Reshaping African Agency in China-Africa Relations

by Imad Atoui

Author: Paul Nantulya

Affiliation: Research Associate at the Africa Center
Organization/Publisher: Africa Center for Strategic Studies
Date/Place: March 2, 2021/USA
Type of Literature: Analysis
Word Count: 2308
Keywords: African Agency, Sino-Africa relationship, RBI in Africa, Corruption in Africa


Unsustainable and nontransparent debt could cause African countries to lose control of their national assets. African countries
must engage citizen agency to enhance African countries’ leverage vis-à-vis China. Starting from imbalanced negotiations to issues of corruption of African government, to the paucity of empirical data and the tightly-held agreements between African leaders and their Chinese counterparts have drawn the attention of many Africans that the relationship between Africa and China is mutually unbeneficial. For example, in Kenya, a report released in 2018 was shocking as the public found out that the Kenyan strategic port of Mombasa had been put up as collateral as a sovereign guarantee. The strategic port would be surrendered to China’s Export-Import bank, if Kenya defaulted on its loans. With respect to imbalanced negotiations, Chinese firms hire Chinese labor and import Chinese materials while Africans give in to such practices because the financing is Chinese; saying no to China means Africans might lose the Chance of having the Chinese investments. Besides, some African leaders are less inclined to write more rigorous standards of accountability due to their narrow personal interests in these agreements. All these concerns about harmful practices—that continue to be raised—make real fears about the lopsided nature of these engagements and raise the question of how these deals benefit African citizens. Nevertheless, some governments in Africa have used different tools to leverage in their imbalanced deals with Beijing. For example, Djibouti has used its strategic position to play China against its strategic rivals in the Horn of Africa. While China has gotten the opportunity to gain influence over shipping lanes connecting it to the Suez Canal, Djibouti is counterbalancing the Western powers in the region. Ethiopia, also, plays in the vacuum left behind by China and other rivals in the Horn of Africa. While powers invest heavily to counterbalance each other, Ethiopia reaps benefits.

Other countries assert by engaging technical departments to manage negotiations with the Chinese and defuse while the
presidency takes a back seat. In different countries like Liberia and Togo, contracts are outsourced to independent international accounting firms. All these were great lessons for Africans to learn from each other. Yet, African citizens must take part and engage in these investments and deals to ensure the transparency of the investments between the Chinese and Africans. In this respect, citizen agency (through NGOs or different platforms), the media and experts must be involved in making transparent agreements.

By: Imad Atoui, CIGA Research Associate

You may also like