New article in the Review of African Political Economy
With China’s rise to become Africa’s largest bilateral creditor, much research has focused on an evidence-based critique of the politicised narrative about China’s supposed ‘debt trap diplomacy’. At a more fundamental level, this debate problematises the function of debt and related power differentials in late capitalism and calls into question development paradigms, notably the hegemonic infrastructure-led development regime, that have sustained Africa’s financial dependency into the 2020s. As the International Monetary Fund is yet again shuttling between Addis Ababa, Lusaka, and Nairobi to resurrect fiscal discipline and to ensure debtor compliance for the post-pandemic ‘payback period’, it is argued that (i) periodic cycles of debt financing, debt distress and structural adjustment are a systemic feature of the malintegration of Africa into the global capitalist economy, and (ii) critical research on the social costs and economic beneficiaries of renewed rounds of austerity and privatisation in Africa’s current debt cycle is needed.
New chapter, co-authored with Ian Taylor, in Africa and the Global System of Capital Accumulation, edited by Emmanuel O. Oritsejafor and Allan D. Cooper
Instead of expediting “Africa’s transformation”, as suggested by the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) of the African Union (AU) (PIDA, n.d.), this chapter argues that the recent upsurge in infrastructure development has reinforced the continent’s dependency on external actors and fosters patterns of accumulation by dispossession. We are helped by David Harvey’s theory of spatio-temporal fixes and the key functions it attributes to infrastructure and debt in the global system of capital accumulation. The chapter proceeds in four stages. The chapter first briefly recounts Harvey’s concepts of the spatio-temporal fix and accumulation by dispossession. In a second step, we contextualize Africa’s recent infrastructure boom and situate it against the wider saga of “Africa rising.” The third part of the chapter scrutinizes China’s rise as the continent’s new “infrastructure giant” and problematizes particularities of the “Chinese infrastructural fix” in Africa. The chapter then concludes by extrapolating some trends that we believe will become increasingly relevant in Africa’s infrastructure sector and that underline the enduring function of infrastructure as “means of dispossession” (Cowen 2017).
These are some of the answers I gave when I was recently interviewed on Chinese overseas investments in Africa, Asia and Europe.
What is your take on China’s massive investments in ports and maritime infrastructure? What is China’s game plan?
Chinese investments in port infrastructure all around the world are another testament to the current geographical reorganisation of the global economy. Investments in overseas ports play a crucial role in China’s foreign trade policy, as they facilitate China-oriented value chains and growth. Seaports like the ones in Gwadar, Hambantota, Djibouti or Piraeus are crucial logistics hubs to facilitate trade and trans-shipment along the Maritime Silk Road. However, to assume that Chinese port investments form part of a meticulously planned grand strategy would be misleading. Chinese port and logistics companies, such as China Merchants and COSCO Shipping, are meanwhile global players in a highly competitive market. They operate with a significant degree of independence from Beijing and, like their competitors, first and foremost aim at profit maximation.
A collective tribute to a true friend of Africa and a wonderful teacher
On 22 February 2021, we lost Professor Ian Taylor. Ian has been a world-renowned scholar who made outstanding contributions in the fields of International Relations, African politics and China-Africa studies. Besides his remarkable academic achievements and output, Ian was an extremely passionate educator who has inspired generations of students at all levels of their studies and literally all across the world. He was genuinely interested in the opinions and lives of his students and truly cared for them. This ‘collective obituary’ is a modest attempt to pay tribute to the important role Ian has played as a ‘teacher’, mentor or supervisor for many of us. We thank the editors of the St Andrews Africa Summit (SAASUM) Review to honour Ian’s life and legacy by publishing this collective tribute in their 2021 edition.
Some of my answers from an interview on China’s growing role in Africa’s energy sector can be read here.
What are some of of the main reasons for China’s interest in investing in African energy projects? Will the trend continue?
TZ: According to World Bank data, only 47.7% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa had access to electricity in 2018, compared to 98% in East Asia and the Pacific and 100% in Europe and North America. In other words, Africa’s energy markets have huge growth potential, as the demand for electricity constantly grows with progressing urbanisation. The African Union, the regional economic communities and African governments all consider increasing access to electricity as essential for social and economic development on the continent.
I just gave an interview on the Zambia visit of Chinese top diplomat Yang Jiechi. Some of my answers you can read here.
What is the significance of Yang’s visit as Lusaka faces debt troubles and prepares to go into elections?
TZ: There can be no doubt that Zambia’s fiscal situation is on top of the agenda during Yang Jiechi’s Lusaka visit, as negotiations between the Zambian treasury and the IMF about a possible rescue package are in full swing. Both the IMF and private creditors have repeatedly insisted that the Zambian government discloses all its liabilities. This includes terms and conditions of loans and export credits from China as well as state guarantees provided by Lusaka to Chinese lenders. The negotiations between Zambia and the IMF are therefore not only of economic concern to Chinese creditors but also politically very sensitive. As member of the Politburo and Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Yang Jiechi reports directly to President Xi. It is very likely that Yang and his delegation are instructed to discuss Zambia’s debt and Yang is certainly authorised to take far-reaching decisions where needed.
New article, co-authored with Pádraig Carmody & Ian Taylor, in the Canadian Journal of African Studies
Mounting overaccumulation of capital and material has compelled the Chinese government to seek solutions overseas. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), with its transregional infrastructure projects connecting Eurasia and Africa, is the hallmark venture in this effort. Chinese road, railway, port and energy projects, implemented under the BRI banner, have become widespread in Africa. This article traces drivers of the BRI in the post-reform evolution of the Chinese economy and conceptualises the BRI as a multi-vector “spatial fix” aimed at addressing chronic overaccumulation. Focusing on Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia, the paper documents how loan financing related to BRI projects reveals contradictions that arise from China’s spatial fix in Africa. Concerns about a looming debt crisis on the continent and the questionable economic sustainability of some BRI projects have become more pressing amidst the COVID-19-induced economic contraction. Hopes for Africa’s economic transformation based on increasing connectivity under the BRI are unlikely to materialise.
From the Tanzanian perspective, Mr Yi’s visit to the East African nation seemed to have two main goals: Normalisation of the relations between Tanzania and China and showing China’s readiness to take part in the former’s industrialisation drive.
I was asked to comment on Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Africa tour as well as on likely developments in Africa-US relations post-Trump. Some of my answers I share here.
What are the goals of Wang Yi’s trip to Africa and how would you evaluate the results?
TZ: Whilst it has become a tradition for Chinese foreign ministers to travel to Africa for their first overseas trips of the year, Wang’s five-country tour last week was of particular political significance. Wang’s Africa visits can be interpreted as a reassurance of China’s commitment to Africa amidst the economic turmoil caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many African economies are highly dependent on trade with and investment from China for their post-Corona recovery.
Here I share with you some of my answers from an interview on the state of China-Africa relations, as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has embarked on his January Africa tour.
A number of analysts had predicted that BRI was experiencing a slowdown in funding. With Botswana and DRC joining, what does it say about Chinese president Xi Jinping’s mega initiative?
TZ: The official admission of Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo into the Belt and Road Initiative is a diplomatic success for Beijing and serves Chinese efforts to counteract growing public perceptions that the Initiative might lose momentum. With the membership of the Belt and Road Initiative in Africa growing to now 46 countries, the Chinese government can plausibly maintain its narrative that it is successfully steering a new era of globalisation.