well Justin, you first brought this question into my consciousness. ever since that conversation I sort of been brooding over this term “sub-imperialism”, and it’s becoming clear to me that this term is at best too narrow to describe reality and at worst the term simply does not make sense.


i choose to describe the south african state as an imperialist power within it's own borders and subcontinent. (or, for brazil, imperialist power within own borders/continent).

i don't know if neocolonialism is a better term at all. for the people of south africa, it's now economic apartheid. the "neo" thing obscures the fact that in many cases it is the same people/organizations behind it.

i'll use your example of international finance in the case of SA. it was the world bank-imf giving loans to the apartheid governments, and it's the same organizations who are influencing the state of SA today. in both cases, the black and poor majority suffers. so what's new/neo about it?

made to choose between subimperial and neocolonial, i lean towards continued use of subimperial, sub to mean "denoting a later or secondary action of the same kind" - linking it all together, as in brazil, SA, canada, the list goes on.

a thought provoking article. thanks.

Robust and thought provoking postulations you guys have made.Nevertheless you should have discussed sub-imperialism in relation to the Southern African set up in the early 80's and even now.Empirical cases in Angola, Mocambique and Zimbabwe have been overlooked if not ignored.


I want to agree that the term sub imperialism has not been well defined but would like to say that surely people who use it in the context of South Africa do not mean neo colonialism or or concepts. Rather they mean that South Africa is the big boy although it may not be the power on its own right. It is the very vulnerability to the intreantional businesses, yet being stronger in relative terms to its neigbhours that makes it Sub instead of Imperialist on its own right.

Considering the World System Theory Sub imperialism is the Semi periphery which is used by the core to exploit the periphery.

Again I want to agree that it has ben so easy to refer to SA as a sub imperialist than defining the concept itself.




i beg to disagree with the view that the term sub imperialism is narrow .to be frank the term is comprehensive much more than it may sound in as far as south african policy towards her regional neighbours is one way or another south africa has not only become neo -colonialist agent but she has become an imperialist in her on right.the term sub impoerialism far from it being narrow,itdescribes a new genre of imperialism where by third world nations suffer pronged imperial attack from their neighbours who have robust economies.

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.