Harnessing the Power of Africa's Swing States

Published 1 January 2016

‘Harnessing the Power of Africa’s Swing States: The Catalytic Role of Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa’, by Terence McNamee.

International experiences suggest that if regional powers are successful they will usually generate political and economic benefits well beyond their borders. When they perform badly, the consequences of failures – economic turmoil, political instability, armed conflict – reverberate in the region and continent of which they form part in ways that similar failures in medium or small states typically do not. Africa as a whole may be especially malleable to the influence – positive or negative – of what can be characterized as ‘swing states’ owing to the relative infancy of its nation-building processes.

This Discussion Paper arose out of a high-level dialogue co-hosted by the Brenthurst Foundation and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in August 2015, which examined three countries in sub-Saharan Africa – Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa – which are particularly illustrative of the importance of swing states to regional and continental performance.

The three swing states examined here are grappling with grave political and economic challenges yet each, in their own way, also evince powerful signs of what is possible: areas of excellence which could spawn virtuous cycles of development and stability within and beyond their borders.

This Paper suggests a number of ways the catalytic power of Africa’s swing states could be harnessed for the betterment of their regions, the continent and the world. Although it draws on some of the key perspectives that emerged from the Dialogue, its main arguments and conclusions are the author’s own.

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