The term “sub-imperialism” is often used to describe the relation South Africa has with other African states. In other words, the term is used to describe the economic and military power South Africa has over other African states.
But does the term “sub-imperialism” capture that power relation? My philosophical education compels me to always want to understand issues conceptually. Meaning it is not important to know the names of a bird in different languages, nor does knowing how to spell the word bird help us understand what the bird does or what a bird is.
So, does the term “sub-imperialism” help us understand the role of the South Africa state in global affairs? I mean does the term “sub-imperialism” explain the influences of the global economy in relation to South Africa?
Sure, South African economic policies are meant to exert control on the politics and economy of other African states. I am talking here about policies that are clearly articulated in NEPAD. However, one must also take into consideration that the direction the South African economy takes is heavily influenced by outside forces. I’m referring here to institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. It is often said that NEPAD was not even the brainchild of African governments, let alone South Africa.
Given this scenario, does the word “sub-imperialism” sufficiently explain the economic dynamics at work here? If the South African economy and the policies that South Africa pursues inside and outside of South Africa are meant to please international financial institutions, what then is “sub-imperialistic” about South Africa? The power dynamics in this scenario compels me to want to give this situation a “neo-colonialism” label instead of “sub-imperialism”.
Speaking of post-colonialism; does the term “sub-imperialism” take into account post-colonialism theory? Does “sub-imperialism” communicate the post-colonial dilemmas faced by a young democratic state like South Africa? How does “sub-imperialism” deal with deeply complex issues of a society that has undergone colonialism? Does the term “sub-imperialism” take into consideration the dilemmas of developing a national identity and the predicament of addressing race issues and a racial past while alienating the economic base of a post-colonial state?
Does even the term “sub-imperialism” take into consideration that the economic base of a post-colonial state tends to be largely white? If it does then how are those socio-economic relations presented or even explored? Does the term “sub-imperialism” capture these nuances in power dynamics?
If South Africa is “sub-imperialistic”, does that then mean the South African government is planning to establish “sub-colonies” in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi? Both these countries speak French because of their colonial history, so does it mean then that if South Africa “sub-imperialises” them, they will have to speak English – given the fact that South Africa speaks English because of its colonial history? How does the term “sub-imperialism” address that colonial history?
It seems to me that the term “sub-imperialism” distorts reality. The term mystifies more than it explains. Perhaps the term is used in a post-modern (PoMo) context. Well, if that’s the case, then that will explain my confusion, because I’m not well versed in PoMo.
My most important concern is that how does the term “sub-imperialism” help activists understand the South African state that they are up against. Does this term help social movements understand what’s at stake, and therefore help them devise political tactics to engage with the state?
Does the term “sub-imperialism” help Africans outside of South Africa understand the agenda of the South African government? How does it do that without taking into consideration the dilemmas of a post-colonial state?
Is the term “sub-imperialism” a useful conceptual tool? Under serious scrutiny it does not appear so.