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Relationships: China’s Competitive Advantage in Africa

To many outside observers, Chinese engagement in Africa is often evaluated based on hard metrics like the amount of trade, the number of immigrants, investment figures. While those data points are no doubt important, Wake Forest University Assistant Professor Lina Benabdallah argues in her new book that those tangible, hard figures don’t the whole story about this complex geopolitical relationship. Instead, she contends that “it is important to start looking at less visible and less material types of investment” to really understand the depth of China’s ties on the continent.

Specifically, Professor Benabdallah focuses on how the Chinese spend a lot of time and resources to foster social relations with African counterparts through professional trainings, skills transfer and personal networking. While these factors are all difficult to quantify, she readily admits, there’s nonetheless a growing body of evidence that indicates this investment in knowledge sharing is providing Beijing with a distinct competitive advantage in Africa.

Professor Benabdallah joins Eric & Cobus to talk about the findings in her new book, Shaping the Future of Power: Knowledge Production and Network-Building in China-Africa Relations, and why it’s so important for stakeholders on all sides “to see beyond what meets the eye” with regards to Chinese engagement on the continent.

Show Notes:

About Lina Benabdallah:

Lina Benabdallah is an assistant professor at Wake Forest University. She is the author of Shaping the Future of Power: Knowledge Production and Network-Building in China-Africa Relations (University of Michigan Press, 2020). Her research has appeared in the Journal of International Relations and Development, Third World Quarterly, African Studies Quarterly, and Project on Middle East Political Science, as well as in public-facing outlets such as The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage and Foreign Policy. Dr. Benabdallah is also a Johns Hopkins China Africa Research Initiative research associate and a contributing editor for Africa Is a Country. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Florida in 2017 and has conducted fieldwork in Beijing, Jinhua, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, and Bamako.

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