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Misconceptions, realities and unanswered questions: China’s engagement with Africa

Time (GMT +00) 15:00 17:30
Image credit:Antony Robbins


Professor Raphael Kaplinsky - Professor of International Development, Open University

Professor Xiaolan Fu - Professor of Technology and International Development, University of Oxford

Associate Professor Christopher Alden - Associate Professor Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science

Dr. Stevan Lee -Senior Economist and Team Leader, Growth Research, Department for International Development

Dr. Dan Korbel - Senior Research Portfolio Manager, Economic and Social Research Council

Zhenbo Hou- Research Officer, International Economic Development Group, ODI


Dr Dirk Willem te Velde -Head of Programme, International Economic Development Group, Overseas Development Institute (ODI)



Examining China and Africa’s relationship

This ODI event reflected on China’s actual and potential role in African countries’ economic development. The event was chaired by Dirk Willem te Velde of the International Economic Development Group at ODI, and the panel discussion was followed by an introduction to the DFID-ESRC China-Africa Research Programme.

Misconceptions of Africa’s passivity

Professor Kaplinsky of the Open University kicked off the discussion by setting China’s engagement in an economic context. One key misconception is the view that African countries are dependent and passive in this engagement. Highlighting that too much attention focused on bilateral, measureable impacts and not the indirect effects, Kaplinsky also stressed the need to ‘dispense these attitudes that reflect dependencies’ and to move away from the phrase: ‘the impact of China on Africa’.

Professor Xiaolan Fu, from the University of Oxford, drew upon her fieldwork in knowledge diffusion to explore this ‘complex’ relationship and to unpack the motivations behind African countries’ active engagement. A survey conducted with firms in China found that motivations for Chinese firms investing in Africa included ‘the low cost acquisition of resources in Africa and preferential policy’; however, Professor Fu expressed that there are motivations and impacts at different levels too.

Changing the upstairs/downstairs relationship

Chris Alden, Associate Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, posed the question ‘is China changing Africa or is Africa changing China?’ Alden used a ’house’ metaphor to explore the two phases of this engagement. Initially, the dominant ‘upstairs’ (China) was driving the relationship, but Alden argued it is increasingly the ‘downstairs’ African partners that are driving this engagement.

Nigerian special economic zone

Zhenbo Hou, Research Officer with the International Economic Development Group, who recently blogged on the increasing financial integration of sub-Saharan African countries, spoke of his experiences working as an ODI fellow in the Nigerian Presidency. Speaking of the realities of Chinese misconceptions, Zhenbo Hou compared the success stories of special economic zones (SEZ) in China with the failed attempt to create a functioning SEZ outside Lagos City in Nigeria. The Lekki Free Zone, which was initiated in 2006, faced a series of challenges: issues with management, a lack of shared goals and uncertainties of leadership.

DFID-ESRC China-Africa research programme

Stevan Lee (DFID) and Dan Korbel (ESRC) introduced the DFID-ESRC China-Africa research programme.

The portfolio of available projects will build understanding of China’s relationship with Africa, taking developmental challenges facing Africa and examining possible solutions. The deadline is 13 March 2014, and more details can be found on the ESRC website.