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Beyond Fuelling The Dragon: Locating African Agency in Africa-China Relations Open Access


Other title
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Odoom, Isaac
Supervisor and department
Wenran Jiang (Political Science)
Malinda S. Smith (Political Science)
Examining committee member and department
Peter Arthur (Dalhousie University)
Wenran Jiang (Political Science)
Temitope Oriola (Sociology)
Malinda S. Smith (Political Science)
Cressida Heyes (Political Science)
Mojtaba Mahdavi-Ardekani (Political Science)
Department of Political Science

Date accepted
Graduation date
2016-06:Fall 2016
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The growing presence and influence of China across the African continent has attracted considerable local and international attention and even controversy. On the one hand, the burgeoning ‘China in Africa’ literature tends to focus on pessimistic assertions about the exploitative aspects of the engagement, and China is frequently represented as a twenty-first century (neo)colonial power that is plundering Africa's natural resources while corrupt, or at best passive, African leaders fuel the metaphorical dragon. On the other hand, more optimistic claims about China’s engagement focus on notions of mutual benefits, lack of explicit and burdensome conditionalities, and the economic development opportunities presented by such engagement. What such polarising representations often ignore are questions of African agency and, specifically, the diverse factors that account for the growth in African state interactions with China, and how diverse African actors respond to Chinese engagement. Drawing on a critical African political economy perspective placed into productive engagement with postcolonial approaches and subaltern studies, I investigate the intensification of Africa-China linkages and focus on African agency in Africa-China relations. Specifically, this dissertation draws on the case of Ghana to interrogate the factors that drive Ghana’s growing economic relations with China. It explores ways in which Ghanaian actors and institutions engage, shape, negotiate, accommodate, and resist Chinese actors’ involvement in Ghana. Data for this project were collective during extensive fieldwork in Ghana and China. Interviews were conducted with state and non-state actors including government officials, civil society organisations, traders, chiefs, and community opinion leaders. As well, the dissertation draws on archival research and critical discourse analysis of key policy documents, speeches and media reports on Africa-China and Ghana-China relations. These data provide insights into the historical and contemporary dynamics of China’s presence in Ghana’s economy and the agentic responses it has engendered. The study finds that the intensifying engagements with China can be attributed to complex factors and motivations. The study also finds that Ghanaian state and non-state actors are often willing partners to Chinese actors and exhibit considerable autonomy and influence in their engagement with China. This finding challenges the popular view of Chinese dominance in engagement with African actors. Drawing on the concept of African agency, the dissertation uncovers how both Ghanaian state and non-state actors attempt to shape and influence their relations with China for their own economic and political ends. Through an examination of the labour politics of Chinese projects and Ghanaian workers, the politics of parliamentary scrutiny, oppositional activities of traders’ associations and other civil society actors, the study shows how Ghanaian actors exert agency. Findings from these case studies suggest that Chinese corporate behaviour often is met with assertive local and national responses, which often minimise potentially negative impacts of Chinese enterprises and state interests in Ghana. This finding challenges the dominant view of a ‘China’ and Chinese entities that are always capable of imposing themselves on African actors who wield no autonomy, influence or leverage. Instead of domination and imposition, the case studies show dynamic interactions, influence, resistance and different forces that shape the terms of Ghanaian and Chinese interactions. Finally, through an investigation of how marginalised local communities attempt to resist the appropriation of their lands by transnational Chinese actors, the study shows how local resistance elicits state response to deal with perceived threats to the environment, safety and security. While negotiations and resistance in Ghana point to evidence of agency, they also point to much more. They reflect real oppositional politics borne out of struggle against marginalisation, inequality and injustice embedded in historical, local and global context of dispossession and accumulation, domination and exploitation, and poverty in the midst of wealth.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
Citation for previous publication
Isaac Odoom, “Dam in, Cocoa Out; Pipes in, Oil Out: China’s involvement in Ghana’s energy Sector”, Journal of Asian and African Studies, (2015) 1–23 DOI: 0021909615599419

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