Britain and Africa Under Blair

Britain and Africa Under Blair: In pursuit of the good state

Julia Gallagher
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Britain and Africa Under Blair
    Book Description:

    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’. Britain and Africa under Blair: in pursuit of the good state critically explores Britain’s fascination with Africa. It argues that, under New Labour, Africa represented an area of policy that 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 relationships provide opportunities to create and pursue ideals, and why they are essential for the wellbeing of political communities. It argues that state actors project the idea of ‘good’ onto idealised, distant objects, in order to restore a sense of the ‘good state’. The book makes a distinctive and original contribution to debates about the role of ethics in international relations and will be of particular interest to academics, policy-makers and students of international relations, Africa and British foreign policy, and to anyone interested in ethics in international affairs.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-422-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of abbreviations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. 1 New Labour: doing good in Africa
    (pp. 1-26)

    This book is about fantasy and idealisation, about how international relationships provide opportunities to create and pursue them, and why they are essential for political communities. In its transcendence of the domestic, political realm, the field of international relations (IR) provides fantasy and idealisation in a variety of ways: for realists, it depicts a place of anarchy and free-flowing aggression; for liberal-utopians, it is potentially a place of harmony and idealism. In both cases, the international realm is thin enough (empty, even) to enable an escape from the moral complexity and banality of the normal, allowing the projection of extremes....

  6. 2 Ideas of the good and the political
    (pp. 27-39)

    A foundation question for this book is: 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? In later chapters, I will look at the ideas and history of the Labour Party which fed into this approach; and I will discuss Britain’s view of...

  7. 3 How the British found utopia in Africa
    (pp. 40-62)

    This chapter explores the ways in which Africa has offered opportunities for idealisation in the history of British engagement with the continent. This is not an attempt at a history of Britain in Africa; nor am I trying to suggest that the British have always seen themselves as behaving with altruism and selflessness – there are too many examples of naked aggression and calculations of self-interest in the history of Britain’s dealings with Africa to justify such a claim. However, there are key episodes and streams of ideas relating Africa to Britain which were seen as ‘good’ by those involved...

  8. 4 The good, the bad and the ambiguous
    (pp. 63-77)

    I discussed two ways of expressing and realising the idea of good in Chapter 3 – the transcendental and transformative – both of which have found expression in the imagination of Africa and Britain’s relationships and role there. Historically, these have been expressed directly in relation to religion. Wilberforce and Buxton explicitly tried to recapture a religious idea of the good and relate it to the British state: the ‘happy state of a truly Christian nation’ (Wilberforce, 1958: 119). Chamberlain and Lugard, neither of them religious men, made explicit references to the idea that a replacement for dwindling religious feeling...

  9. 5 Healing the scar?
    (pp. 78-101)

    This chapter examines what Africa means to actors clustered around the state: MPs, officials and those working with them during the Blair era. I start out with some basic questions: 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? Public sources gave clues: speeches, papers and initiatives from the government, and MPs directly interested or engaged in work in Africa suggested a number of themes which were pursued in interviews.

    First, British engagement in Africa is represented as being...

  10. 6 Idealisation in Africa
    (pp. 102-124)

    I have suggested that being close to the good seems to mean extending out into a far away place where it is possible to draw an idealised picture of yourself. From Britain, the work in Africa looks very clearly good, along the lines I have drawn – it is disinterested, grand, unifying and differentiating. But if the work in Africa is to have lasting currency in these terms – if it is to continue to enable self-idealisation – there must be something about the way Britain engages in Africa that allows this idea to persist, and the ideal to remain...

  11. 7 The good state
    (pp. 125-144)

    This book has been about the way in which Britain under New Labour ‘did good’ in Africa as a way of creating a central core of ideal activity for the state. The themes and approaches contained within this trend were not new, but drew on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ideas about the continent and Britain’s role there. I have suggested 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.

    In this chapter, I am going to look at...

  12. 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 145-151)

    I began this book with the idea that New Labour’s approach to Africa represented something different from foreign policy as usual. This position has often appeared difficult to defend: realist interpretations, those who pointed out the self-promotion or self-justification of politicians, and the sometimes justifiable charges of hypocrisy, all throw up compelling alternative explanations. None of these can be totally dismissed. There have been occasions on which British interests have been put before African welfare: the sale of a military air traffic system to Tanzania, and the tacit support for Ethiopian incursions into Somalia, for example. More common are examples...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 152-162)
  14. Index
    (pp. 163-168)