The Competing Kings of Cotton: (Re)Framing the WTO African Cotton Initiative
New Political Economy, 2011
25 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2011
Date Written: September 5, 2011
Since 2003, the West and Central African (WCA) cotton initiative in the World Trade Organization has stood as an ambitious case of Africa's desire to be integrated into the trading system and yet also receive reparations for past injuries. This article seeks to explore how and why the initiative debuted through close attention to the interdependence between power and language in diplomatic practice. It takes the concept of cognitive framing to explore the relationship between political legitimacy and mobilisation capacities. The genesis of cotton as 'an issue' is critically examined, focusing on how the WCA countries constructed a novel 'competitive victim' frame to define themselves and the problem. While this opening move was effective, it also featured tensions that were exploited by Northern actors who were threatened by the campaign. I argue that what followed was the introduction of a politically driven 'counter-frame', which divided the problem into a 'trade-related' component and a 'development-related' component. It is important to understand why and how this distinction was constructed and monitored. By scrutinising the relationship between framing and institutional power, I suggest that the counterframe won over the original frame, leading to a re-positioning of the demanders and a re-calibration of their expectations.
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