Amid the ongoing discussion over surging debt in Africa, some familiar narratives have emerged about the different actors:
- Africa is once again being victimized by foreign powers.
- The West is benevolently serving as Africa’s protector.
- China is using the lure of cheap money to corrupt African elites.
While these descriptions have a lot of currency in newsrooms and on social media around the world, they are also highly misleading — if not just plain wrong. After all, these are highly complex issues that can be interpreted (or misinterpreted for that matter) depending on your point of view.
However, the one consistency among all three characterizations is the disempowerment of African leaders in how they manage their country’s finances. “The debt trap narrative ‘infantalises’ African governments, painting them as little more than overgrown children who have to be constantly supervised by other powers if there is any hope of them getting anything right,” wrote Nairobi-based international development economist Anzetse Were in a recent Business Day column.
Were’s sentiments are representative of a broader frustration among a growing number analysts and scholars about how the African “debt trap” discussion is being framed by other countries who are often less concerned about Africa’s economic well-being than using the issue to challenge China’s rising influence on the continent and in the developing world at large.
“We try to have countries realize that they’re indebting themselves to the Chinese. Instead of giving them a fish, we (USA) want to teach them how to fish. They’ll have to stand on their own two feet.” — Ray Washburne, CEO of the United States International Development Finance Corporation
Yu-Shan Wu, a researcher at the Africa-China Research Project at Wits University in Johannesburg along with Cobus van Staden of the South African Institute of International Affairs and LSE professor Chris Alden together co-wrote a paper that dissects Africa’s role, or agency, in the ongoing debt debate and explores what African states can do to better leverage their positions.
Yu-Shan joins Eric and Cobus this week to discuss their paper and how stark power imbalances between China and individual African states makes the situation even more complex.
About Yu-Shan Wu:
Yushan Wu is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and a Research Associate at the Africa-China Reporting Project at Wits University in Johannesburg. She is South African and has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the University of the Witwatersrand. She also has a background in Media studies and has assisted at the South African Broadcasting Corporation and contributed to a project on Chinese presence in South Africa for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Yu-Shan is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in International Relations, at the University of Pretoria.
Yu-Shan’s areas of research are emerging countries and public diplomacy (through media and soft power) and China-Africa Relations (specifically South Africa, social consequences and the media relationship).
- Quartz: The flawed debate around Africa’s China debt and the overlooked agency of African leaders by Yu-Shan Wu, Chris Alden and Cobus van Staden
- Business Daily: Why thinking of China debt trap diplomacy is a fallacy by Anzetse Were
- The Atlantic: China vs. America in a Financial Game of ‘Risk’ by Krishnadev Calamur
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