Volume 9, Issue 3
Southern Africa in World Politics: Local Aspirations and Global Entanglements. Janice Love. Cambridge: Westview Press, 2005. 224 pp.
If one wants to understand the Southern African region, one needs to look at the interaction between ‘global entanglements’ and ‘local aspirations’. This is the subtitle and the central message of Janice Love’s book ‘Southern Africa in World Politics’. For the military, political and economic fields she convincingly shows how global involvements influence what happens in the region and that these can have both positive and negative effects. In chapter four on ‘political globalization’ sheillustrates the positive effects by pointing at the enormous contributions of the international anti-apartheid lobby to end the white minority regimes in the region. In chapter three and five on military and economic globalization respectively, she shows the negative effects by pointing at the protracted wars in Angola and Mozambique due to cold war world-power meddling and the influence of global neoliberal policies that have as of yet done little to decrease the enormous economic disparities in the region.
These and many other examples of where the global meets the local in Southern Africa are carefully traced through history, whereby Love distinguishes between various phases of globalization, but lays most emphasis on ‘contemporary globalization from 1945 to the present. The main questions in the book are whether there is anything distinctive about the contemporary phase versus past phases of globalization and whether the heart of globalization is formed by its economic dimension (pp.14-15). Love believes that the former is clearly proven in the Southern African region because of the intensity and speed with which global-local linkages change and influence one another. Regarding the latter she argues that although “in summary, if judged by the plight of the majority of people, economic interactions across local, regional, and global arena’s on the whole have not served Southern Africa very well” the analysis in her book “shows that globalization is both multidimensional and complex” and one dimension of the phenomenon does not clearly outweigh the others (pp.210-211). And this is probably the strongest point of the book. Although people familiar with the region will find little new information in Love’s book, she does put forth a very balanced picture of events in the region, showing both the complexity and multidimensionality of globalization in Southern Africa.
The downside of the book is the rather simplistic way in which the theoretical framework is set up and applied, leading almost expectedly to few fresh or new insights in the rest of the book. Love, after Giddens and Held, defines globalization as the way in which “culture, politics, economics, and other social activities are stretched out across boundaries such that events and decisions taking place on one side of the world have a significant impact on the other’” (pp.2-3). As a corollary, globalization is also characterized by localization but this is basically where the framework stops. In a liberal behavioralist tradition, she then analyses and frames all important military, political and economic events in this simplistic format. Love uncomfortably equates localization with ‘African ethnic rivalries’ (p.49), military globalization with a global ‘expanding of organized violence’ in the region (p.64) and argues that post cold war ‘new developments in military globalization’ revolve around disputes within nations (p.66). Moreover, the amount of times whereby inherently political issues are brought back to the mere ‘links between the global, regional and local’ leave the reader wondering whether these links are in the end unavoidable and more or less neutral interactions that have little to do with political ideology or historical inequalities. Admittedly, Love does on several occasions critique ‘neoliberal’ political and economic global entanglements in Southern Africa or the devastating disregard for local lives due to cold war rivalries, but somehow these do not sound convincing as they seem to disappear into the inevitabilities of the links between the global, regional and local. Possibly these points of critique stem from the fact that the book does not draw on a very wide range of literature available on the region. In fact, the book draws heavily on several ‘hot’ authors in the general global governance and globalization debates, such as Rosenau, Held and Sachs and therefore looses out on the more critical and nuanced literature available, especially that from the region itself.
These critiques do not make the book a less worthwhile read, but do impact on the potential audience for the book. As stated before, neither the issues covered in the book nor the viewpoints with which they are approached are new to those familiar with the region. For those unfamiliar with Southern Africa, this book provides a clear introduction to the political and military economy of the region and is therefore ideal for teaching (under-) graduate classes. This is even more so because Love explains all the main concepts encountered in the text and because of the fluidity of her writing. This is an achievement in itself and although it should be taught together with some more critical insights, the book is therefore a welcome contribution to the literature on Southern Africa.