Since the inception of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in 2000 and the China-Africa Development Fund (CADF) in 2006, China’s interaction with African countries has grown steadily. As of 2018, FOCAC’s commitment stood at U.S. $155 billion. Indeed, China is now the top lender and key investor in Africa. Much of this investment in Africa has come via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In popular Chinese discourse, BRI is understood as a flexible, inclusive project that is a major component of China’s global rise. BRI has rhetorically prioritized “policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, trade, finance, and people-to-people relations.” BRI’s idea of inclusiveness has three components: “a community of common interest; respect for the development path of different countries; and, openness to all countries and international/regional organizations.” Some scholars believe BRI’s physical infrastructure projects, its biggest component, will play an important role in fighting poverty and inequality worldwide. Other scholars view BRI as a global manifestation of “Beijing’s grand economic and geopolitical ambitions to challenge existing regional and world order.” And some BRI projects have faced significant problems. A study conducted in 2018 found that 270 out of 1,814 BRI-related projects had problems related to debt sustainability, labor and environmental standards, national security, transparency, and corruption. This paper examines sustainability, labor standards, transparency, and innovation in BRI projects, using a case study of the China-funded Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) in East Africa. For this case study, see here.
Oscar Otele is a lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration.