giving the feeling of proceeding in terms of first the West then the Rest. This criticism must be qualified here, first because the Cold War is based on an East-West opposition, and therefore not simply on the West, and secondly because Sonia Le Gouriellec makes the effort to propose a periodization of the Cold War precisely from the continent, and not simply based on the interests of the great powers, the latter now being framed by events in Africa: 1950-1956 (anti-colonial struggles in Kenya, Cameroon, Congo without the support of the great powers), 1956-1965 (important competition around Zare ) among other periods.

In a more or less direct way, Sonia Le Gouriellec's work is rich in lessons on the universality or homogeneity of African issues, and what this implies for the study of the continent in the social sciences. His work invites us to reflect on the nature of the questions we ask ourselves and on our ways of defining what we consider to be African issues likely to be of academic interest. What questions to ask from an African point of viewthat is to say, the formulation of which is not proposed from the outside? Sonia Le Gouriellec's work does not directly examine this dimension of the study of African issues (in fact, this is not the subject of this book). On the other hand, each part of his work asks whether or not African international relations are international relations like any other. Responding to it is a challenge, which involves a position between, on the one hand, a generalization risking reducing Africa to a unit, and on the other hand, specifications limiting any ambition for generalization.

Africas in the plural

To overcome this, Sonia Le Gouriellec conjugates Africa in the plural several times (the Africas), particularly with regard to the continent's relations with the rest of the world (Africa and Europe; Africa and the United States; Africa and emerging powers), which allows him to have a nuanced statement without detriment to his clarity. To the point that an obligatory passage in a review we can wonder if the editor could not have agreed to make these African pluralities appear in the title (The geopolitics of Africa For example).

This plurality is also judiciously expressed by the footnotes, which are not too numerous and carefully selected to identify different schools in the study of African issues. This is particularly the case in chapter 2 on the formation of states in Africa, but also more subtly in other passages, on pan-Africanism for example by quoting Amzat-Boukari Yabara, then Laurent Duarte, of the Survie association, further on, both very audible in the criticism of France's relations with certain African states.

Decenter and reshape our views on Africa

Sonia Le Gouriellec's work comes at the right time in a context where French-speaking publications on international relations in Africa by political science specialists are lacking, and where revisionist histories of the continent and other romantic dictionaries with an exotic tone abound. Sonia Le Gouriellec provides the keys to taking a step back from the important issues of the African continent today. This is especially true with regard to security issues, with sometimes little-known factual information on wars and coups in Africa or the weight and distribution of external interventions, but also on migrations and economies. Through this work, Sonia Le Gouriellec continues to provide rigorous and solid keys to understanding contemporary global issues.

More specifically, Sonia Le Gouriellec contributes to reshaping the apprehensions of Africa, in at least two ways. First by expanding the borders of the continent, with the situation of the birth of Pan-Africanism in the United States, and the chapter on diasporas. Then, by emancipating from the analytical framework of the state, always with the diasporas for example, or with the regions. These prisms make it possible to propose a reading of the continent other than that of failed states and practices of confiscation of resources by national elites, which are more often found in works on nopatrimonialism.

There is ultimately little question of gopolitics in this work, and more often themes dear to international relations, or questions linked to the modalities of integration of Africa into the world space. Gopolitics of Africa constitutes a synthesis which dialogues with political science on contemporary international African questions. Sonia Le Gouriellec offers here a clear starting point supplemented by the references mentioned throughout the work.