Wednesday, October 7, 2015

FOCAC is Coming to South Africa: Are You Ready?

The Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) will meet for the sixth time December 4-5, in Johannesburg, South Africa. If you've always wondered: what is FOCAC? now is the time to learn.
One great resource is the 2010 book, The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) by Professor Ian Taylor (right), available in a Kindle version.
Or, you can visit the new website Reporting FOCAC co-sponsored by those two great groups, the Wits China-Africa Reporting Project at Witwatersrand University in Jo'burg, and the China Africa Project hosted by journalists  Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden.

The new website is a work in progress, so visit frequently to see what updates they're delivering.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Guest Post: Should you worry about China's investments in Africa?

AP/Alexander F. Yuan
In a recent Washington Post article, Hilary Matfess, a research analyst at the Center for Complex Operations at the National Defense University and member of the Nigeria Social Violence Project at Johns Hopkins SAIS, explores what recent news of China’s $20 million worth of arms sales to South Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army last year might mean for our understanding of Chinese engagement in Africa.  Her review of three recent econometric studies concludes that  “China’s investment in Africa is much like that of the United States and Europe,” except that “China spends more in corrupt countries, and its aid is more easily diverted for political ends.” You can read her article here.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Trailblazers from the China Africa Reporting Project

The intrepid China Africa Reporting Project overseen by veteran journalist Anton Harber at South Africa's Witwatersrand University has published a volume of 17 articles penned by some of the 50 recipients of their reporting grants. The entire book, Trailblazers 2015 – Best of the China-Africa Reporting Project can be downloaded here, and individual articles are also available here.

I read a number of these when they were originally published, and was impressed by their quality. The project was launched in 2009 to improve and deepen the quality of reporting on China-Africa topics, which was then polarized between sugar-coated positive stories coming from the Chinese side and pessimistic recycled tropes about neo-colonialism and resource hunger coming from the West.

I wonder if this topic, the rise of China and how this plays out in and for Africa, attracts a certain type of reporter? Nearly a third of the new breed of journalists honored in this collection are themselves part of a diaspora:  the European diaspora in South Africa, Hong Kong, and Namibia and the Chinese diaspora in Mauritius.

Friday, September 25, 2015

SAIS-CARI Fellowships: Three Weeks Left to Apply

The China Africa Research Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS-CARI) announces a call for the second round of applications to the SAIS-CARI Fellows program. SAIS-CARI Fellowships are awarded on a competitive basis or by invitation to researchers, policy-makers, or journalists who wish to spend a concentrated period of time (1 to 2 months) writing or doing field research on an under-explored policy issue related to China’s African engagement.

We particularly encourage teams of two people, one of whom has extensive first-hand experience in Africa and the other of whom is fluent in Chinese, to propose research topics that could be investigated in Africa, drawing on each researcher’s comparative advantage. All projects must be policy-relevant and based on case studies and fieldwork.

In this round we especially welcome proposals that focus on China's energy engagement in Africa (petroleum, natural gas, solar and hydropower, electricity projects). We are also interested in case studies of manufacturing (including mineral processing and oil refining) or agriculture investments, with a focus on technology transfer, training, and local skills development). In addition, we have an interest in proposals that pair analysis of cases of Chinese investment, aid or finance in Africa with that from the United States. 

Applications are due by 11:59 pm EST on October 15, 2015 for a start date between November 15, 2015 and April 30, 2016. Decisions will be announced in early November 2015. The SAIS-CARI Fellows Program is supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

For information on how to apply, please visit the SAIS-CARI website.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Excerpt from Will Africa Feed China?

Photo: World Bank Photo Collection
All China Review​ recently published an excerpt from my upcoming book, Will Africa Feed China?, to be published in October 2015. The excerpt is a profile of Yang Haomin, former chairman of Shaanxi province's State Farm Agribusiness Corporation, and his team's efforts to grow rice, maize, soybeans, and cassava in Cameroon​. His story is one of many Chinese agricultural investment cases in Africa that I cover in the book. 

You can find the link to the excerpt on the SAIS China Africa Research Initiative (SAIS-CARI) website.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Guest Post: It Takes More Than a Million Migrants to Build a Continental Empire

Dunia P. Zongwe, lecturer at the University of Namibia, recently wrote a review essay of China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building an Empire in Africa by Howard French. A summary of the review is below; the full version can be found here.

Edited Excerpt from "It Takes More Than a Million Migrants to Build a Continental Empire"

by Dunia P. Zongwe[1]

Rich in facts, poor in logic. This phrase perhaps most tellingly describes China’s Second Continent, a book authored by Howard French on Chinese migrants in Africa. In it, the author argues that Chinese migration to Africa exhibits imperial patterns of the past and that it is likely to repeat those patterns in the future. Written in a limpid and elegant style, graced with interesting interviews, fascinating stories, vivid descriptions and profound insights, China’s Second Continent is quite an informative book, which is in itself a good reason to read it. No doubt the book would have been much better if it had done away with its main thesis and the author’s attempts to prove it. This review essay examines the way that the author built his argument.

Howard French’s thesis is flawed on two levels. On a general level, the evidence presented by the author of China’s Second Continent does not prove his thesis. It has failed to establish that Chinese migrants dominate local populations, or that Africans have lost or are losing the ability to resist. It has also failed to provide clear historical precedents for the author’s prediction that the ‘unquestionably peaceful’ migration of Chinese nationals to Africa will, without militarism, be the cause of imperialism. On the contrary, several counterexamples defy this prediction. The evidence is neither internally consistent nor broadly representative of the multifaceted relationships between Africans and Chinese migrants. In essence, the book’s methodology is ill-suited to its own purposes while the hearsay and the anecdotes on which it heavily relies are not generalizable to a wider, future universe.

On a basic level, the problem with French’s thesis is definitional. His notion of ‘migration’ is undefined and erroneously based on race; his definition of ‘imperialism’ is ambiguous and unscientific. Despite the absence of a common understanding of who is a ‘migrant’, the author does not define this vital notion; instead, his definition is based (contrary to normal practice) on race, not nationality. Furthermore, since – in French’s vision of things – ‘imperialism’ can happen in any way, it will happen, anyway. Since French’s definition of ‘imperialism’ is not grounded, it can be implied that his ‘prediction’ is not scientific. It cannot be empirically tested (or refuted, for that matter) and, consequently, people should not regret that the Chinese migrants in Africa will become ‘imperialists’ in the world imagined by French.

[1] Lecturer, University of Namibia. J.S.D. (Cornell); LL.M. (Cornell); Cert. (Univ. Montréal); LL.B., B.Juris (Univ. Namibia). I am grateful to the participants at the mini US-Africa Summit held on Nov. 6, 2014 at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University. Their questions, comments and criticisms informed this review essay’s final substantive section ‘It takes billions to build African economies’. In particular, I thank Horace G. Campbell for suggesting that I write a review of China’s Second Continent. I am also indebted to Joëlle Bergeron, Deborah Bräutigam, Horace Campbell and Mamoudou Gazibo for their critical and constructive comments on earlier drafts of the essay. The views expressed in this review essay do not necessarily reflect those of the people who commented on the essay and the participants at the Summit. I am solely responsible for the contents of this review essay and its failings, if any. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

China-Africa Pre-Doctoral Research Fellowship

The China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies is seeking one or two part-time, pre-doctoral research fellows, who will lead student teams in collecting, cleaning and analyzing Chinese finance and investment data, and writing papers and reports based on the data and on African fieldwork reports. The candidate should hold a Master’s degree and be currently enrolled in a doctoral program, with ABD status, i.e. with course work and exams complete. We seek a creative individual with the skills of a detective or an investigative journalist, an organized and cheerful perfectionist, a quick learner, diligent and tenacious in tracking sources. This will be desk research, but will involve extensive follow up by telephone and other means.
The successful candidates should have knowledge of China and be able to read Chinese. Knowledge of Excel and some knowledge of China are required, while ability to do research in Chinese, knowledge of Stata and some econometrics would be helpful. Experience with China Development Bank or China Export-Import Bank or Africa would be an asset. Major responsibilities include (1) serving as primary leader of student teams working on data collection, cleaning, and analysis; (2) drafting papers analyzing the data; (3) maintenance of databases and data archival system. The role will require up to 20 hours per week for a 9 month commitment starting in September 2015, and may be renewed. Applicants must be eligible to work in the United States.

To apply please send a cover letter and cv to

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What does China's Shock Yuan Devaluation mean for Africa?

This morning, CNN published my op-ed, "What does China's shock yuan devaluation mean for Africa?"

China's development decisions are critically important for Africa. In Lagos, Addis and Johannesburg, China's surprise yuan devaluation has African analysts scratching their heads.

Obviously Chinese goods will be cheaper in Africa, and African exports more expensive in China. So far, this decision is just a tremor, not a quake. Yet why did China devalue, and what is this likely to mean for Africa?

To understand China's devaluation, we need to take a step back. Beijing has been trying to manage China's enormous structural transformation ever since Chinese leaders made their historic decision to move out of poverty by turning to the market in the late 1970s. Their supercharged development model depended on low wages, high levels of foreign and public investment, and rapidly expanding, cheap exports. 

Continued here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Are Chinese Resource Companies the Worst at Transparency?

HomeWe often assume that Chinese oil, gas and mining companies are "the worst of a bad bunch" (quoting from a Global Witness email blast). Several years ago I attended a conference in the Netherlands on transparency and natural resources, where I was intrigued to hear a representative from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) state that Chinese companies were no different from others. But this was only anecdotal. Now, a new study confirms this. As Global Witness noted in the same blast, "financial disclosure by Chinese oil, gas and mining companies around the world [is] becoming their new normal." Or, as Global Witness put it: 财务披露成为中国海外石油、天然气及矿业公司的 “新常态”

Here's more from Global Witness:
"When it comes to foreign companies denying locals basic information about what they’re up to Chinese firms are frequently fingered as the worst of a bad bunch.  However a new study challenges that assumption.

The briefing by the international transparency scheme for the oil, gas & mining industries, EITI, sets out how much information Chinese companies have published about their operations in EITI member countries around the world.

The results are encouraging and indicate an ability and willingness for Chinese firms to act transparently where disclosure is the law or the commercial norm and, at times, to go beyond the minimum requirements.

Key findings from the EITI briefing include:
At least 90 Chinese companies are involved in EITI reporting globally, including some of the world’s biggest oil and mining names such as China National Petroleum Corporation, China National Offshore Oil Corporation and China Nonferrous Metal Mining.
Chinese firms disclose information about the payments they make to host governments as much as non-Chinese firms. In the limited cases where Chinese companies were reluctant to report, they were in the good (or not so good) company of businesses from countries such as Australia, Canada and the US that were also dragging their feet.
Information disclosure by Chinese firms doesn’t stop at financial payments. Indeed, Chinese companies in DRC, Mongolia and Nigeria made declarations about their ownership and control, known as beneficial ownership, while firms working in Afghanistan published their oil production contracts. 
Chinese firms are involved in EITI ‘Multi-Stakeholder Groups’ – the national committees that oversee implementation – in at least six countries, which in itself goes beyond the minimal requirements. 
The findings of the report mirror those of an earlier study by Global Witness and Beijing-based consultancy SynTao which examined the extent to which Chinese companies were publishing details of their payments to foreign governments either through EITI or in line with stock exchange reporting rules.
Both studies reflect China’s increased awareness of risks faced in overseas operations and point to the role disclosure rules can play in building a more stable investment environment for companies. Research by Global Witness and other groups has shown how questions over hidden payments can damage the reputation of Chinese companies, at a time when many are seeking greater recognition on the international stage as a basis for forging joint ventures, getting listed or gaining access to new resources. Meanwhile there is growing awareness that transparency of payments made by companies to governments can help prevent corruption and associated conflict.

Given the new evidence of widespread disclosure of financial, beneficial ownership and contractual information under EITI by Chinese companies, the time seems right for leading firms to engage with and support the scheme at a more institutional level. An immediate step would be for industry leaders in China to make a public commitment to the scheme and the principles it enshrines – something that would also go some way towards reassuring doubters that Chinese companies are committed to operating as responsible players on the global stage." 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Guest Post: When the U.S. visits Africa, so does China

Photo: Ben Curtis, AP via The Detroit News
This guest post is by Janet Eom, the Research Manager at the SAIS China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University.

After his historic Africa tour, President Barack Obama is back in Washington. It was the first time a sitting U.S. president visited Kenya and Ethiopia, and Obama’s roots in Kenya lent a personal touch. But even in a story of the U.S. in Africa, China was present.

The U.S.-China-Africa plot went something like this: Africa, young and quickly growing, is the place of the future. However, U.S. trade with the continent is declining, China’s is growing. But not to worry: where China is extracting minerals, the U.S. is planting good intentions. At the AU Headquarters (constructed by Beijing) in Addis Ababa, Obama declared, “Economic relationships can’t simply be about building countries’ infrastructure with foreign labor or extracting Africa’s natural resources. Real economic partnerships have to be a good deal for Africa. They have to create jobs and capacity for Africans. That is the kind of partnership America offers.”

But as this is a story of diplomacy, how much exactly have the two governments’ leaders visited Africa? There is rhetoric, but there is also the decision to visit in the first place.

Into Africa: A Timeline

In 2009, the year Obama became president, China became Africa’s largest trading partner, surpassing the U.S. Although we can’t conclude a cause-effect relationship between presidential visits and changes in trade, it is interesting to look at patterns. This approximate timeline of visits that involved meeting with African governments in the several years before and after 2009 is strung together via the U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian and China Vitae.

George W. Bush, 2001-2009
7 days in 2003
June 2-3: Egypt

July 8: Senegal
July 8-10: South Africa
July 10: Botswana
July 11: Uganda
July 11-12: Nigeria

9 days in 2008
January 16: Egypt

February 16: Benin
February 16-19: Tanzania
February 19: Rwanda
February 19-21: Ghana
February 21: Liberia

May 17-18: Egypt

Hu Jintao, 2003-2013
7 days in 2004
January 29-February 1: Egypt
February 1- 3: Gabon
February 3-4: Algeria

6 days in 2006
April 24-26: Morocco
April 26-27: Nigeria
April 27-29: Kenya

11 days in 2007
January 31-February 1: Cameroon
February 1-2: Liberia
February 2-3: Sudan
February 3-5: Zambia
February 5-6: Namibia
February 6-8: South Africa
February 8-9: Mozambique
February 9-10: Seychelles

6 days in 2009
February 12-13: Mali
February 13-15: Senegal
February 15-17: Tanzania
February 17: Mauritius

Bonus: Hu Jintao spoke at FOCAC in Beijing in 2006 and 2012
Barack Obama, 2009- 
3 days in 2009
June 4: Egypt

July 10-11: Ghana

7 days in 2013 (traveled with the First Lady)
June 26-28: Senegal
June 28-July 1: South Africa
July 1-2: Tanzania
July 2: Senegal (stopped during return to Washington)

5 days in 2015
July 25-27: Kenya
July 27-29: Ethiopia

Bonus: August 4-6, 2014: U.S.-Africa summit of 50 out of 54 African heads of state in Washington D.C.
Xi Jinping, 2013-
7 days in 2013
March 24-26: Tanzania
March 26-29: South Africa (Durban for BRICS Summit)
March 29-30: The Congo

Quick Observations:
  • Five months into his presidency, Obama made his first visit to Africa. Xi made his two weeks after assuming office, his first foreign tour. As many people suggest, are Obama’s second-term, “end-heavy” Africa tours an after-the-fact catch-up effort? Indeed, Hu intensely traversed Africa every one to two years, before halting once the trade balance shifted in 2009. However, at the same time, Bush did conduct pre-2009 tours in both his terms. With more information, it would be interesting to track whether the trade changed first, then the tours, or vice versa.
  • While both Obama and Bush made short stops, neither Hu nor Xi had one or two day stopovers – all their visits were tours, with Hu visiting a whopping 8 countries in 11 days at one point. Perhaps this is because Chinese media does not publicize short visits, focusing on significant, committed trips instead. But maybe the Chinese trips are purposefully long to convey stateliness and intention. Chinese diplomats have been associated with formality and red carpet treatment to convey importance. Meanwhile, Obama emphasized his personal identity as the first Kenyan-American president of the U.S. What is the role of culture in diplomacy in Africa?
  • Overlap of countries between U.S. and China visits: Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Liberia, South Africa, Senegal, and Tanzania. What may be some common priorities for potential U.S.-China-Africa collaboration in these countries?

Of course, counting visits only goes so far and there’s a lot to explore beyond this post’s scope; we need to track concrete commitments. But leader-to-leader diplomacy is symbolic, conveying priorities and intention. For now, it seems that any future U.S. or Chinese state visit to Africa will not occur without drawing comparisons to the other. It will be something for the next U.S. president to ponder.

Additional Sources:

"Chinese, Kenyan Presidents Agree to Enhance Co-op.", 28 Apr. 2006. Web. 4 Aug. 2015. <>.
"Chinese President Concludes Five-nation Trip." Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the People's Republic of China, 18 Feb. 2009. Web. 04 Aug. 2015. <>.
"Chinese President Hu Jintao Wraps up Successful African Tour." China View. Xinhua News Agency, 11 Feb. 2007. Web. 04 Aug. 2015. <>.
"President Hu's Arab-African Visit Fruitful: FM." China View. Xinhua News Agency, 30 Apr. 2006. Web. 4 Aug. 2015. <>.
Stone, Amanda. "President Obama Travels to Kenya and Ethiopia." The White House Blog. The White House, 26 July 2015. Web. 04 Aug. 2015. <>.