New monograph in Palgrave’s International Political Economy series
This book sheds light on structural drivers that led to the Chinese omnipresence in African infrastructure markets and offers a strategic-relational approach to the study of African agency in Sino-African infrastructure encounters. Case studies cover the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA), Zambia’s road sector as well as Tanzania’s Bagamoyo port and Standard Gauge Railway. It is shown that African (state) agency in the infrastructure sector is contingent upon dynamic state-society relations and distinct political-economic contexts and constraints. The book problematises contradictions related to infrastructure debt, the emergence of Sino-African public-private partnerships and the intensifying geopolitics-cum-geoeconomics of infrastructure across Africa.
Combines theorisation of Sino-African infrastructure cooperation with in-depth case studies from Tanzania and Zambia
Develops an original structurally grounded approach to the study of African agency in Sino-African relations
Adds nuance to the highly politicised debates about Chinese-owned African debt in times of intensifying geopolitics
“Theoretically informed and enriched by fieldwork, this new book sheds light on the sometimes-murky depths of Chinese infrastructure engagement in Africa. Using Tanzania and Zambia to ground the research, Tim Zajontz highlights the African state strategies that shaped disparate outcomes. This perceptive analysis has global implications. It will be a useful resource for scholars and policymakers trying to understand the expansion of Chinese capital across Africa, and beyond.”
Deborah Brautigam, Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy Emerita, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
New article, co-authored with Kjeld van Wieringen, in the Journal of Current Chinese Affairs
Waning debt sustainability has challenged the debt-financed, infrastructure-led global expansion of Chinese capital. This article traces the gradual shift in the financial governance of the Belt and Road Initiative towards public–private partnerships (PPPs). We first document China’s domestic PPP experience and its failure to check the unsustainable indebtedness of sub-national governments. We then conceptualise China’s “turn” towards PPPs in Africa as an attempt at “metagoverning” its current growth model. Analysing official Chinese sources, we discern dominant Chinese narratives that present PPPs as panaceas for African debt problems. However, Chinese risk perceptions and empirical examples, such as the Nairobi Expressway, the Tanzania–Zambia Railway, and the Congolese Kolwezi–Kasumbalesa toll road, reveal that China’s experimentation with PPPs in Africa engenders new challenges, including popular contestation, controversies over financial terms and corruption. Furthermore, contrary to the official Chinese narrative, profit imperatives behind PPP investments and potential financial complications that were widespread in China’s domestic PPP experience risk adding to the financial burdens of African governments and populations.
New chapter in Routledge book on Africa’s Railway Renaissance: The role and impact of China
This chapter sketches the historical development of China’s own railway sector and documents the centrality of railways in the current spatial reorganisation and expansion of the Chinese economy under the banner of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It problematises three contradictions that have arisen in the context of Chinese railway projects in Africa. First, the question to what extent Africa’s railway renaissance is ‘owned’ by Africans. The author argues that certain knowledge-transfer and capacity-building measures have ensured a degree of local ownership of Chinese rail projects. Yet, just as other foreign commercial actors, Chinese firms have little interest in technology transfers to an extent that would enable African construction firms and manufacturers to join the very markets these firms are keen to exploit. Second, the state-orchestrated incentivisation of overseas rail projects has resulted in cut-throat competition among Chinese firms in African markets, which, in turn, has fuelled corrupt practices to win contracts. The author suggests that intra-Chinese competition is likely to remain stiff in Africa, as loan financing from Chinese policy banks has been restricted. Simultaneously, competition with other foreign firms will intensify. Lastly, it is shown that Chinese railway loans have caused political controversies across the continent and have become increasingly risky. To keep up demand for Chinese construction firms and railway manufacturers despite unsustainable debt levels, sovereign railway loans will likely make way for more public-private partnerships in the coming decade of Africa’s railway renaissance.
New article, co-authored with Pádraig Carmody and Ricardo Reboredo, in Global Political Economy
Abstract Since the mid-1990s the Chinese state and the country’s businesses have significantly increased their activity throughout the Global South. In International Development, China’s impacts on this varied meta-region have generated substantial interest in recent years due to their scale, scope and distinctive nature. Understandably, given the complexity of the subject, most analyses have focused on discrete aspects of Chinese engagement rather than attempting to undertake more comprehensive assessments around its nature and evolution. This article engages this lacuna by identifying the main vectors of China’s engagement in the Global South, and examining their adaptive nature. In particular it identifies the main channels of impact and intersection before focusing on China’s signature foreign economic policy, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to ground the analysis. The article then examines the ways in which China is reconfiguring its foreign economic diplomacy in response to the issue of infrastructure-linked debt – perhaps the most controversial aspect of China’s growing global presence. We demonstrate that the Chinese ‘development’ policy is currently undergoing a substantial reorganisation towards soft power initiatives in response to (geo)political backlashes arising from the previous implementation of the BRI and the risks such loans present to the Chinese economy. We characterise this as an attempt at ‘normalisation’ of China as a ‘donor’, suggesting the power of global public opinion despite the ‘omni-channel politics’ and other power resources the country can bring to bear.
New article out in Territory, Politics, Governance
Abstract Corridors are central to contemporary processes of spatial reordering. On the African continent, they feature prominently in development planning at national, regional and continental scales. This article sheds light on the regional politics and supranational governance of cross-border corridors, aspects that have remained underrepresented in the burgeoning literature on corridors. Combining theoretical insights from the New Regionalism Approach and critical political geography and focusing on the ‘corridor agenda’ pursued by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the article deconstructs dominant conceptions of corridors as archetypal spaces of flow and advances the argument that the spatial production and governance of cross-border corridors are contingent upon the compatibility of scalar and territorial articulations of state space. In the case of the Walvis Bay–Ndola–Lubumbashi Development Corridor, the incompatibility of Namibia’s decidedly regional ‘gateway strategy’ and Zambia’s (sub)national ‘pothole politics’ has yielded a connectivity patchwork. Efforts to institutionalize supranational corridor governance have been obstructed by state territoriality aimed at retaining political control over corridor space at the national scale. While commonly represented as spatial panaceas for attaining neoliberal meta-goals of global connectivity and seamless territorial integration, (trans)regional corridors are politically contested spaces that engender dialectical processes of de- and reterritorialization at various scales.
New article, co-authored with Frangton Chiyemura and Elisa Gambino, in Chinese Political Science Review
Infrastructure development has experienced a political renaissance in Africa and is again at the centre of national, regional, and continental development agendas. At the same time, China has been identified by African policy-makers as a particularly suitable strategic partner. As infrastructure has become a main pillar of Sino-African cooperation, there has been growing analytical interest in the role of African actors in shaping the terms and conditions and, by extension, the implementation of infrastructure projects with Chinese participation. This follows a more general African “agency turn” in China–Africa studies, which has shifted the research focus onto the myriad ways in which African state and non-state actors shape the continent’s engagements with China. This article is situated within this growing body of literature and explores different forms of African state agency in the context of Tanzania’s planned Bagamoyo port, Ethiopia’s Adama wind farms, and Kenya’s Lamu port. We posit a non-reductionist and social-relational ontology of the (African) state which sees the state as a multifaceted and multi-scalar institutional ensemble. We show that the extent and forms of state agency exerted are inherently interrelated with and, thus, highly contingent upon concrete institutional, economic, political, and bureaucratic contexts in which African state actors are firmly embedded. In doing so, we make the case for a context-sensitive analysis of various spheres of state agency in particular conjunctures of Sino-African engagement.
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
Abstract 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).
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.