Making Space for African Agency in China-Africa Engagements: Ghanaian and Nigerian Patrons Shaping Chinese Enterprise

Lampert, Ben and Mohan, Giles (2015). Making Space for African Agency in China-Africa Engagements: Ghanaian and Nigerian Patrons Shaping Chinese Enterprise. In: Gadzala, Aleksandra W. ed. Africa and China: How Africans and Their Governments are Shaping Relations with China. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, pp. 109–126.



The dominant assumption in much literature on the Chinese presence in Africa is that the monolithic entity “China”—and the Chinese state in particular—is able to set the terms of engagement with African states and to unilaterally determine events. This is problematic for two linked reasons that we examine in this chapter. First, it privileges unitary states as the key players in these relationships. Second, it underplays the role that African actors, both within and beyond the state, play in brokering and shaping the terms on which these relationships unfold. A ramification of this tendency to attribute all the power to one side is a reactive “anti-China” response since Africans are assumed to be the helpless victims. Indeed, we have seen some African political actors playing up this negative portrayal of the Chinese, which produces a potentially dangerous xenophobia. While we are not arguing that China is only a beneficial force in Africa, in this chapter we examine how African agency can shape these relationships, many of which lie outside official interstate channels. While African agency in China-Africa relations takes many forms, involves a wide array of actors, and operates at a range of levels, here we argue that the state-society interface is a key arena in which African agency is exercised, particularly by African patrons who utilize their state connections to encourage and support Chinese enterprise. While these actors may be based in or connected to the state, their interest in facilitating Chinese activities often appears to have more to do with their own political and economic interests than wider state agendas. The result is a more mixed and contradictory analysis than one in which coherent state interests intersect and “China” drives the relationship.

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