Interview on Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Africa tour

I gave an interview on topical issues in China-Africa relations in anticipation of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Africa tour. Some of my answers can be read below.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi will pay official visits to Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles from January 4 to 9, 2021. This trip is different compared to previous years due to the coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged economies and the debt crisis in many African countries. Why does this trip matter for China and each of the countries, Nigeria, DRC, Tanzania, Botswana and Seychelles, amid the challenges?

TZ: It is very likely that Chinese support for Africa’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic will be on the top of the agenda during Wang’s Africa visit. The timing of the visit is not coincidental, as discussions around the global distribution of Covid-19 vaccines are in full swing. The race for a corona vaccine and its distribution in the Global South has become a geopolitical matter. For the Chinese government, the provision of a vaccine that is affordable and does not pose unsurmountable logistical challenges is not only a humanitarian question but also an opportunity to flex its ‘soft power muscle’ in Africa. With Sinopharm having released promising data from phase 3 clinical trials and Sinovac’s vaccine having recently been approved in Egypt, the Chinese government has a heightened interest to diplomatically facilitate the roll-out of these vaccines across Africa. Wang can be expected to do exactly that in the African capitals he will visit. China’s ‘vaccine diplomacy’ is likely to become even more pronounced, as it looks as if Western governments will grab all available vaccines for months to come. The Chinese government in turn has always emphasised the necessity to make a vaccine available to Africans as soon as possible.

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Article: The Chinese infrastructural fix in Africa: Lessons from the Sino-Zambian ‘road bonanza’

Oxford Development Studies, Online First

This article scrutinises the surge in Chinese-funded road development in Zambia with the help of David Harvey’s theory of spatio-temporal fixes. The ‘moving out’ of Chinese surplus capital and material to Africa has been facilitated by an extensive disbursement of loans and export credits for infrastructure projects. Transcending Harvey’s analytical ‘imperio-centrism’, the article shows that the actualisation of the Chinese infrastructural fix has been contingent upon Zambia’s ambitious, debt-financed infrastructure development agenda. Particularities of Chinese loan financing have thereby fostered ‘not so public’ procurement processes and accelerated Zambia’s rapid debt accumulation. As rising debt has imposed structural constraints, the recent shift in the financial governance of road development towards private project finance is analysed with reference to the Lusaka-Ndola dual carriageway. The renaissance of public-private partnerships and the gradual privatisation of Zambian roads signify new rounds of accumulation by dispossession, as the Chinese infrastructural fix enters its next stage.

Link to article

Interview on the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa

Today, I share with you some of my answers from an interview on recent developments in the context of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Africa.

There have been reports of a slowdown in BRI lending in Africa and in other countries. What’s your view of this?

TZ: It is important to acknowledge the structural drivers behind the BRI. The Chinese economy has faced an increasingly severe overaccumulation crisis in the aftermath of the 2007-08 global financial crisis. Massive stimulus packages in the aftermath of the crisis only exacerbated overcapacities, especially in the infrastructure and construction sectors. From an economic point of view, the BRI has been the attempt to ‘move out’ these surpluses by financing infrastructure projects that are designed to link Eurasia and Africa.

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In a fix: Africa’s place in the Belt and Road Initiative and the reproduction of dependency

Co-authored with Ian Taylor

South African Journal of International Affairs 27(3): 277-295

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to integrate Africa into an ambitious Chinese-constructed infrastructure network. The terms of this integration however deepen Africa’s dependent position and perpetuate its terms of (mal)integration into the global political economy. These terms, which are characterised by external domination and socially-injurious and extraverted modes of accumulation, are likely to be exacerbated by the BRI’s focus on facilitating extraction from the African continent while importing huge amounts from China. While the BRI aims to resolve contradictions within China’s own economy, the latent dynamics within the BRI vision may result in an entrenched African dependency.

Link to article

It’s done – finally

In March 2020, I submitted my PhD. It’s has been a long walk to freedom…

Thanks to my colleagues, friends and family! Here you can read the acknowledgements, the most important page in the entire dissertation. 😉

Foremost, I want to thank my supervisor Ian Taylor for his advice and support during my PhD journey. Not only have I enjoyed our exchanges of views, your impressive academic output, firm political beliefs and personal humility have inspired me, as the combination of these qualities seems rare in this industry. Thanks for having the confidence in me that I myself was lacking all too often. I also want to thank Vassilios Paipais for his thoughts in the initial stages of the research. Needless to say, the countless shortcomings of this study are my own doing.

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Reflections from London

Earlier toady, I witnessed the most beautiful act of loving kindness. I was sitting in a Victoria line train when a woman entered the coach and asked people to help her with some money. Clearly, the woman was not in a good state. She looked pale and exhausted.

The usual situation unfolded – one that is probably best described as collective neglect fused with individual embarassment about the same. No one turned one’s attention towards the woman. Some stared at the floor, others onto their phones. The ones with their 160 pounds Airpods pretended not having noticed the woman’s plea for help.

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“Fixing” Africa’s infrastructure: But at what price?

TIM ZAJONTZ, Pambazuka News

8,500,000,000,000 Ugandan Shilling. This is roughly the volume of a loan, which the Ugandan government currently negotiates with China’s state-owned Exim Bank. The sheer number of digits is impressive, even when converted in less inflationary currencies. The concessional loan of over US$2.3 billion is earmarked for the construction of 273 kilometres of rails between Kampala and Malaba at Uganda’s border with Kenya. The project constitutes the next stage of East Africa’s new standard gauge railway that is designed to link Mombasa at the Indian Ocean with Uganda’s capital and, if plans materialise, will extend to Juba, South Sudan and Kigali, Rwanda in the future. The first stretch of the line between Mombasa and Nairobi has been inaugurated in mid-2017 and celebrated as another milestone of Sino-African development cooperation.

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Cosmic Lottery

Zainab Magzoub writes about the ‘cosmic lottery’ she won as a refugee child.

ZAINAB MAGZOUB

When my mum informed me we would be relocated to Scotland at age nine, I wasn’t too happy. I hadn’t heard much about the country apart from it was very cold and that boys there wore ‘skirts’. Back home in Sudan, people refer to anywhere in the UK as London. I still frequently overhear in my mum’s conversation with friends and family in Sudan; ‘How’s life treating you in London?’ She has given up correcting them.

We arrived in the UK and claimed Asylum at the Croydon Home Office. Subsequently we were placed in a B&B in Margate for a month. Each day we would search for our names on the notice board to see if or when we were going to be taken to one of the dispersal cities. Luck of the draw found us on the eleven-hour coach trip to Glasgow. Looking back I feel both sympathy and admiration for my mum for making this journey with three young kids in tow and keeping an unwavering composure throughout. She had, after all, been through a lot worse.

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Africa’s transport infrastructure boom – empowering whom and for what purpose?

TIM ZAJONTZ, Invited talk at the 4th St Andrews Africa Summit, 24 February 2018, Hotel du Vin, St Andrews

Thanks for this warm introduction. As it was mentioned, my name is Tim Zajontz, I am a PhD student at the School of International Relations here in St. Andrews. I am also a research associate and guest lecturer at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, where I did my Master’s some years ago. I have been working in German politics as well as in the European Parliament, before I came back to University. My PhD research deals with the spatial political economy of the TAZARA Corridor, that economic space connecting landlocked Zambia with Tanzania’s port of Dar es Salaam. As you have heard, I am also the chairperson of a Germany-based, non-profit organisation called Freundeskreis Uganda which is partnering with social projects in Uganda.

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