China’s influence in Africa – notes on a loaded question

As the panel discussion by VIDC with Anzetse Were, Jue Wang and Cornelia Staritz commenced a lot of thoughts were going through my head. How do we, in the North and specifically in Austria, see influence as a concept especially in the realms of development cooperation.

Industry near river Nile in Kampala, Uganda

During the panel a lot of interesting points were raised. Jue Wang focussed her talk on the investments of Chinese stakeholders in different African country and pointed out that even though most investments are in manufacturing, generally a wide field of investments is being approached. The approach to foreign direct investment (FDI), which itself had a massive influence in the development of the Chinese development, is quite different to the aid work typically provided by countries of the Global North. The three points that interested me the most were:

  • Investment into Chinese special economic zones came, according to Wang, to a big part from Chinese diaspora and nearby countries. Is this a way to reintroduce the brain-drain, which is very much experienced by African countries, and a model which could be adapted?
  • As climate change has more severe effects and the Chinese government introduces stricter standards, is FDI a way to find places which offer lower standards and/or wages. What effects are to be expected for the growth of sustainable industries, as many African countries have higher standards for environmental protections?
  • Many African nations particularly in Eastern and Southern Africa built their independence from a socialist ideology, such as Ujamaa in Tanzania, which is different to the Chinese development but still builds on similar values. As well as the additional common denominator of being a place of conquest for Europeans. Which role do identity politics and similarity of history play in creating a more level playing field when it comes to investments?

Secondly Anzetse Were a development economist from Kenya was pointing out several different notions about FDI in general but also specifically from China. Her input on the issues of special economic zones as being significantly more advantaged than local production, which in turn disincentivises local production and specifically scaling up and formalizing business practices. The development of capacities and skills, creating a spill-over for the local economy is instead a dual process working separately. The increase in wages however is undeniable and investment capacities can be built through this system, but industry development is not underway. The two most poignant observations and burning questions were:

  • The lack of specialization and regionally value chain which were pointed out by Were led to each nation trying to build a diverse portfolio of industries but scaling up is limited. What are the true costs of focus and what is the difference between specialization and monocultures of business?
  • Secondly, even though governments are looking towards formalisation as a tool to generate tax revenue, how realistic and beneficial are these practices on a local level. Lack of infrastructure, culminating in different hurdles such as high electricity cost, lack of grid systems, etc. are not a benefit to micro and small businesses. However, looking towards the cost of formalization through taxes but also standards for workers health, environmental protections, etc. what is a realistic approach to create a framework for these businesses? What role could investments to the local level play in this regard?

Both Were and Cornelia Staritz pointed out that initiatives for indigenous businesses are still few and far between.  Adding that the development of good policies for local African economies lay with the governments, in order to avoid just being a gateway due to beneficial trade deals and circumventing taxes. The responsibility lies with the African governments which as nations like Ethiopia show can have a very strong hand in shaping policies with positive long-term effects.

Areal foto of an industrial zone in Johannesburg, South Africa

During the Q&A part of the panel Were also raised attention that especially historically Europeans tend to infantilize African governments and at the same time downplay the horrors of colonialism by equating China to a colonial power. Rather than seeing China’s influence as a pure negative or positive I would suggest learning from their practices, creating pro-active strategies for development which don’t reinforce neo-colonial patterns and give everyone a seat at the table.

If you have further research on this topic feel free to contact me via E-Mail or leave a comment below.

lower damm of the Katse Dam in Lesotho
by Sarah Kusché



Globaler Süden, wo bist du?

Der Begriff Globaler Süden kommt aus den Gebieten der Entwicklungszusammenarbeit wie der Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie. Im Rahmen der Arbeit “Süd-Nord – lernen aus schnellwachsenden urbanen Regionen” (Kusché 2019) konnte im Rahmen von Interviews und mit Hilfe von mental maps festgestellt werden, dass Raumplaner*innen den Begriff selten bis gar nicht nutzen. Die meisten beschrieben den Begriff als schwammig und unklar, außerdem gäbe es Begriffe die präziser seien und mit Indikatoren beschrieben werden können. Wozu also etwas ändern?

Beginnen wir mit dem Konzept des Globalen Südens, es bricht mit denen gängigen Mustern von Staaten als Containerräume. Nicht die konstruierte Grenze die ein Gebiet von anderen unterscheidet, sondern die Beziehung der Ressourcen des Raums stehen im Vordergrund. Relationale Raumverständnisse, wie Matrina Löw sie beschreibt, sind schlichtweg komplexer zu kommunizieren und in der Planung verständlich zu machen als das traditionellere Containerraumverständnis. Dabei geht jedoch ein essentieller Aspekt von Raum verloren, den die meisten aus ihrem Alltag gut kennen. In wohlhabenden Ländern gibt es Orte die Ausbeutung erfahren und andererseits gibt es Länder die viel Ausbeutung erfahren in denen Orte bestehen, die von dieser Ausbeutung profitieren.

Glokal (2012) definiert dabei den Globalen Süden wie folgt:

Mit dem Begriff Globaler Süden wird eine im globalen System benachteiligte gesellschaftliche, politische und ökono-mische Position beschrieben. Globaler Norden hingegen bestimmt eine mit Vorteilen bedachte Position. Die Einteilung verweist auf die unterschiedliche Erfahrung mit Kolonialismus und Ausbeutung, einmal als vor allem Profitierende und einmal als vornehmlich Ausgebeutete. Während in Begriffen wie „Entwicklungsländer“ eine hierarchisierende eurozentrische Vorstellung von „Entwicklung“ zum Ausdruck kommt, der diese Länder zu folgen hätten, wird mit dem Begriffspaar Globaler Süden bzw. Norden versucht, unterschiedliche politische, ökonomische und kulturelle Positionen im globalen Kontext zu benennen. Die Einteilung in Süd und Nord ist nur bedingt geographisch gedacht. Australien gehört beispielsweise genau wie Deutschland mehrheitlich dem Globalen Norden an, aber es gibt in beiden Ländern auch Menschen, die Teil des Globalen Südens sind, zum Beispiel Aboriginal Australians und illegalisierte Personen. Andersherum gibt es auch in Ländern, die mehrheitlich dem Globalen Süden angehören, Menschen, die die bevorteilte Position des Globalen Nordens genießen, sei es, weil sie Weiß sind oder weil sie aufgrund ökonomischer Ressourcen zur global privilegierten Klasse gehören

Wo liegt also der Globale Süden? Besonders wenn klassische koloniale Ausbeutungsmuster längst nicht mehr die einzigen sind. In den folgenden Einträgen werden einige der Ideen zum Wissenstransfer vom Globalen Süden in den Globalen Norden beschrieben. Das Machtgefälle und die Dynamiken, die teilweise kurzfristig, aber oft auch sehr langeandauernd sind, sollen dabei nicht vernachlässigt werden.

Haben Sie eine Vorstellung wo der Globale Süden lokalisiert ist? Was sind Orte des Globalen Südens in Ihrer Umgebung? Schreiben Sie es in die Kommentare.


The 5 most beautiful places in Lesotho


In the middle of the mountains you’ll find a beautiful lodge that offers horse-trekking and gives you a unique few into Basotho-life. I recommend this for anyone who doesn’t have prior connections with Basotho people, and like to learn about their culture, tradition and housing, without being super intrusive. But even for me it was a great and relaxing experience, you find yourself in the middle of nowhere and see just how beautiful this country is.

The couple that runs the lodge (was in contact with Jackie) is really nice, and understood our “special” needs.

For more information check out:


Katse Dam

It’s a really weird and impressive place. The dam in Katse Dam is a huge structure, that is very impressive. I visited the site 3 times, the tour of the dam is very nice and the lodge close by VERY fancy. The village Katse seems to be in two parts the “real” one where you can’t find real roads, but a gas station and a supermarket. And on the other side there is a fake one, in which you’ll find the lodge and have to pass through a security gate. Even though you feel like you just drove into Stepford the view is amazing and the food is quite good, but not really worth its money. If you want to make your experience really amazing pack for a picnic and find a spot on the terrace of the museum attached. I loved it!

katse dam


In the middle of nowhere between Maputsoe and Hlotse there is a small town at the foot of a small mountain. There are actually two reasons you should go, first of all you’ll get an awesome view of the Lesotho lowlands and secondly when you turn your head up you’ll see the most amazing dinosaur footprints. A little bit further close to a river there is another set of footprints but they are not nearly as impressive.On the downside there is no official tour or anything and you should better ask the chief of the village if you are allowed to go up there so it’ll cost a bit of patience and money, but it really is worth it.
If you should go though please be careful, it is a beautiful place don’t take rocks or other stuff away. So many precious artifacts have been stolen from the Kingdom of Lesotho and to steal from a country that already has little is really a shameful thing.



In the middle of the Maluti Mountains you really feel like you are visiting another world. It’s beautiful and peaceful. Most people go there if they really want to become one with nature, you can do awesome tracks and other stuff like that. Though when I was there it was too cold to even move. The night sky is amazing because there are no lights for miles, and there are no other distractions.

Thaba Tseka (31)


The highest pub in the world, supposedly, need I say more. Even though traveling up there by car from South Africa might be one of the most dangerous you’ll ever do, this is the place that you actually feel like “the king of the world” standing at the top on the edge to nowhere is such a beautiful feeling. I was only there for a few hours but just looking down this crazy road that almost killed me…it is breathtaking. And there are monkey’s 😉

I hope this helps you if you are visiting Lesotho, or any of the future volunteers of the St. Lukes Mission in Maputsoe. Who kept on asking me for nice places. Please be considerate and respect that you are going into a country where things are handled a bit differently. If in doubt always ask the towns Chief for permission to enter the village or his terretory.

Salang hantle,