n Journal of African Foreign Affairs - Decoding the discourse on China in Africa

Volume 1, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 2056-564X
  • E-ISSN: 2056-5658


The burgeoning literature about China-Africa relations has sought to address the inescapable question of whether or not China is a force for good in Africa. But all too often the available evidence seems to lend support to the twin and contradictory claims that China is looting Africa and that it is developing the continent. To put it in another way, on closer examination the 'reality' about Sino-African relations, as they are imposed by representational practices, waver between two ideal types. On the one hand, there is a declaration of transformative possibilities (Sino-optimism) and, on the other hand, there is a depiction of doomsday scenarios (Sino-pessimism). Then there is also a sentiment of moderate uncertainties (Sino-pragmatism). This essay offers one perspective on how we could sharpen our understanding of the discourse on China in Africa.

"We [Africans] are particularly pleased that in our relationship with China we are equals and that agreements entered into are for mutual gain." This statement was made in 2012 by Mr. Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa (Hanauer and Morris 2014:10). Mr. Zuma's predecessor, Mr. Thabo Mbeki, had also this to say on the same subject six years earlier: "The potential danger, in terms of the relationship that could be constructed between China and the African continent, would indeed be a replication of that colonial relationship" (Eisenman 2012:808). Empirical evidence seems to lend support to the contradictory claims suggested by the two African statesmen: one lauding China for treating Africans like equals and the other virtually implying that China was behaving like a neocolonial power in Africa. We seem not only to welcome such contradictions but even expect them in contemporary discourse.

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