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Accepted Paper:

African societal agency in the wake of great power competition over Chinese constructed mega-infrastructure projects  
Benard Musembi Kilaka (University of Gothenburg) Yuan Wang

Paper short abstract:

The increasing prominence of Chinese-sponsored mega-infrastructure projects in Africa has elicited mixed reactions. This article examines the interactions between different Kenyan actors and Chinese contractors on the environmental controversies of two Chinese-sponsored infrastructure projects

Paper long abstract:

The increasing prominence of Chinese-sponsored mega-infrastructure projects in Africa has generated mixed reactions. This article examines the interactions between Kenyan civil society organizations (CSOs), the government, Western donors, and Chinese contractors on the environmental controversies of two infrastructure projects: the Lamu Port and the Standard Gauge Railway Phase 2A, demonstrating varying degrees of success in conservationists CSOs’ initiatives. We argue that the tensions on the ground are not so much the African people and CSOs against the Chinese, but about CSOs against local elites who facilitated the entry of the Chinese, gave the certificates to operate, and failed their supposed positions to stand for the interest of the citizens. The Western heritage of and support to African CSOs also illy-equip them to deal with businesses from authoritarian China and Chinese businesses find it unfamiliar to work with CSOs in African democracies. The empirical evidence is based on multiple trips of fieldwork in Nairobi and Lamu, Kenya between 2014 and 2021 where interviews and participatory approaches were used to collect data. Divergent from existing research that tends to perceive African CSOs as passive and lack of agency visà- is the state and external powers, this paper shows, with detailed empirical evidence, the agency of African CSOs in reaction to Chinese- and state-sponsored infrastructure projects. This argument also advances a research agenda of investigating the host country's domestic political dynamics in the study of China-Africa relations, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, and China’s global economic engagement in general.

Panel Econ25
Diversifying dependence or structural transformation: China's engagement in Africa
  Session 1 Saturday 3 June, 2023, -