First, sincere apologies for the recent hiatus; graduate life has a way of catching up with you when you least expect - and/or desire! - it. Alas, much of the insanity has at least temporarily subsided and I hope to update this blog as regularly as possible.
During my blogging absence, my time was instead consumed by chapter deadlines and Research Network events. My colleagues and I hosted the first successful China-Africa Research Network lecture last week, with 55 people in attendance. Speaking with audience members both before and after the event made me increasingly aware of the growing salience of this issue, both for those engaged in international relations and those outside the discipline. Indeed, reactions to Chris Alden's lecture ranged from fascination to horror (at the topic being discussed, not the lecture itself!), and many participants expressed great interest in wanting to discover more about the issue.
In listening to the post-lecture chit-chat, however, I began to notice patterns in our discourse; patterns observed by Emma Mawdsley in her recent article. We speak often of China as the 'villain' and African states as the victims. We speak, generally, on the macro level, discussing issues such as China's 'resource grab' and its relations with rogue states. We speak, too, of the negative ramifications of China's engagement in Africa - its disastrous impact on local industries, its unwillingness to abide by international standards - and fail to acknowledge the ways in which it is aiding many states Western donors have been unable to reach. In all of this one can't help but wonder whether it is our discourse that guides our views of contemporary Sino-African relations, or vice-versa.
Moreover, among the many curious things about Sino-African relations today is that the surrounding rhetoric is neither Chinese nor African. While we occasionally hear of 'mutual benefit' and 'win-win' cooperation (both are terms coined by the Chinese to characterize their relations with their African counterparts), the remaining rhetoric is Western. If we are to truly understand the content and character of Sino-African relations does it not make sense to loosen the grip of Western discourse and allow African and Chinese voices to surface? In our chatter we appear to be silencing those who have the most to say and whose voices ultimately matter most - a strategy that in the end benefits no one.