Call for Submissions – Nokoko Issue 10

Neoliberalism, Militarization and Shifting Geopolitics in Africa

Nokoko, the journal of Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies, is preparing a special issue on the theme “Shifting Geopolitics and Militarization in Africa.” We invite abstracts for research articles addressing the issues presented below. We also welcome book reviews, and briefings from scholars, public intellectuals, and activists.

Widespread assessments within International Relations suggest a transformation is underway from the post-Cold War order characterized by American supremacy, towards a new multi-polar world. In Africa, this follows thirty years in which the Washington Consensus entrenched a liberal international order across the continent. In that time, governments rewrote constitutions to protect private property and foreign investment, diverted state expenditure from social goods, while facilitating widespread (and ongoing) privatization. Over the same period, US Africa Command (US-AFRICOM) sought hosts for US troops. The result has been a surge in US military presence across the continent, with American troops working alongside as well as training and equipping African forces. In turn, the United States gained interoperability agreements and a network of “lily pad” bases throughout Africa. This expansion occurred with little public scrutiny, and relied on regimes of legal immunity that may exceed those of colonial regimes.

There are reasons to focus beyond the US, even as the US exceeds other states in the scale and extent of its presence. Since the 2008 financial crisis, there has been a marked geopolitical recalibration in Africa. China, Russia, middle-powers, and former colonial countries have established military relations in ways reminiscent of colonial era canton systems in China and India. While unclear if troop placements reflect trade and commercial interests, China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, the UK, France,
Canada, Italy, Japan and Turkey are present.

Meanwhile, smaller powers such as India and Saudi Arabia have emerged as major sources of arms across Africa as both Egypt and South Africa ramp up arms production with the hopes of expanding exports on the continent.

China’s formal military presence on the continent commenced with ground troops in 2011 with the aim of withdrawing its citizens during the war in Libya. Chinese arms sales to Cameroon, Congo DRC, Ghana, Sudan, Tanzania, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe increased 55% between 2013 and 2017. Algeria is the third-largest buyer of Chinese weapons after Pakistan and Bangladesh. China’s 8,000-member standby force with the UN is ready to take part in
peacekeeping, training, and operations.

Russia’s role is a fraction of China’s, yet the country signed nuclear energy deals and support agreements with the Central African and Mozambican militaries. Likewise, Russian natural gas and arms interests have built ties across the continent. In addition, Russia vies for a base in Sudan and in October 2019 held the first Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, Russia as part of renewed efforts to bolster its influence in the continent (Mwangi and Fabiano, 2020).

For its part, Djibouti has come to host a wide range of foreign bases. Italy, France, Japan, and China, all have bases a mere 10km from the US base. Together, these bases host another seven allied forces, which begs the question of whether its strategic importance offers added stability and strength or volatility and weakness in international relations, especially given the current drift toward war in neighbouring portions of Ethiopia.

The UK, France, and Canada increased their presence under the pretext of counterterrorism. In Kenya, the UK’s (and the US) training of government troops has coincided with a massive rise in extrajudicial killings. Under UN authority, and led by French troops, forces from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger formed the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Their objective? Prevent “terrorism” in the Sahel. In September 2019, West African governments pledged to commit a billion dollars to the effort. All this, despite the fact that known “terrorist” groups are in fact “embedded in local dynamics, and have some degree of political authority and legitimacy as they find support in criticisms of and protests over bad governance and lack of justice.” (Bruno Charbboneau, 2018)

European Union countries have ended humanitarian rescue patrols of the Mediteranean coasts and instead work to harden borders and fund the detaining of migrants in camps in North Africa. Europe’s interventions constitute a militarized response toward people who are already victims of war, thus further traumatizing them. And yet in many instances it is a militarized response to nonmilitary problems caused by failed economic policies, poor governance, ecological stresses, and persistent or growing poverty.

Several important questions stem from the presence of foreign militaries in Africa. How much does militarization relate to the economic and strategic interests of the intervening countries, of what Padraig Carmody termed “The New Scramble for Africa” (2016)? Might Africa again be a site of proxy wars—a conclusion suggested by the wars in the Sudans? What are the implications for governance and security forces within Africa? How do foreign troops support or constrain civil society and counter-hegemonic forces in Africa? How does their presence impact military and police cultures within host states?

For example, in Kenya and beyond, extrajudicial killings rose and a culture of impunity emerged among national forces, leaving local police to often appear as occupying forces themselves. This is certainly consistent with the recent, heroic, and historically unparallelled opposition to SARS forces in Nigeria. In Ghana, the enormous levels of military aid from the US, UK and EU donors has made the army a privileged institution. The military has wide business interests —including a bank and arms industry— and allows senior officers and “VIPs” of their choosing to use sirens and escorts to push luxury SUVs through local traffic, adding one more burden on regular citizens suffering inadequate

Of course, the expansion of foreign military involvement in Africa does not result in unidirectional dynamics, raising the question as to how African leaders respond and fashion state policies? What are the benefits to playing different countries off one another in collaborative arrangements, aid agreements and procurement contracts? Similarly, in light of shifting geopolitical dynamics, how have local coalitions responded? What kinds of local opposition and protest movements emerge, and what are their successes or failures? Similarly, what political changes are occurring within the African Union?

How do outside interventions exacerbate existing tensions within and between countries? In which ways do such interventions give life to new forms of class structure, class alliances and class struggle? What is the relationship between class structure and alliances to the distribution of natural resource wealth? What are their interactions with shifts elsewhere (e.g., the Caribbean and Latin America)? How does this transformation refract larger historical shifts? How do sites of intervention illuminate a new order and the re-calibration of power in Africa (and beyond)? What are the impacts of rhetorical efforts to build new alliances of African countries with BRICS and other rising powers?

We welcome research articles on the above topic any of the following sub-themes:

  • Militarization and natural resources
  • Militarization and strategic positioning, e.g. Indian Ocean, Somalia, Egypt, Algeria, and Sudan
  • Militaries, popular struggles, and training of police and military for civil unrest
  • Occupation forces such as in Western Sahara, Diego Garcia, and foreign military bases
  • Migration and militarization
  • Borders, borderlands, and changing notions of space and place
  • Militaries and humanitarianism
  • Militaries and gender violence
  • Militaries and popular culture
  • Surveillance and constitutional rights
  • Contemporary military infrastructures
  • Weaponization of the media
  • Militias, mercenaries, paramilitaries, and the privatization of violence
  • Militaries and indirect rule
  • Militaries and ethnicity
  • The business of war
  • Flows of military aid
  • Africa’s position in the arms industry
  • Race, Gender, Imperial Knowledge and the afterlives of Empire in International Relations theory
  • Shifting relations of power between and within African states

Scholars whose abstracts are approved by the editors will be required to submit papers that critically engage with any number of these issues. Submissions should be no longer than 9,000 words. We also welcome shorter contributions as well as photo essays. Articles should follow Nokoko’s submission guidelines. We encourage potential authors to discuss articles in progress if they seek advice on preparing a successful submission. Please contact us if you wish to propose a particular book for review(s) and we will assist in finding a review copy. Book reviews have a 1000 word limit, although extended book reviews of two or more books may be longer (see, for example, the extended review by Heffernan in Issue 7). Policy briefings and agitations for new research agendas are welcome in the range of 4000 words. We also continue to accept articles outside this theme-specific area.

Submission Deadlines: Abstract by June 1, 2022, Drafts by August 1, 2022

Issue editors:
Toby Leon Moorsom:
Firoze Manji:
Richard Raber:
Daniel Tubb: