In pursuit of the good state

Africa was a key focus of Britain's foreign policy under Tony Blair. Military intervention in Sierra Leone, increases in aid and debt relief, and grand initiatives such as the Commission for Africa established the continent as a place in which Britain could ‘do good’. This book critically explores Britain's fascination with Africa. It argues that, under New Labour, Africa represented an area of policy which appeared to transcend politics. Gradually, it came to embody an ideal state activity around which politicians, officials and the wider public could coalesce, leaving behind more contentious domestic and international issues. Building on the story of Britain and Africa under Blair, the book draws wider conclusions about the role of ‘good’ and idealism in foreign policy. In particular, it discusses how international relations provide opportunities to create and pursue ideals, and why they are essential for the wellbeing of political communities. The book argues that state actors project the idea of ‘good’ onto idealised, distant objects, in order to restore a sense of the ‘good state’.

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Doing good in Africa

New Labour's was an era of the language of idealism in foreign policy, beginning with Robin Cook's ‘ethical element’, and continuing through Tony Blair's ‘humanitarian wars’. It is at best questionable how far British subjectivity under New Labour was enhanced by war. Blair's wars—among them interventions in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq—had a mixed record in terms of creating the ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ effect that Chris Brown suggests is the essence of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's ‘cleansing feature of war’. Blair's approach to Africa, however, grounded in utopian and cosmopolitan ideas and highly idealised, in a different way offered a grand, heroic identity for Britain. This book provides an account of how New Labour's interest in Africa grew between 1997 and 2007. To understand Britain's approach to Africa, it considers two international relations (IR) debates. The first is the traditional utopianism/realism debate which held sway through most of the twentieth century. The second is contemporary IR theory on cosmopolitanism and communitarianism.

in Britain and Africa under Blair

What made New Labour want to do good in Africa in contrast to a more conventional, interest-based foreign policy? We have seen how Robin Cook announced the ‘ethical element’ to foreign policy within days of New Labour's election. What made him do it, what made it such a widely applauded approach, and why has its appeal persisted in the form of the government's approach towards Africa? This chapter explores why a state might attempt to ‘do good’ abroad, focusing on how ‘the good’ and ‘the political’ in foreign policy might be viewed as both different from, and related to, each other. It discusses how the separation of the good and the political has been conceived in European thought, and how different approaches have fed into forms of utopianism. After discussing the concepts of the good and the political in international relations, the chapter concludes by analysing the utopianisation of Africa by Britain.

in Britain and Africa under Blair

This chapter discusses the ways in which Africa has offered opportunities for idealisation in the history of British engagement with the continent. First, it looks at the ways in which British involvement in West Africa has been described, as a backdrop to ideas about Britain's role of ‘doing good’ in Africa. It then considers two key movements and streams of thinking about Britain in Africa: the abolition movement in the early nineteenth century, and the late nineteenth-century colonial expansion into West Africa under Joseph Chamberlain. Finally, the chapter looks at how these two periods in history, and the ideas that guided them, fed via different streams into the Labour Party, causing internal tension over the issue of colonial possession, and ultimately becoming fused into one glorious idealisation of Africa and British history and policy there. It was this fused idealisation that informed the Party's approach to Africa under Tony Blair. The chapter also discusses the ideas of William Wilberforce, Joseph Chamberlain, Frederick Lugard, Leonard Woolf, and Fenner Brockway.

in Britain and Africa under Blair

This chapter develops a theoretical underpinning of the reconnection of the state to a source of good. It first looks at communitarian ideas that locate good within the community and its relationships. These ideas need to grapple with the problem of locating both the good and the political within the same human realm. Emile Durkheim explains the need for a source of pure good—and locates it in the sacred beliefs and practices shared by members of the community. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in his exploration of a new form of ideal republic, discusses the idea of the ‘good state’. This chapter also discusses the issues raised by the communitarians in relation to the work of psychoanalyst Melanie Klein. It describes Klein's work as it relates to the role of relationships and the good in the development of subjectivity. It borrows an international relations tradition of seeing the state as an individual which relates to other individual states.

in Britain and Africa under Blair
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This chapter examines what Africa means to actors clustered around the state: MPs, officials and those working with them during the Tony Blair era. How is British policy in Africa different from policy in other parts of the world? Why does Britain engage in it? What do the actors involved get out of it? British engagement in Africa is represented as being driven by moral compulsion, in contrast to other parts of foreign policy which are discussed more in terms of British interests or political questions. Under New Labour, Africa gradually came to embody the ethical dimension of foreign policy, and speeches, statements and publications by Labour ministers reinforce this perspective. Speeches from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders and development spokespeople could as easily have been made by members of the government. Was there a consciousness that the three main political parties were broadly in line over Africa? Was this something they found difficult or that they enjoyed? This chapter argues that Britain's Africa policy can be viewed as representing a sense of the good state.

in Britain and Africa under Blair

This chapter looks at how the British government engaged in Nigeria and Sierra Leone between 1997 and 2007. It is based on a series of interviews carried out with British officials who served in Nigeria and Sierra Leone, and with Nigerian and Sierra Leonean political activists and commentators who engage with or observe the British attempts to do good in Africa. The chapter explores how much the notion of connection to a pure ‘good’ could survive the experience of coming face to face with the inevitable messiness of implementing policy on the ground. It considers the ways in which Britain imagines itself engaged in a non-ideological political arena in Africa. It also explores an alternative strategy employed by British officials, which is an attempt at non-engaged engagement. This begins with the conception of Britain's historical role in West Africa as essentially benevolent or long-forgotten. It finds current expression in a British oppositionalist posture which attempts to reform from the outside. The chapter argues that this enables a continued distance from messy politics and self-idealisation.

in Britain and Africa under Blair
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This book has argued that the creation of a good project formed an important part of protecting the state from internal ambiguity and decay, by creating a utopian core at the heart of what it does. The 1980s had shifted Britain's conceptions of state, class and society. In embracing key elements of the neo-liberal state remit of Thatcherism, Tony Blair and New Labour had to relinquish the grander liberalism traditionally articulated by the Party and central to its conception of itself. Labour felt itself to be inheriting a damaged state. This chapter examines how this damage to the state has been expressed, and two potential ways it might be mended. The first involves the embrace of more transcendent or romantic conceptions of a higher good—in the expression of universal values like human rights and democracy—which might enable the state to create a link for itself with a new authority of the good. The second sees a state attempt to transform politics—by making and identifying itself with the good.

in Britain and Africa under Blair
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This book began with the idea that New Labour's approach to Africa represented something different from foreign policy as usual. It considered the notion that under New Labour, Britain's policy in Africa was ‘different from politics as usual’. It explored what an engagement with Africa might mean, how it is imagined and described by state actors, and how it helps constitute their conceptions of their own political work and their sense of the work and identity of the British state. Emile Durkheim's theory on the role of religion within communities provided a first, useful way to help construct an idea of the ways in which a sacred or pure activity is a vital component of the ethical health of the community. This chapter suggested that Durkheim's ideas have an affinity with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's depiction of the idea of the good state. Throughout, the idea of utopia has constantly arisen—utopia as a representation of unhappiness with political reality and as an aspiration to perfection.

in Britain and Africa under Blair
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Creation, negotiation and subversion

This book is about images of Africa; who creates them, how they are manipulated, and what the effects are for African actors and their relationships in the wider world. While the role of image in international politics is taken seriously by practitioners and academics, no one has yet produced a systematic account of the particularly important role it plays in the relationships between Africa and the wider world. This book seeks to do this by focusing on the politics of image and Africa, broadly defined to encompass the way political elites, media organisations and individual writers and artists together construct and project images of the continent. The book explores the dynamic processes of image creation in an imaginative way. First, it brings together different disciplinary approaches. Second, it draws on experiences of a wide range of actors and forms of image, including central governments, traditional authorities, journalists, individual artists and authors. Finally, the book brings together ten researchers currently engaged in fieldwork-based research across Africa who together present an empirically rich, fresh take on an important topic.