Dragons in Africa: Lessons Learned from Sino-Kenyan Relations

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After spending time abroad in Kenya, former Global Integrity intern, Jessica Mahoney became interested in the impact of Sino-African relations on governance in Africa. Jessica explored this topic in her recently finalized thesis at Williams College. Using Kenya as a case-study, Jessica’s analysis rejects the typical narrative that Chinese investment only props up Africa’s most abusive state leaders and invites readers to look more closely at Chinese aid and business investment in Africa.

Jessica states:

There are fifty-three African countries, with Chinese economic involvement in each one. Yet in most of the literature on Sino-African relations, a handful of examples are used over and over again. These tend to be Sudan, Zimbabwe, Angola, and so a smaller extent, the DRC and Nigeria. Media depictions of Sino-African relations tend to focus on these examples because of the despotic nature of these African leaders. Within these case studies, there is a clear narrative: the Chinese are desperate for oil and other natural resources (Angola, Nigeria, and Sudan are all major sources of oil, the DRC has a host of natural resources including zinc and timber, Zimbabwe is China’s largest source of tobacco) that they are willing to prop up regimes with horrible human rights abuses, thus nullifying Western trade embargoes and sanctions. This may be the case, if perhaps overly-simplified, but it is only the case in these handful of countries. All too often, Sino-African relations are generalized in this fashion, making it appear as if China is only engaging with pariah regimes vilified by the West. This is misleading, and does not help to unpack the phenomenon of China’s rapid growth on the entirety of the African continent, nor why African rulers have recently become attracted to China as a trade partner and investor.

The thesis in its entirety will be available online in the coming months. Until then, have a look at some of Jessica’s past Commons posts (here and here) on Chinese investment in Africa.

— Norah Mallaney

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