The Southern African Unipolarity

Schenoni Luis L.
Taylor & Francis Group
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Journal of Contemporary African Studies
Journal of Contemporary African Studies Vol 36 No 2 April 2018 pp. 207-228

Despite the tectonic changes that have taken place in Southern Africa since the demise of apartheid, South Africa is still widely considered a hegemonic regional power by scholars, practitioners and pundits. This article challenges this interpretation, asserting that both Pretoria's foreign policy and that of its neighbours fit the concept of regional unipolarity with more precision. Since the early 1990s, South Africa has pursued leadership within binding regional institutions and invested resources in order to reinforce the sovereignty of second-tier states such as Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, which have in turn disputed its diplomatic and military primacy, achieving impressive results. This behaviour is characteristic of unipoles rather than hegemons. In this article I revisit the evolution of South African relations with its more proximate neighbours in a transition from hegemony (1961-1990) to unipolarity. I start by defining both concepts and clarifying the behaviours that regional powers and small states are expected to have under hegemonic and unipolar settings. Then, I examine inter-state relations in the region, showing that the concept of unipolarity best describes power distribution and best predicts foreign policy in Southern Africa since the 1990s. Finally, I show that this exercise in concept rectification illuminates comparisons with other regional unipoles, and provides a useful framework to forecast the consequences of an eventual Southern African bipolarity, if Angola continues to catch up.

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CITATION: Schenoni Luis L.. The Southern African Unipolarity . Oxon : Taylor & Francis Group , . Journal of Contemporary African Studies Vol 36 No 2 April 2018 pp. 207-228 - Available at:

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