African agency in world trade undermined? The case of bilateral relations with the European Union
Historically, the dominant understanding of Africa’s place in world politics has been one dominated by concepts such as ‘marginalisation’ or ‘exploitation’. During the 1960s and 1970s, there were a number of adherents of the dependency theory view, which understood African underdevelopment as a direct consequence of the continent’s economic relations with the core of the world economy (see Amin 1976; Rodney 1972). Then as we entered the post-Cold War era, Africa’s international relations were seen to result in a struggle for state survival as superpower rivalry within the continent gave way to the rigours of an increasingly global economy (Clapham 1996). Others went as far as to argue that after two decades of the structural adjustment era, due to the persistence of neopatrimonial regimes in particular, what we were witnessing at the turn of the century was the persistence of long-term economic crisis in African economies (Van de Walle 2001). By contrast, over the last few years, another competing story of Africa is beginning to emerge. For example, an editorial in the Observer newspaper in February 2011 proclaimed that a new continent is emerging, concluding that: ‘Europe and the UK have been slow to adjust to the rise of an Africa powered by economic growth and a burgeoning consumer boom. The African lions are finding their voice’ (Observer 2011: 28). Similarly, a recent World Bank publication concluded that: ‘there is a good chance that the continent’s strong economic performance of the last decade will be sustained’ (Chuhan-Pole and Devarajan 2011: 17). To support this changing narrative of Africa’s position in the global political economy, the evidence that tends to be provided is the rates of economic growth of key African economies. For example, six of the ten fastest growing economies in the world from 2000 to 2010 were to be found in Africa, with Angola at the top of the list (The Economist 2011: 12). Similarly, Africa’s share of world trade has increased in recent years, although there was a downturn in 2009, when the figure fell again to 3.1 per cent (UN Economic Commission for Africa 2011: 50). This decade of economic growth coincides, and is partly explained by, the fact that during recent years, we have also witnessed increasing African cooperation with other countries in the global south – most notably, China (Lopes 2010: 74-77) – and the associated boom in the demand for Africa’s natural resources (Cornelissen et al. 2012: 5).