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Sanctions and Power of States: African Continent

For centuries, the African continent has been fighting with political upheaval and oppression. Although it is considered as the poorest continent on the planet, yet there are some nations that still persist in the list of the world’s richest nations. Power was essential that the African states needed to tackle all the unrest going on in the region. It could be done either through hard or soft power. 

Africa is the continent most targeted by sanctions. During the cold war, when the UNSC was helpless, the only sanction regimes that the UN-imposed were directed at the countries located on the African continent, Southern Rhodesia and South Africa, penalized for their apartheid regimes. In the post-cold war era, Africa had the highest frequency of sanctions, applied not only by the UN but other organizations too. Africa’s own regional bodies, such as the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWDAS), are active in wielding sanctions against their members and about half of the sanctions imposed by the EU are levied against African targets. 

The failure of sanctions to force Morocco out of Western Sahara also shows the relationship between a states’ power and the ability of international society to affect its actions. Morocco, being a strong hard and soft power has been able to survive the economic and political sanctions imposed by its African neighbors without fear of invasion or impoverishment. A less powerful state would be much more affected by such international pressure, making sanctions a more effective tool. Likewise, a more integrated international society, bound together by a dense network of political, economic and military relationships might be better able to pressure its member states to abide by its organizing institutions. The effectiveness of sanctions, therefore, indicates both the power of the state being punished and the unity of the international society doing the sanctioning. 

But If the centers of power in international relations were ranked from most powerful to least powerful, the continent of Africa would likely rank near the bottom in many common perceptions of this power. This view often looks at armies, state bureaucracies, and political abilities that allow states to coerce or to co-opt other states. 

Considering that power in Africa is different than power in the rest of the world where respect is not given to African states by the international community in terms of global decision making because of its historical context. This lack of respect has been perpetuated by a history of suppression as well as debt and international assistance that has been needed to support weak states since independence. Thus, in Africa states lack unity as an International society and as a result, sanctions are not that effective but at the same time when sanctions come from a strong body like the UN and are imposed on a weak state like Rhodesia, they will have a significant impact. But when the state is imposed by the sanctions is powerful and International society does not show a united response the effect will be less.

Check also: Corruption in Somalia

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