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Are African Governments Naive to Take on so Much Chinese Infrastructure Debt?

China, according to the prevailing “debt trap” narrative, is preying on vulnerable developing countries by loading them up with unsustainable amounts of debt that jeopardizes their sovereignty. When these countries inevitably default on the loans, according to the theory, China will then seize strategic assets as collateral.

Although the Chinese predatory lending idea is widely-held in U.S. and European policymaking circles, it has been thoroughly debunked by scholars and analysts around the world. There just isn’t any evidence to back it up.

But the bigger problem isn’t even the fact that it’s not true, say a growing number of African scholars, but how paternalistic it is towards African stakeholders who are negotiating these infrastructure financing deals with the Chinese. The “debt trap” theory implies that Ethiopian, Kenyan, Ghanaian and others are either ignorant, naive or both when dealing with the Chinese.

Zimbabwe-native and Open University scholar Frangton Chiyemura interviewed more than a hundred stakeholders involved in the 2016 building of Africa’s largest wind-farm electric power project in Ethiopia.

He concluded that Africans, Ethiopians in this case, do in fact have quite a bit of leverage in their negotiations with the Chinese to finance and build infrastructure. Contrary to the underlying message contained within the debt trap theory, Frangton found that African negotiators are not at all ignorant about the consequences of taking on debt to build infrastructure and do in fact have quite a bit of agency in the process.

Frangton joins Eric & Cobus to discuss his research in Ethiopia and how much leverage do African negotiators have in their dealings with China’s infrastructure financiers.

Show Notes:

About Frangton Chiyemura:

Frangton Chiyemura just completed his Ph.D. study in International Development and Inclusive Innovation in the Department of Development Policy and Practice at the Open University, UK. His research project examined the drivers of Chinese financing in Africa’s renewable energy sector and further seek to understand the negotiation processes and the engagement modalities between Chinese and African actors in these mega infrastructure projects. Infrastructure financing terms and conditions, negotiations and implementation modalities remain largely unknown, implying black boxes for many. Frangton attempted to ‘open’ these black boxes. His broader research interests are on Chinese financing and development of critical infrastructure in Africa.

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