It truly is embarrassing, this unintended hiatus I've taken from posting here. Over the past several months I on occasion vowed to myself to "get back to it next week," but - as is plainly evident - with little success. I do wish I could proffer an explanation for my absence, but I must confess that there isn't one worthy of mention. Whatever the case, I've returned with high hope and intention to be more diligent in my writings on this space; indeed, there is much about which to write.
The past few months have been spent refining and focusing on my PhD dissertation which, I'm quite pleased to say, is slowly beginning to take form. My research has shifted slightly from its previous focus on Chinese entrepreneurs in East Africa (though this still very much informs my work), to asking broader questions of the geo-strategic sort - in the context of Sino-Ethiopian relations in particular. In the course of my research I have admittedly grown rather frustrated with the emergent body of literature on China-Africa relations, consisting as it does of the same themes repeated over and over and over again. There's a song out these days by Iyaz, an allegedly up-and-coming young rapper, entitled "Replay;" part of the song's refrain goes: "It's like my iPod stuck on replay, replay-ay-ay-ay....". Most applicable to literature on Sino-African relations, unfortunately.
It's not the the literature is bad per se, but rather that in both asking the same questions and in treating China's forays into Africa an an international anomaly unseen in any other time or place we are, I think, asking the wrong questions. We need to take a step back, I believe, and look at the big picture: the Chinese aren't the only investors in Africa; what else is going on? How do all of these intersection points of agency stand to influence the continent? And influence in what way? Politically? Socially? Economically? What about China? How does Africa fit into China's grand strategy? What is that strategy? Who's strategy? And on the African side of things, too, where is the agency? What are the key strategic interests? How does China fit into Africa's strategy and the strategies of its constituent member states? By asking these (and indeed other) questions the phenomenon known as "China in Africa" is seemingly removed from the vacuum in which it has hitherto been resident and begins to take on new and exciting dimensions. Indeed, we all know that China seeks Africa's resources - and Africa in turn China's investment. There is, however, more to the story.
Relatedly (or perhaps not), together with a friend and colleague, I've published a paper as part of Afrobarometer's Working Paper Series. The paper focuses on African perceptions of the bourgeoning Chinese presence in the continent, further deciphering the factors informing the views held. The full paper may be found here. I will leave it to you to decide in which category of writing it should be placed.