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China in Africa: The Real Story

China's Special Economic Zones in Africa

Deborah Brautigam

Outside a Chinese residential project near Addis (not the Zone).
Last week I was in Ethiopia for a quick trip with the China-DAC Study Group, a two year effort to build bridges between China, OECD countries and African countries in the broad area of development assistance. I had a chance to visit the Chinese Eastern Industry Zone (thank you, Michael!), probably the slowest of the six zones in Africa to get going, but which is moving ahead quickly now. The single factory on site, a cement factory, is owned by the zone developers, and apparently profits from the factory are helping them overcome capital shortages experienced in earlier years, enabling the infra. The two photos below show the sign at the entrance to the zone, and the factory shells being constructed by the developers, which will be rented out to other industrialists.

If you're interested in learning more about these zones, the Journal of Modern African Studies (January 2011) has just published an article I wrote with Tang Xiaoyang: "African Shenzhen: China's Special Economic Zones in Africa." This is based on our fieldwork between 2007 and 2009 covering all six official African zones (Mauritius-JinFei; Nigeria-Ogun; Nigeria-Lekki; Zambia-Chambishi/Lusaka; Egypt-Suez; Ethiopia-Eastern). Here's the abstract:
Industrial sites being constructed at the Eastern Zone

Abstract: "This article examines recent Chinese efforts to construct a series of official economic cooperation zones in Africa. These zones are a central platform in China’s announced strategy of engagement in Africa as ‘mutual benefit’. We analyse the background, motives and implementation of the zones, and argue that they form a unique, experimental model of development cooperation in Africa : market-based decisions and investment by Chinese companies are combined with support and subsidies from an Asian ‘developmental state ’. Though this cooperation provides a promising new approach to sustainable industrialisation, we also identify serious political, economic and social challenges. Inadequate local learning and local participation could affect the ability of the zones to catalyse African industrialisation. The synergy between Chinese enterprises, the Chinese government and African governments has been evolving through practice. A case study of Egypt provides insight into this learning process."