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in Africa
A Threat to Democratization?
Scott Zuke

ABSTRACT As Chinas influence in Sub-Saharan Africa has expanded rapidly over the past decade, a popular narrative has emerged that it is propping up dictators and setting back the course of democratization in the continent. This paper presents a systematic approach for answering the question, How has Chinese economic engagement impacted democratization in Sub-Saharan Africa? Measuring economic engagement in terms of foreign direct investment and trade to determine in which countries China is most heavily involved, and comparing against indices of freedom and democracy in African nations reveals no clear linkage between Chinese engagement and the stalling or decline of democracy, although isolated case studies serve as warnings for potential risks of Chinas development strategy within autocratic regimes.

Table of Contents
Introduction...................................................................................................................................................... 3 Literature Review ........................................................................................................................................... 6 Advantages of Democracy ........................................................................................................................................... 7 Understanding Africa .................................................................................................................................................... 7 Methodology .................................................................................................................................................. 10 Economic Engagement .............................................................................................................................................. 10 Democratization ........................................................................................................................................................... 13 Classification .................................................................................................................................................................. 15 Table 1: Country Classifications (2009) ............................................................................................................... 17 Initial Findings .............................................................................................................................................. 18 Table 2: Country Classifications 2001 vs. 2009 ................................................................................................. 19 Causal Mechanisms...................................................................................................................................... 21 Analysis ........................................................................................................................................................... 23 Aggregate Mechanisms.............................................................................................................................................. 23
Autocracy Preference ...............................................................................................................................................................23 Resource Preference/Curse...................................................................................................................................................23 Debt Burden..................................................................................................................................................................................24 Corruption Breeds Corruption .............................................................................................................................................25 Erosion of Press Freedom.......................................................................................................................................................26 What Went Wrong in Angola?...............................................................................................................................................27 Zimbabwe: The Outlier ............................................................................................................................................................30 Zambia: A Model for Controlled Chinese Engagement?.............................................................................................31

Cases .................................................................................................................................................................................. 27

Recommendations ....................................................................................................................................... 35 Conclusion ...................................................................................................................................................... 37 Appendix A: Summary Sheet .................................................................................................................... 38 Appendix B: Data Tables............................................................................................................................ 39 References ...................................................................................................................................................... 44

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Over the last decade China has risen to become a major player in global investment and development assistance, even outpacing the World Bank in lending to developing nations in 2009-2010.1 The effects of its rapidly expanding foreign investment programs have been especially noticeable in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where Chinas willingness to engage with autocratic regimes, often in exchange for lucrative oil and mineral extraction deals, has created a sense of anxiety among Western governments and donor organizations, and inspired ominous reporting by scholars and the media. Reports are often sprinkled with allusions to neo-colonialism. Hungry for resources and willing to turn a blind eye to Africa's less savoury leaders, China has capitalised on the void left by departing colonisers and is now the continent's biggest trading partner,2 an article for The Telegraph begins. The Economists article titled, China: The New Colonialists, is even more abrupt. Articles and other publications on Chinas rise in Africa typically come in just two varieties: non-judgmental reports on the macroeconomic impact of Chinese trade and foreign direct investment on Africas developing economies, or charged attacks on Chinas methods, building from anecdotal evidence of problems caused in one country and then mentioning that Chinas role is growing in many other countries as well. Chinas development work is often characterized as exploitative, corrupting, supportive of autocracy over democracy, and just part of a larger geopolitical strategy to stand up to the West, whatever the cost may be to the citizens in developing nations. As Human Rights Watch puts it: [Chinas] burgeoning economy and thirst for natural resources have led it to play a more assertive international role, but it has studiously avoided using that influence to promote human rights. Instead, it insists on dealing with other governments, in the words of President Hu Jintao, without any political strings. Indeed, Chinas position on human rights ranges from indifference to hostility.3 The report goes on to make other common claims, such as that Chinas oil deals with Sudan propped up the government forces during the slaughter in Darfur, that it has directly supported President Mugabes war on his people in Zimbabwe, and that its no-strings-attached loans to Angola effectively undermined efforts by the Inernational Monetary Fund to promote greater government transparency and prevent corruption.4 China is increasingly characterized in the press as a rogue donor, implementing a global development strategy that is, most charitably, described as amoral, in that it focuses on rapid economic growth while showing blatant disregard for the cherished notions held by traditional Western donors, such as human rights, good governance, rule of law, and democracy.
1 2 3 4

Dyer, Anderlini, and Sender, Chinas Lending Hits New Heights. Laing, Zambian Election a Referendum on China. Roth, World Report 2007, 8. Ibid., 10.

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This paper aims to address the last point on that list, and answer the question: How has Chinese economic engagement impacted democratization in Sub-Saharan Africa? The question itself is not new, and there are plenty of strongly-held opinions on the subject, usually based on anecdotal evidence and skepticism towards Chinas unique style of development policy. A recent report on democratization trends in Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring, for example, only gives a paragraph to the issue of Chinas influence, but its representative of the increasingly mainstream view, so I include it here at length: While China has expanded its economic presence throughout the continent in the past decade, it has often focused its engagement on the regions autocratic and poorly governed states (e.g. Zimbabwe, Sudan, Guinea, and Angola). This has resulted in budget transfers, at times to the tune of several billion dollars, to regimes that would otherwise face internal and external pressure for governance reform. China has also been a major arms supplier to these regimes, sometimes in violation of United Nations sanctions. Moreover, China has actively promoted a return to the principle of state sovereignty or noninterference as part of its engagement approach on the continent. Unsurprisingly, this concept is very popular with Africas autocrats who would welcome a reversion to an era of impunity for human rights abuses and humanitarian catastrophe. China has also presented itself as offering an alternate governance model to the emerging democratic norms on the continent. The notion that autocracies can deliver rapid development and stability, while refuted by a long track record of disastrous autocratic performance on the continent, provides a popular platform from which Africas political leaders can justify their extended tenures in power.5 Not all experts are as condemning. Deborah Brautigam, widely considered an authority on SinoAfrican political and economic relations, shares certain criticisms of Chinas methods, but is generally more open-minded about its alternative approach to international development. Responding to claims that China hurts efforts to strengthen democracy in Africa, she says that there are two prerequisite questions that need to be answered: First: what would the situation be like without China? Has Chinas entry changed the playing field significantly? Second (and more controversially): have political conditions attached by other donors to foreign aid been effective in improving human rights and democracy in Africa? Is Chinas lack of political conditionality thus rolling back a wave of progress?6 Her conclusion, based on much personal experience and anecdotal evidence, is that Chinas negative impact on democracy in Africa is Less than you probably think. The views from both sides of the debate are certainly well informed and theoretically plausible, but whats missing is a systematic study focused on examining the scope of Chinese engagement in Africa, and its measurable impact on democratization trends there. This study is an attempt to
5 6

Africa and the Arab Spring: A New Era of Democratic Expectations, 28. Brautigam, The Dragons Gift, 2845.

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fill that void. In this paper I will present a methodology for analyzing Chinas engagement in Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically in economic terms of foreign direct investment (FDI) and trade. I will then cross-reference this information against democratization trends at the country level in order to determine whether this form of engagement has been detrimental to democracy in Africa. A significant portion of the paper will be spent analyzing several theoretical causal mechanisms that are frequently cited as ways in which Chinas economic engagement in Africa could be undermining good governance. Before launching into that methodology, however, the next few pages will introduce some of the primary literature that has informed this study. I would also like to acknowledge Amb. Susan Schwab of the Maryland School of Public Policy, and Joseph Siegle of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, who provided insightful and informative feedback on early drafts of this paper. Their expertise and shared fascination with this topic were an invaluable source of motivation.

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Literature Review
China has been economically and politically engaged with Africa for nearly half a century, but only after its surge over the past decade has it gained much attention from scholars, international aid and financial organizations, and the press. In reviewing the most relevant and informative literature, I begin with a central text by Deborah Brautigam, and then move on to sources that explain the merits of democracy over autocracy, and finally to several texts that provide general and case-oriented information on Sub-Saharan African nations. These sources cover historical context, Chinas rising influence in the region, and discussions of other factors at play in determining SSAs democratization trajectory, among other things. Brautigam, Deborah. The Dragons Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa (2009) The Dragons Gift is considered by many experts to be the authoritative text on Chinas economic policy in Africa. Drawing on 30 years of research and fieldwork in China and Africa, Brautigam aims to remove fears that China is a rogue donor, unraveling 60 years of Western aid and development progress through its amoral investment and development strategies. Chinas rise in Africa is cause for some concern, she writes, but it need not evoke the level of fear and alarm raised by some who have condemned Chinas aid and engagement as destabilizing, bad for governance, and unlikely to help Africa to end poverty.7 The Dragons Gift covers the history of Chinas foreign aid and development policy, provides a detailed explanation of its current aid and economic engagement process, and gives an evaluation of how Chinas approach differs in style and scope from that of traditional donors. In the final chapter, Brautigam addresses the Myths and Realities of Chinas rise in the region, including recurring storylines about the supposed dangers of its methods, such as: Chinese Aid: Its All about Oil/Minerals/Resources China Enables Sudan to Get Away with Murder in Darfur China Hurts Efforts to Strengthen Democracy and Human Rights in Africa Chinese Support Kept Robert Mugabe in Power in Zimbabwe China is Making Corruption Worse

The third point is clearly of interest to this study, but the others will be involved as well. As thorough and helpful as the book may be for filling in the background information, it only briefly discusses Chinas impact on democratization specifically. Brautigam reasonably argues that, if China is not a democracy, it would be odd for it to try to push recipients of its investments in that direction. She also points out that mainstream donors like the World Bank have regularly given money to dictators without pushing democratic reforms. She thus expresses doubt that Chinas rise in the region has had any notable impact on governance in SSA, but she does not attempt a quantitative proof of it. The book includes many helpful graphs and likely the most complete data set on Chinas official aid and concessional loans available, spanning the period of 1996 to 2009. The set was

Ibid., 307.

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constructed partially from official Chinese government data and news releases, and then filled in by the authors estimates, as drawn from interviews and other techniques. Other experts who remain wary of Chinas development activities have described Brautigam as a China booster and China apologist. While these labels do capture her overall position, it should be noted that she has attempted to thoroughly address all of the popular criticisms of Chinas engagement in Africa either in the book or on her blog, China in Africa: The Real Story, and that she continues to voice her own set of concerns and suggestions for how China could, and should, improve its practices.

Advantages of Democracy
In The Democracy Advantage (2010), Halperin, et al. make a quantitative argument that democratic, accountable political institutions are both an end in themselves and an effective means toward development.8 Such institutions, they show through quantitative research, outperform autocracies in terms of economic growth and domestic and international security. Since the underlying argument of this report is that democracy is preferable to autocracy, this is a useful resource for responding to skepticism towards democracys ability to promote good development. It also provides a solid footing from which to begin an inquiry into Chinas particular impact on democratization trends. Another noteworthy work that lays out defenses for democracy is Dani Rodriks The Globalization Paradox (2011). Rodrik lays out at least five distinct advantages of democracy throughout the book: 1) economic stability, 2) accountability to constituents and international partners, 3) policy buy-in by the citizens, 4) a kind of creativity or diversity that benefits the global economic order, and 5) an intrinsic moral value of promoting freedom. Elsewhere he also adds an argument that democracy is necessary for countries as a whole (not simply elite individuals within them) to achieve economic growth.9

Understanding Africa
I use several books to provide general background and analysis of trends in Africa, both related and unrelated to Chinas role. China into Africa: Trade, Aid, and Influence (2008), edited by Robert I. Rotberg, contains essays by several authors, including one by Deborah Brautigam, on several topics of interest, including Chinas Africa policy, Sino-African trade and investment, Chinas oil strategy in SSA, concessional loans, and human rights. The essays include countryspecific sections, especially on hot topics like Angola and Sudan, which are helpful for filling in case studies. In Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries Are Leading the Way (2010), Steven Radelet doesnt spend a lot of time speaking to Chinas impact in Africa explicitly, but he briefly describes it as
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Halperin, Siegle, and Weinstein, The Democracy Advantage, Revised Edition, 205. Rodrik, Can You Get Rich Without Democracy?.

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uneven and as an opportunity bearing certain risks that African nations will need to be careful to manage. He reiterates many of the usual fears: the natural resource curse, building unsustainable debt burdens, worsening corruption, and violating environmental and labor standards.10 Overall, this is an optimistic book with useful historical background on democratic transitions in SubSaharan Africa. China and Africa Development Relations (2011), edited by Christopher M. Dent, is another compilation of chapters by various authors. Highlights include case studies in Sudan and South Africa and helpful tables and figures ranking Chinas bilateral trade with African countries, showing Chinas exports and imports from Africa from 1990-2008, and breaking down the regional sources of Chinas oil imports. R.M. de Moraiss 2011 article in World Affairs, titled The New Imperialism, is references both as a case study of Angola as well as a counterpoint to Brautigams more favorable stance toward Chinas role in Africa. She argues that Chinese investment in Africa is marred by low engineering and construction standards, and is even seen as fostering social stultification and regression as well as propping up corrupt regimes. This is a concentrated critique of Chinas impact on Africa, and it raises issues that are repeated frequently by western media, including news magazines like The Economist, which has written on the topic with increasing frequency. Although compellingly written, this article relies on anecdotal evidence and doesnt include quantitative data. Africa and the Arab Spring: A New Era of Democratic Expectations (2011), published by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, provides some of the most current analysis of democratic trends in SSA following 2011s Arab citizens revolt in the MENA region. It only spends one paragraph discussing Chinas role in the continent, noting Chinas focus on dealing with poorly governed states, its practice of selling arms to authoritarian regimes, and its policy of positioning itself as an alternative role model for authoritarian economic growth. These are some of the key causal mechanisms for how China may be influencing Africas democratization efforts that will be addressed in this paper. That they constitute such a small part of this report shows that there will be many other competing mechanisms influencing democracy in SSA that are unrelated to Chinas presence, so exploring these other factors will be important for determining whether Chinas influence is of a relative significance that merits concern. Paul Colliers The Bottom Billion (2007) explains why it is important in the present context to treat resource-rich countries separately from non resource-rich countries. His term, the resource curse, applies with particular force to poor countries with readily available primary commodities, such as minable ores, and especially petroleum. This label applies to many countries is the SSA region. Collier ties the resource curse not only to bad economic growth, but a breakdown in governance as well: The heart of the resource curse is that resource rents make democracy malfunction.11 Analyzing the data of resource-rich democracies, Collier finds that such nations underinvest and invest poorly due to the short-sightedness bred by frequent elections, resulting in a sharp drop in the economic growth rate (as much as 3%). Large
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Radelet, Emerging Africa, 148. Collier, The Bottom Billion, 42.

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revenues from commodities like oil also reduce a governments need to collect taxes, in turn lowering the level of public demand for accountability over government finances. Collier also finds a decrease in checks and balances associated with higher resource rents. However, he does not conclude that autocracy is, on the whole, superior to democracy. What separates a successful authoritarian regime from most others, particularly in many African nations, is ethnic diversity, which shrinks an autocrats base of support and ends up having negative impact on economic growth.12 While the resource trap is one that I will control for from the beginning, the other traps he describes (the conflict trap, landlocked with bad neighbors trap, and bad governance in a small country) will be considered in the case study analysis portion of this study as possible alternative explanations for each countrys performance.


Ibid., 4950.

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The question of how Chinese economic engagement has affected democratization in SubSaharan Africa consists of several prerequisite questions: 1. What is the extent of Chinese economic engagement in SSA? a. How can it be measured? b. What is its magnitude relative to the economic influences from Western nations? 2. Have there been observable trends of democratization in SSA? a. How is democracy to be defined and measured? b. Is it theoretically possible to attribute trends to Chinas growing role on the continent? That is, are there changes in democratic trajectories in SSA countries that coincide with the rise in Chinese economic influence? c. If so, what are the possible mechanisms driving the change?

Economic Engagement
China interacts with African economies in numerous ways. Coming from a development perspective, the most interesting figures to look at would be official aid and concessional loans (figure 1). There are also unofficial kinds of engagement that may be influential, even in relatively small transactions, such as kickbacks on development projects or military aid (i.e. arms sales). None of this information, however, is readily available in a form that allows for systematic analysis. Kickbacks occur under the table; military aid and concessional loans are occasionally reported, but often treated as state secrets; and, while China does indeed distribute official aid, it is averse to identifying it as such, since its development policy is ideologically opposed to direct assistance. China prefers to be seen as a development partner rather than an aid donor.13 Due to these constraints on the data, I have expanded the scope to include other measures of economic engagement, including Chinas foreign direct investment (FDI) flows and its level of trade with SSA countries. These are useful in two respects: first, they are traditional measures of economic engagement that are important in their own right, and second, they may act as basic proxies for the other types of economic influence mentioned above, indicating the countries where China is primarily focusing its attention and sending its people. I also control for oil and resource-rich countries by handling them separately, for reasons I will discuss later. FDI flows FDI flows represent Chinas public and private interests in individual countries and might indicate which countries 1) appear to Chinese investors to be the most lucrative opportunities, or 2) are easiest to deal with on a business level. Once we know where investors are choosing to

Mwase and Yang, BRICs Philosophies for Development Financing and Their Implications for LICs, 45.

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put their money, we can begin to examine why they are choosing the way they are. In terms of relating these figures to democratization trends, one question that is common among critics is whether these investments (much like concessional loans) might be designed to benefit only a small number of elites, or act as an alternative source of financing to western investors, who may be stricter about issues such as labor standards. In this study I use official Chinese statistics on outward FDI flows for each SSA nation between 2004 and 2010, as published by the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM). The data set is not perfectly suited for this purpose, and there are some issues with interpretation. For instance, several years for various countries show negative flows, but there is no clear explanation for what a negative flow represents, or how it is calculated. They may indicate remunerated profits from previous Chinese investments that are being counted as African investments toward China. If this is the case, it is unclear to what extent this may skew the data set if all we want to know is how much Chinese money is being invested in Africa. Since this interferes with trend analysis, I have chosen to average each countrys FDI absorption from 2004-10 and to treat any negative flow years as zero net flow. This unavoidably skews the data in other ways, but should allow for a better picture of which countries, on the whole, are receiving the most investment. To measure the relative magnitude of Chinas FDI to various countries of different population sizes, I will control the average flows on a per capita basis. Total Trade Trade is more difficult to interpret as a proxy since there is no clear theoretical link between trade and democratization. However, like FDI, it may indicate in which countries China has seen both opportunities for lucrative trade as well as a favorable climate for establishing trade deals. Its also important to note that China itself views trade promotion as a means of mutually beneficial development, along with investment and other commercial activities, and should thus be taken into consideration as an indicator of Chinas priorities as a development partner.14 Trade is a popular proxy among researchers in this field because, unlike official aid, which China treats as a state secret, trade statistics are readily available and complete. One drawback is that, depending on different reporting sources, each using different methods of calculation, there can be significant variation between different data sets reporting on trade. In this paper I use the IMFs Direction of Trade Statistics (DOTS) yearbook, which provides Chinas (Mainland, as distinguished from Hong Kong and Macau) exports and imports with individual SSA nations from 2002-2008. This is the most complete dataset I could find that detailed trade by individual trading partner, and did so Figure 1 - Total Trade working from the same reporting source.


Ibid., 4.

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Chinas trade has accelerated in recent years (figure 2), and finally surpassed the United States as Africas largest trading partner in 2009.15 In the data appendices, a quick glance over the DOTS sets shows that China is broadly integrated with Africa in terms of trade, with millions of dollars of exports going to almost every Sub-Saharan nation, and imports coming from most. The amounts, however, vary dramatically from country to country. As one report puts it, The trade between China and Africa is uneven in both terms of geographical distribution and commodity categories.16 The latter point will be discussed further below. Where natural resources are not as much of a factor, there may be other political motivations at play, which should be explored further. When identifying countries where China is most heavily engaged, I focus on total trade (exports + imports). It may also be helpful at some point to compare the magnitude of each African nations trade with China to that with the rest of the world, but again, an explanation for how trade itself influences governance is elusive, and theres no clear reason to believe that varying levels of trade represent competitive advantages or disadvantages between rival trade partners. Instead, I will control the trade data on a per capita basis in order to show proportionately where China is most engaged. Oil Exporters and Resource-Rich Countries A common argument amongst critics of Chinas role in Africa is that it is seeking to exploit resource-rich nations through extraction of primary commodities that can fuel Chinas own manufacturing industries. Mining and oil extraction are given particular scrutiny because of the amount of money involved, and the fact that benefits may only be flowing to a small group of wealthy elites who own the operations. Since it is reasonable to suspect that there are important differences in Chinas relations between resource-rich and non-rich nations, I will treat them separately when looking at democratization trends later. For a list of resource-rich countries in the region, I refer to a diagram in Brautigams book and a table in a Brookings working paper by John Page. As a rough indicator for oil wealth, I have used UNCTAD data to flag the top five SSA countries for 2009 in terms of total exports of petroleum, petroleum products, and related materials. Although these data sets are not specific to China, supplemental research has found them to be generally consistent with the latest statistics on Chinas oil providers, and where they differ is also important to note. For example, while Nigeria is by far Africas leading oil producer, it is not a significant exporter to China. Angola is Chinas chief provider of oil from SSA, followed by Sudan, the Republic of Congo, and Equatorial Guinea.17 A quick look at the Summary table shows that each of these countries has an abysmal Freedom and Polity score. Controlling for oil and resource-rich countries is thus an important step for evaluating possible links between economic influences and democratization trends.

15 16 17

Wonacott, In Africa, U.S. Watches Chinas Rise. Yong, Chinas Trade Rush with Africa. Alessi and Hanson, Expanding China-Africa Oil Ties.

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Chinese Aid Deborah Brautigam is the authoritative source for estimates and analysis of Chinese official aid and other financial flows such as concessional loans through its Eximbank. Unfortunately, since China only occasionally announces official figures, the data set is fairly limited, and only covers Africa as a whole, not country-by-country. As clearly seen in Figure 2, both forms of transfer have increased markedly over the last decade. Brautigams data is helpful for drawing broad conclusions about Chinas level of economic influence in Africa, particularly in comparison to Western donors and investors. However, it will not be sufficient to make county-level observations about democratic trends and their potential causes.


Figure 2 - Aid and Concessional Loans

Underlying this study is a normative argument, based on the democratic theory of Amartya Sen, that democracy is intrinsically and instrumentally valuable for promoting human rights and wellbeing. As David Crocker analyzes Sens position, democracy is intrinsically good because it enables citizens to participate politically and this freedom is something people have reason to value intrinsically.18 Democracy enables political and civil participation, which is good in that it promotes personal agency and capabilities, rather than leaving a person dependent upon the good will of others. Sen also claims instrumental values for democracy: Democracies have the good consequences of not warring against each other, and in bad times democracies are more responsive than nondemocracies to the importance of protecting human agency (voice) and well-being.19 This view is also held by the authors of The Democracy Advantage, who claim there are quantifiable benefits for long-term economic growth compared to autocracies. As a practical matter, however, there are many ways to define democracy and to measure democratization over time. To analyze country-level democratization trends in SSA, I use two respected and oft-cited data sets that tend to correlate closely with each other, although they approach the defining characteristics of democracy somewhat differently.

18 19

Crocker, Ethics of Global Development, 301. Ibid., 302.

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Polity IV Country Reports The Polity IV data set, published by the Center for Systemic Peace, grades each countrys system of government on a scale from -10 (hereditary monarchy) to 10 (institutionalized democracy). A score below -6 qualifies as an autocracy, above 6 as a democracy, and anywhere in between is intermediate, or mixed classification, which the authors label anocracy. According to the projects description, The Polity scheme consists of six component measures that record key qualities of executive recruitment, constraints on executive authority, and political competition. It also records changes in the institutionalized qualities of governing authority.20 In short, it focuses on democratic institutions. At the country level, this approach typically yields sudden and dramatic changes whenever governments are reformed or overthrown. The set also includes a way to code countries that are in multi-year irregular periods (foreign interruptions or occupations, interregnum or anarchic periods, and transitional periods, during which changes in score are prorated across the span of the transition). The institutional approach is worth looking at, but is susceptible to criticism that it fails to capture the true essence of the state of social and political freedom as a countrys people experience it. It may also suggest that democracy promoters are trying to transplant political institutions into countries without regard for historical context or cultural norms. For this reason, I think it is more useful to focus on the Figure 3 advantages of democracy as a social/political norm or concept rather than as the nuts and bolts of elections, etc. That is, it is better to skip to measuring the ends of meaningful political rights and civil liberties than to the means of achieving them through democratic institutions. The next data set seeks to fill this role. Freedom in the World Scores The annual Freedom in the World reports published by Freedom House rank countries on a scale of 1 to 7, 1 being the most free and 7 being the least free. Countries fall within three broad categories on this scale: A Free country is one where there is broad scope for open political competition, a climate of respect for civil liberties, significant independent civic life, and independent media. [Score of 1-2] A Partly Free country is one in which there is limited respect for political rights and civil liberties. Partly Free states frequently suffer from endemic corruption,

Marshall and Jaggers, Polity IV Country Reports 2010.

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weak rule of law, and ethnic or religious strife, and they often feature a single political party that enjoys dominance despite a faade of limited pluralism. [Score of 3-5] A Not Free country is one where basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied. [Score of 6-7]21 The Freedom score is an average of two separate indices measuring political rights and civil liberties. Rather than democratic institutions, this is more of a focus on human rights and other civic values that are positively associated with democratic governance and society. The advantage of the approach is that it allows for the observation of more subtle and gradual changes within a country over time than can often be found by strictly observing institutions, Figure 4 which by their nature are usually less fluid. For this reason, as well as those stated above, I give priority to the Freedom score as an indicator of democratic trajectories in SSA nations. On the Summary sheet, I include a column for each countrys Freedom Score classification (Free, Partly Free, or Not Free) as of 2009.

Sub-Saharan Africas 48 countries (not counting South Sudan) constitute a fairly large and diverse data set compared with other regions like Asia or the Americas. To help organize the set for further analysis, I sort them into a 3x2 table, with measures of Chinese economic engagement on one axis, and freedom score categorizations on the other:
Country Classifications Free A D Partly Free B E Not Free C F

Chinese Engagement Little Chinese Engagement

The C cell encapsulates the hypothesis being tested in this study: that countries that have greater economic engagement with China through trade, aid, loans, etc., are either autocracies that have persisted due to Chinas support, or democracies/anocracies that have stalled or backslid their democratization process because of Chinas growing presence. The A cell is the antithesis:

Windsor, Freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa 2009: A Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties, 2.

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countries that sustain both freedom and democracy as well as high levels of engagement with China. The B cell, consisting of Partly Free countries with high economic engagement with China, serves to make the distinction between the two extremes more pronounced, while also highlighting how many countries are somewhere in between, and would be more difficult to compare with one another. Cells D, E, and F act as controls, showing that other factors besides Chinese economic engagement may impact democratization trends. The Free/Partly Free/Not Free classifications come straight from Freedom Houses Freedom in the World index for 2009. The classification for Chinese economic engagement, however, is more subjective and requires further explanation. A country is considered to have significant economic engagement with China if it is among the top 15 SSA nations in terms of either 1) Chinese FDI inflow per capita, or 2) total trade with China per capita. Using per capita measures controls for population The choice of focusing on the top 15 in either criterion yielded a fairly even split of the data set, with 21 being deemed to have Chinese engagement, and 27 to have relatively little engagement. Within each column, countries are divided into either resource poor or resource rich subcolumns. The top oil exporters are emphasized in bold for additional clarification. Sorting each country by these criteria results in Table 1.

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Table 1: Country Classifications (2009)

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Initial Findings
Table 1 is intended to pack a lot of information into an easily readable format, and right away we can make some interesting observations. Most glaringly, of the Not Free countries that China deals with most heavily, none are resource poor. Four of them are top oil exporters. Nigeria, Sub-Saharan Africas largest oil exporter, deals almost exclusively with the West, and thus falls below the line into the row of countries with little Chinese engagement, as one would expect. The resource poor countries that engage with China are notably small populations. All seven of them together have about the population of Angola alone. This is likely a result of the fact that I controlled the FDI and trade numbers on a per capita basis, which means that even minor interactions are weighted more heavily in the small nations. Is this a problem? Not necessarily, since there are plenty of other small population countries that fall into the bottom row. For now, let us assert that higher FDI and trade per capita translates loosely into greater economic influence or engagement, although this is an assertion that should certainly be revisited and evaluated later. Also note that there is a fairly even distribution across the Freedom Score scale for countries with significant Chinese engagement: 6 Free, 7 Partly Free, and 8 Not Free. I will return to this point in greater detail later. To begin analyzing democratic trends over time, we can compare the 2009 table (bottom chart on Table 2, below) with one based on 2001 data (top), before China was a major economic player in the region.

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Table 2: Country Classifications 2001 vs. 2009



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The bottom chart highlights countries that improved their Freedom Score ranking over the time period in blue, and one that regressed in red. That is, we can see that Congo went from Partly Free in 2001 to Not Free in 2009, and that Liberia and Lesotho, as well as a handful of other countries with little Chinese presence, improved their rank in that time. This is somewhat encouraging, as we are not seeing a major flight of countries with heavy economic engagement with China into lower Freedom levels. The one that did migrate for the worse is a resource rich major oil exporter, a recurring trend that suggests the presence of oil may have a stronger impact on freedom trends than anything unique to Chinas approach to economic development. On the other hand, the fact that there is more progress seen amongst those countries with little Chinese engagement does leave the door open to concerns that, while democratization has not really declined significantly since Chinas rise in SSA, perhaps it is not progressing at the rate that it would have otherwise.

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Causal Mechanisms
The tables, while interesting as visual aids, can only lead us into speculation about the counterfactual of how SSA would have fared without Chinas arrival as a major player. We still require a theory to explain how Chinas economic engagement could negatively impact democratization in Africa. For this I will be looking for evidence of several causal mechanisms that are most frequently cited as explanations for how Chinas economic engagement with Africa may be undermining democratization. Five of these mechanisms can be evaluated at the aggregate level, based on the broad datasets already discussed: 1. Autocracy Preference. China, being an autocracy itself, prefers to deal with other autocracies, and thus chooses to lend them more support over democracies. This preference acts as incentive to countries that wish to build closer ties with China. 2. Resource Curse. Chinas economic engagement in Africa often follows a tied aid model, in which financing is backed by natural resource extraction resulting from infrastructure investment. To the Chinese, this arrangement appears safer for investment, but economies built upon natural resources, especially oil, tend to focus profits into the hands of a relatively few, wealthy, elite individuals, rather than society as a whole. It also increases the chances of corruption, which may undermine democratization by harming citizens trust in public institutions and public-private partnerships. 3. Debt Burden. Through questionable lending practices, China allows autocracies to build huge debt burdens that a reformed government would be unable to pay, and would thus face a sovereign debt crisis before democratization has a chance to establish itself on solid footing. 4. Corruption Breeds Corruption. China is ranked near the bottom of major economies for perceived corruption and likelihood to pay bribes in order to win business abroad (second only to Russia).22 This may make corruption worse in already-struggling SSA nations by channeling money and power into the wrong hands. 5. Erosion of Press Freedom. In order to defend the public image of its economic development activities, China has begun to expand its state-run media in Africa, and some critics suggest that it has manipulated local media outlets by encouraging them to air positive, nationalist stories about development progress rather than divisive, negative stories about corruption, misuse of public funds, or the misdeeds of foreign investors.23 With growing numbers of journalists censored, intimidated, and jailed, there is concern that press freedom, a vital component of democratic governance, is on the decline in Africa.
22 23

Corruption Perceptions Index 2011. Keita, Africas Free Press Problem.

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For three other mechanisms, we will have to drill down into country-level data or anecdotal evidence to draw conclusions: 6. Authoritarian Role Model. Through its extraordinary history of rapid economic growth, lifting half a billion people out of poverty in a few decades, China sets an example to other authoritarians seeking to retain power by delivering economic growth, however dubious. China does not actively discuss or promote democracy, and it occasionally releases statements to disparage or embarrass Western donors. Despite evidence showing that Chinas authoritarian growth model does not produce the same results elsewhere, the model has gained popularity in recent years.24 7. Unconditional Aid. Unlike Western donors, Chinas loans and official aid come without conditionalities that are meant to push aid recipients toward democratization or (more generally) liberalization. According to the theory, recipient countries happily accept Chinas largesse as an easier alternative to Western aid that pushes an agenda that would upset the autocrats grip on power. 8. Undercutting Development. China is also criticized for the way it does development work. With loans tightly managed by the Chinese, who give high priority to securing mutual benefit, there is little local autonomy over how funds are spent. Cheap Chinese laborers are imported in droves, stealing some economic benefits from the indigenous workforce, and in many places there are inhumane labor and safety standards for those who do find work. And there are issues of sustainability, both environmentally and in terms of maintaining infrastructure, which is often poorly constructed to begin with. Finally, by focusing mainly on oil and mineral extraction (result of the tied aid approach), China is criticized for neglecting multi-sector development, which is considered necessary for more balanced and sustainable economic growth. On the surface, these issues may have more to do directly with economic than democratic development, but it is certainly worth considering the oppressive effects of lack of autonomy, unemployment, mistreatment, etc.


Rodrik, The Myth of Authoritarian Growth.

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Analysis Aggregate Mechanisms

Autocracy Preference Looking at the table, one of the first things that can be analyzed is the distribution of countries between the columns. Of the 21 nations found to have significant economic engagement with China, six are classified as Free, seven as Partly Free, and eight as Not Free. There is a 50/50 split of all the Not Free countries between those with significant Chinese engagement and those without. This fairly even distribution casts serious doubt on one of the causal mechanismsthat China has a marked preference for dealing with autocratic nations, which could give those countries economic benefits (i.e. incentives) over free countries. Resource Preference/Curse On the contrary, the distribution makes a stronger case for availability of extractable resources as a primary motivation for Chinese investment, aid, and trade. Two-thirds (14 out of 21) of the countries classified as resource-rich have a strong Chinese economic presence, and among those are four of the top five oil exporters in SSA. Nigeria, which sells its oil to the West, is the only major oil exporter to make it into the Partly Free ranks (China is nevertheless its largest source of imports). As to whether all of this indicates a resource curse, it is worth noting that 11 of the 14 (79%) resource-rich countries are rated below Free. Including the countries with little Chinese engagement, 17 out of 21 (81%) rank either Partly Free or Not Free. The resource poor countries fare somewhat better. Seventy-eight percent are rated less than Free, but compared to the resource rich countries, the proportion is weighted much heavier toward Partly Free than Not Free. These findings for SSA align closely with the global trends. According to Joseph Siegle, Over 70 per cent of all hydrocarbon-rich countries are autocracies.25 In a study of the phenomenon, he concludes that, The easily consolidated nature of hydrocarbon extraction makes petroleumrich states particularly susceptible and resistant to transparency, accountability and supervision that are needed to ensure the revenues generated benefit most people,26 and that the best remedy for the curse is to support and advance democratic institutions that promote these goals. The question, however, is who is going to promote this kind of democratization, and how? China, the country most directly involved in fueling the growth of extractive industries in these countries through its tied aid approach is certainly not in the democracy promotion business, and, as Siegle also points out, Resource-rich autocracies have little need for the aid on which many
25 26

Siegle, Governance Strategies to Remedy the Natural Resource Curse, 45. Ibid., 55.

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[Western] reform initiatives are conditioned.27 The resource curse is a real problem in SubSaharan Africa, and Chinas evident preference for engaging with these countries, and in fact actively promoting oil and resource extracting industries that serve to consolidate power for a few at the expense of the many, is a strong critique that can be made about its approach to development. Deborah Brautigam, however, contends the myth that Chinas development strategy is solely concerned with extracting oil and minerals to channel back East. She notes that, China gives aid to every single country in sub-Saharan Africa that follows the One China policy (emphasis hers),28 and that it pursues many and diverse other kinds of business with them. She quotes a Nigerian diplomat who once told her, The Chinese are trying to get involved in every sector of our economy. If you look at the West, its oil, oil, oil, and nothing else. That it was a Nigerian who told her this somewhat undercuts her point. As already mentioned, Nigeria is not a major oil provider for China (it represented about .6% of Chinas total oil imports in 2009, according to one report29), nor does it have significant economic engagement with China in terms of FDI or trade. And while its risky to read too much into it at this point, its hard to ignore the fact that, after dealing primarily with Western nations rather than China over the past decade, Nigeriawith the largest oil exports in SSAhas managed to remain a stable, Partly Free anocracy, bordering on democracy. Its a unique case that stands suggestively apart from the oppressive regimes from which China does receive a significant portion of its oil. Nevertheless, her argument is validChina does engage with several resource poor countries, as Table 1 showsbut risks downplaying a real problem. By looking at FDI and trade data systematically, resources do appear to be a driving factor in determining where China chooses to put its investments. And by adding the dimension of democracy and individual liberties, we see that this resource preference is, more often than not, channeling money into the hands of nondemocratic regimes. Debt Burden The Wests concern that China is creating unsustainable debt burdens on developing nations in Africa is a reflection of Chinas preference for developmental loans over official aid or grants. There is a vast literature debating the merits and risks of either strategy, going well beyond the scope of this study. Determining what constitutes a sustainable ratio of public debt to GDP is complex and dependent upon each countrys specific situation, but we can make some basic observations, such as the fact that advanced economies can typically shoulder greater debt without scaring away investors. Therefore, we would hope to find lower levels of public debt in developing economies.

27 28 29

Ibid., 46. Brautigam, The Dragons Gift, 278. Swartz and Hall, Nigeria, China Sign Major Oil Deal.

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As it turns out, Chinese economic engagement doesnt appear to be a significant influence on public debt. Dividing data from the CIA World Factbook30 on public debt as a percentage of GDP into our two categories yields almost identical averages for countries with and without Chinese engagement (about 36%). Going by the median, however, the Chinese-engaged category actually fares significantly better (27% vs. 37%). Sudan, with public debt at 100.8% of GDP as of 2011 is responsible for skewing the average. So where is this criticism coming from? Sudan may be part of it, but it has many problems contributing to its woes besides debt. Much of it, I suspect, is based on an extreme outlier that I excluded from the data samples: Zimbabwe. Zimbabwes public debt is a staggering 230.8% of GDP, and China is often blamed for its problems, even though there is not significant economic engagement between the two in terms of FDI or trade. Since Zimbabwe is such an unusual case, I will address it separately later in this paper. In the meantime, how might we explain why the nations in which China is more economically engaged are faring about the same, or even somewhat better in terms of publicly held debt? One possible explanation is that China is, after all, a lender seeking mutual benefiti.e., sound investment opportunities. Countries with sounder debt management may look like the better choices if its counting on a return on investment. Corruption Breeds Corruption China has an abysmal record of corruption for an advanced economy, and Chinese businessmen are widely perceived as frequently paying bribes overseas to win favorable deals. Responding to the myth that China makes corruption worse in Africa, Brautigam argues the result of Chinas rise in terms of corruption levels is Probably not worse, but definitely not better, either.31 My findings concur with her statement. As I did for comparing public debt above, I looked at average and median scores for Chineseengaged and unengaged countries for Transparency Internationals 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index. Surprisingly, the countries with Chinese economic engagement scored slightly higher than those without it, both on average (3.08 vs. 2.8) and by median (3 vs. 2.7). As expected, of the SSA nations with Chinese engagement, resource poor countries perform better on corruption levels on average than the resource-rich ones (3.43 vs. 2.86), but note that the resource-rich countries are still about the same as all of the countries with little Chinese presence. So while China is indeed working with some very corrupt regimes, such as Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, and Angola (all major oil exporters), its also engaged with the least corrupt nations in the region, like Botswana and Mauritius. Economically, it has steered clear of corrupt regimes such as Somalia, Burundi, and Chad. Using corruption perceptions data is, of course, tricky. Besides the inherent limitations on the survey methodology used to create it, its also unusable in time-series, so we cannot explore,
30 31

Data only covers 12 countries with Chinese engagement and 13 without. Brautigam, The Dragons Gift, 292.

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systematically, whether corruption has become quantitatively worse in SSA since Chinas rise in the continent. But there are a few conclusions that can be drawn based on what we know so far. First, China does not have an evident preference for working with corrupt regimesin fact, it tends to engage with less corrupt nations. Second, the notable exception to this trend is that it will engage with some of the most corrupt regimes, provided they are oil-rich and willing to export to China. And finally, a reasonable explanation for these findings is similar to what I proposed above: that China is generally careful with its money. An aversion to fraud and waste would drive it away from most corrupt countries, while the need for oil and resources would presumably draw it towards those that may have deeply engrained corruption, but of a kind that ensures lucrative and reliable resource flows. Any assertion that China causes corruption to get worse where it does business would have to depend on anecdotal evidence, as is often the case in critical media and academic accounts. Quantitatively, though, theres little to support the argument, and, as it turns out, theres actually some evidence to the contrary. Erosion of Press Freedom Chinas impact on press freedoms in Africa may be more of a concern for the near future than it has been over the past decade. Based on Freedom Houses Freedom of the Press 2012 survey, there is currently no significant difference between the average and median press freedom scores of countries with and without significant Chinese engagement.32 As a region, Sub-Saharan Africas average press score has declined in four of the past five years, consistent with global declines.33 For now, concerns about Chinas expansion into African media are based on conjecture, but are certainly worth keeping an eye on. China is acutely aware of its portrayal in Western media and, as Western journalists are increasingly covering Chinas development role in Africa, some pushback is to be expected. It is in Chinas interest to improve perceptions of its activities both within African countries as well as among the international community, so it makes sense for it to be moving state-run media operations into places like South Africa. A recent New York Times op-ed has drawn new attention to this relationship: In January, Beijing issued a white paper calling for accelerated expansion of Chinas news media abroad and the deployment of a press corps of 100,000 around the world, particularly in priority regions like Africa. In the last few months alone, China established its first TV news hub in Kenya and a print publication in South Africa. The state-run Xinhua news agency already operates more than 20 bureaus in Africa. More than 200 African government press officers received Chinese training between 2004 and 2011 in order to produce what the


Due to website renovation at the time of writing, data from 2001-10 is not readily accessible through Freedom House to do time-series analysis. Karlekar and Dunham, Freedom of the Press 2012: Breakthroughs and Pushback in the Middle East, 10.


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Communist Party propaganda chief, Li Changchun, called truthful coverage of development fueled by Chinas activities.34 Where this constitutes a threat to democratization is in places where authoritarian regimes take China as a role model for cracking down on internal dissent and restricting press freedom. Freedom Houses analysis of the changes to the press environment in recent years sounds consistent with this worry: The regional average score suffered a marginal decline, with improvements in the legal and economic categories balanced by a deterioration in the political category.35 Laws may be changing, and media outlets may be growing in numbers, but authoritarian governments are still pressuring journalists into self-censorship through intimidation and outright violence. Chinas specific role in motivating this trend should be studied in much greater depth, especially by those working at the ground level in Africa.

The remaining causal mechanisms for explaining how Chinese economic engagement could be impacting democratization in SSAthe authoritarian role model, unconditional aid, and undercutting developmentare not as easy to analyze in a systematic, aggregate way. Instead, they rely on case studies and anecdotal evidence to highlight problems in one country that may be occurring in others, or soon could occur as China expands its involvement in them. In this section I will examine three cases: First, Angola will be examined to illustrate these remaining causal mechanisms. Second, I will return to the unusual case of Zimbabwe, which seems to break the mold entirely and poses a challenge to my methodology. Finally, I will consider the more encouraging case of Zambia, which appears to be navigating the flood of Chinese investment more successfully than the others. What Went Wrong in Angola? Angola is often used as the poster child for how Chinese engagement in Africa has propped up an authoritarian regime. Chinas economic ties to the country are very deep indeed. Interestingly, by looking through the Summary sheet, it turns out to look similar to Botswana, another country with high engagement with China, but with drastically different Freedom and Polity outcomes. Both rank within the top 20 SSA countries in terms Figure 5 - Comparing Angola and Botswana of FDI flows and total trade with China (per capita), and both are resource rich. The glaring difference is that Angola has oil, while Botswana does not. Is this a clear-cut example of the resource curse at work? In part, most likely yes, but other causal mechanisms are helpful to explain why Angola has gone the autocratic route, and how China may be to blame.
34 35

Keita, Africas Free Press Problem. Karlekar and Dunham, Freedom of the Press 2012: Breakthroughs and Pushback in the Middle East, 10.

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First, some background. The Sino-Angolan relationship goes back as far as the 1960s, and the two countries established official bilateral relations almost 30 years ago, but their arrangement was not primarily an economic one until 2002, following the end of Angolas 27-year civil war. Since then, Chinas engagement has increased dramatically in terms of trade, foreign direct investment, and several major oil-backed concessional loans. Evaluating the quality of the relationship depends entirely upon the criteria of judgment. In terms of stimulating rapid economic growth, it has largely been a success. One report from CSIS goes as far as to call it a pragmatic partnership, bordering upon a perfect marriage, between China, which wants natural resources, and Angola, which wants development. From Angolas perspective, the Chinese provide funding for strategic postconflict infrastructure projects that Western donors do not fund. Chinese financing offers better conditions than commercial loans, lower interest rates, and longer repayment time.36 China came along as a willing financier at a time when Angola was unable, and perhaps to some extent unwilling, to meet the requirements and conditionalities required by the IMF and other Western donors to be eligible for financial support. This illustrates what may be a positive side of unconditional aid, but we will soon see that this mechanism is a double-edged sword. As the report continues, China provides a new model of cooperation, based on credit lines, economy, and commerce, which contrasts with Western efforts of cooperation based on aid attached to conditionality.37 Beginning in 2002, Angola was shifting to focus heavily on reconstruction and infrastructural development, and the government was happy to welcome China in to help in that effort in exchange for oil. However, the story sounds much different when told by an Angolan journalist, Rafael Marques de Morais, who believed democratization was also supposed to be a national priority following the end of the civil war. Rather than focusing solely on the macro-level economic growth, de Morais identifies one of the other mechanisms at work, the authoritarian role model: Drawing on their own experience at home, Chinas political theorists are expected by Angolan leaders to show how development can be given to the people as a substitute for civil liberties and human rights. The prize for [Angolas President] Dos Santos and his clique is an economic boom that will give them the legitimacy to continue to rule after thirty-five years in power. The prize for the Chinese is access to Angolas plentiful resources, especially oil.38 From de Morais perspective, Angolas leaders are following the Chinese model of restricting freedom and democratization in favor of economic growth, which is hoped to be sufficient to keep people from demanding greater liberty. He continues:
36 37 38

Campos and Vines, Angola and China: A Pragmatic Partnership, 18. Ibid., 19. de Morais, The New Imperialism, 69.

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Chinese intervention in Angola is widely seen as fostering social stultification and regression. It has enabled a string of political measures aimed at perpetuating the power of the presidents inner circle, while setting back internal dialogue on national reconstruction even within the ruling party itself.39 That inner circle, which de Morais refers to as the triumvirate, consists of three officials who manage relations with China as well as the company that controls the countrys oil and gas reserves. It has become, he says, an epicenter of corruption, and a patronage network, securing massive wealth and power for a few at the expense of Angolas citizens. Such economic arrangements have insulated the Dos Santos regime from the will of the Angolan people, who remain economically and politically irrelevant.40 This perspective lends some support to the argument that China acts as a rogue donor, coming to the assistance of countries in dire economic straits and offering autocratic governments a way to consolidate and perpetuate their hold on power without being subjected to the scrutiny of Western donors, who give more consideration to issues like good governance. Chinas amoral approach is understandably attractive, and in some cases helpful, but Angolas ongoing status as a Not Free country shows that there may be a downside when it comes to democratization. De Morais also takes a more critical stance than the CSIS report on the ways that China may be undercutting development in Angola, such as the importation of over 100,000 Chinese laborers and managers. These expats fill jobs that could be reserved for Angolan workers, have extremely shoddy construction standards and a disregard for public safety. The Angolan people, he says, are used to such shortcomings from Brazilian and Portugese companies that have led projects in the country in the past, but not to the massive scale of the projects being undertaken by the Chinese.41 Huge amounts of money and resources are wasted on Chinese-built roads that wash away in rainstorms and new schools whose roofs blow off in storms while nearby thatched roofs survive intact.42 As the pragmatic partnership suggests, both parties seem to be getting what they want: China is getting oil and resources, and Angola is getting economic growth. But this is only the way things look from the surface of macroeconomic analysis. Angola, after all, is not a single entity, but the sum of all its citizens, only a small fraction of whom are seeing the full benefits of the relationship. In summary, Chinas resource preference is certainly the beginning of the story of Angolas democratic struggles over the past ten years, but the other mechanisms also come into play to explain more specifically how Chinas presence as a development partner has served to prop up the countrys authoritarian regime.

39 40 41 42

Ibid., 71. Ibid., 73. Ibid., 70. Ibid., 68.

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Zimbabwe: The Outlier As mentioned earlier, Zimbabwe is a unique case, and one that poses certain challenges to my methodology that I will attempt to address here. De Morais piece on Angola was provocatively titled The New Imperialism, but Zimbabwe appears to be a much stronger example of a relationship with China that borders distressingly close to colonialism. Max Fisher wrote a 2011 article for The Atlantic summarizing Zimbabwes utter dependence on Chinese investment: Zimbabwe's combination of debt, political reliance, and now military reliance -not to mention the increasing number of local and national businesses under Chinese supervision -- has blurred the line between Chinese investment in Zimbabwe and Chinese control over Zimbabwe.43 So how did Zimbabwe end up on Table 1 among the countries with little economic engagement with China? By the numbers, it only ranks 24th out of 48 SSA countries in terms of Chinese FDI flows per capita, and 22nd in total trade per capita. It is not classified as resource rich, nor is it a major oil producer. One explanation, then, is that Zimbabwes economy is uniquely crippled. That is, it has a lot of engagement with China, but not in ways that fall within my definition of normal economic interaction. There is nothing about Zimbabwe that makes it an attractive investment. Its public debt stands at 230% of GDP, the worlds worst by a firm margin, and it is the only nation in SSA to have its GDP shrink during the last decade, from $6.3B in 2002 to $5.8B in 2009 (GDP/capita also declined from $499 to $467). Without any realistic way to pay China back on development loans, China essentially ends up owning the projects it undertakes in the country. Zimbabwe is left at Chinas mercy on various economic matters, for example: China recently paid $3 billion for exclusive access to Zimbabwe's extensive platinum rights, a contract estimated to be worth $40 billion. It might seem surprising that Mugabe would take such a lopsided deal, but platinum is both expensive and time-consuming to extract. His country has a national debt of $7.1 billion, which is larger than the national GDP, and with his regime so isolated from the international community, few other sources of investment.44 These kinds of stories may also point to a technical deficiency in my methodology, which is that the FDI data I rely upon, provided by Chinas Ministry of Commerce, may be skewed depending on its accounting practices, which are not clearly explained. For example, since China is basically running the extraction operations it has built in Zimbabwe, it may be subtracting profits that are remitted directly back to China, thus artificially depressing the FDI flows data and masking how much money is actually flowing in. Unfortunately I am unable to confirm if this is the case, and given Chinas proclivity for refusing to disclose such information, it may remain a difficult task for some time.

43 44

Fisher, In Zimbabwe, Chinese Investment With Hints of Colonialism. Ibid.

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There is also the limitation, mentioned early in this paper, that certain important kinds of engagement are impossible to account for systematically, namely arms sales and kickbacks. President Mugabe has obviously benefited from both, and the military support is particularly troubling because of how he has utilized it against his countrymen: During the 2008 political crisis, when Mugabe deployed violence to retain control of the country after declaring victory in a heavily disputed election, South African dock workers discovered that China was shipping in weapons for Mugabe's army. There's no telling what Mugabe promised in exchange for the guns he needed to maintain control, but the effect has been to deepen China's influence over what happens, and who rules, in Zimbabwe.45 This is plainly a kind of engagement by China that has important impacts on democracyor the lack thereofin Zimbabwe, but it is not, strictly speaking, economic engagement in a way that my study defines it. Why is China interested in Zimbabwe? As mentioned above, even without meeting the threshold of being considered resource-rich, deals in such things as mineral and diamond extraction can be extremely lucrative when one party has bargaining power tilted so heavily in its favor, as China does. There are various other geopolitical interests involved, as well, but another factor may be that, as has been a recurrent theme, China is typically cautious with its investments and wants to get its money back. Theres virtually no hope of Zimbabwe repaying its debts through responsible debt management and economic growth at this point, but China likely sees opportunities for other forms of exploitation as long as Mugabes regime stays in power. China may be too heavily invested in the country to willingly allow it to undergo a regime-change or democratic reforms. This is a dire picture, but a unique one that does not represent the broader forms of economic engagement taking place in other Sub-Saharan African countries. Journalists overreach when they begin discussing Chinas impact on Zimbabwe and then segue into its engagement elsewhere in the continent, as Fisher does when he ends his article with references to contemporary Chinese deals in Mauritania and Mozambique. Zambia: A Model for Controlled Chinese Engagement? Like Angola and Zimbabwe, Zambia is sometimes cited in the media as an example of the harm China is supposedly causing in Africa. The countries do have significant economic engagementZambia ranks 6th among SSA nations in Chinese FDI per capita, and they have fairly high total trade (China receives 20% of Zambias exports, and represents about 6% of its imports, according to the World Factbook). Zambia is classified as resource rich based on its copper mines, in which China has invested heavily, first through the state-run China Non-Ferrous Metals Mining Corporation (CNMC) in



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the late 90s, and subsequently through subsidiaries over the past decade, creating thousands of jobs. However, the relationship has been a rocky one: In April 2005, as many as fifty-one factory workers were killed in an explosion at the Chinese-owned BGRIMM explosives plant on the grounds of Chambishi mine. The Chinese were widely accused of lax safety standards, and observers linked the disaster with the high rate of fatalities in Chinas own mines.46 The explosion became a rallying point for anti-Chinese sentiment, which had already been approaching a boiling point due to anger over inhumane treatment and labor standards by Chinese companies. If someone dies, he can be replaced tomorrow, and if you report the problem, youll lose your job, one miner told Human Rights Watch. Based on interviews with Zambian workers, the organization reported brutally long work hours, corruption, intimidation against whistle-blowers, and a disregard for safety and health standards in Chinas mining operations.47 The report also demonstrated that while labor abuses were not unique to CNMCs mines, the CNMC-run companies generally had a worse record than their competitors in their failure to honor Zambian and international law regarding worker safety, hours at work, and freedom of association.48 However, this multitude of complaints against Chinas economic engagement in Zambia tells only half of the story. By adding the dimension of freedom and governance indicators, we see that Zambia has not fallen prey to the resource curse as others have. It is, in fact, one of the few SSA countries to show notable improvement in its Freedom scorefrom 4.5 in 2002 to between 3 and 3.5 (lower is better) in the latter half of the 2000s, due primarily to improvements in political freedoms. In Freedom Houses most recent report, Zambia received an upward trend arrow due to the conduct of the September [2011] presidential election and the peaceful transfer of power to opposition leader Michael Sata, ending two decades of rule by the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy.49 Its Polity score has also shown improvement, moving from a highrated anocracy into the range of a stable democracy following a peaceful by-election process in 2008 to pick a successor to President Mwanawasa, who died in office. The 2011 election generated a lot of press, and brought new scrutiny to Sino-African economic relations because it was turned into key element of now-President Michael Satas campaign platform, to the extent that The Telegraph declared the election a referendum on China.50 Sata had a history of sharp anti-China rhetoric, and went so far as to court Taiwan for investment, a very risky move. He ultimately defeated his pro-Chinese opponent, but interestingly, economic deals between the two countries have moved forward since September, with one paper reporting,
46 47 48 49 50

Brautigam, The Dragons Gift, 5. Wells, China in Zambia. Zambia. Puddington, Freedom in the World 2012: The Arab Uprisings and Their Global Repercussions, 22. Laing, Zambian Election a Referendum on China.

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Zambia and China are actively putting their bilateral and trade relations back on a firm footing after doubts arising from the election of a new government in Zambia.51 The story continues, Speaking in the Chinese capital, Vice-President Scott said Zambia valued China's investment and urged Beijing to ensure that it came with good jobs for the local people and that preference was given to Zambians in employment. Chinas aid and investment may still be free of conditionalities, but the Zambians acceptance of it may be becoming less so, as they work harder to ensure that China is not undercutting development with its rapid flow of development finances. I have spent time developing this political narrative here because, while the ultimate outcome to this reaffirmation of economic ties with China is far from certain, I would argue that what we have seen in Zambia so far is more encouraging than discouraging. It is true that, historically, Zambia has had a difficult time asserting authority over its Chinese partners,52 but that fact did not stop Mr. Sata from being elected, even with his opponent reportedly receiving financial backing from Chinese interests. China is, of course, not promoting democracy in Zambia, but it evidently hasnt been able to undermine it either. The authoritarian role model mechanism has been handled well, with the Zambian people and political leaders continuing to value economic growth, but not at the expense of other social/political valuesinstead, they are seeking a more balanced approach. How Zambia has managed to continue on a democratic trajectory in spite of its resource extraction-based economy is a longer story, but its certainly worth noting the possible impact of a Western intervention from early 1990s: The privatization of the copper industry was a pre-condition for Zambia to qualify for debt relief through the highly indebted poor countries (HIPC) initiative. The government was very reluctant to privatize the state-run copper mines, and in 1999 major donors withheld approximately US$530 million in aid, until the government agreed to privatization.53 At the heart of the resource curse that afflicts Angola and Zimbabwe, among others, is the tightly held control of oil and mineral operations by self-serving, autocratic central governments. Pressuring the Zambian government to put some space between itself and the industry prior to the arrival of major Chinese investment may have turned out to be a crucial turning point in the countrys path to democratization. Today Zambia is at a crossroads. It is working to draft and ratify a new constitution, which Freedom House considers to be a notable improvement over the previous one,54 while simultaneously working to reshape its economic arrangements with China to promote better
51 52 53 54

Simuchoba, Zambia, China Revive Ties. On Recent Beijing Visit, a Tall Order for Zambia VP. Toovey, Copper Mining in Zambia. The Zambian Government Must Ensure Public Input on New Constitution.

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development. By electing a strong-willed president with a mandate to stand up to Chinas abusive practices, Zambia stands to serve as a role model to other African nations for how democracy can reign in the flood of Chinese investmenthopefully allowing them to capture the economic growth benefits of such an arrangement while managing the negative consequences.

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China has established itself as a major player in Sub-Saharan Africa as an alternative aid donor and development partner. Its economic engagement in the region will only increase for the foreseeable future as it seeks several national goals: energy and resource security, lucrative investment opportunities, and geopolitical influence to help elevate its position in the international community. While SSA nations may still be, for the most part, united by their economic and political struggles, we have seen that there is great variation from country to country in terms of democratic progress, economic diversification, and levels of engagement with Chinas economy, among other things. It is thus difficult to make broad prescriptions for how Western governments and development organizationsor for that matter, African nations themselvesshould approach the China problem. While there are well-documented risks to Chinas style of amoral, non-interventionist development, there are also significant benefits to be had when it comes to economic development, and perhaps in other areas as well. First, I agree with Deborah Brautigams recommendation that, The United States, Europe, and Japan should continue to engage China as a responsible stakeholder in Africa, while recognizing that the traditional donor countries have their own credibility gaps as development partners.55 While China remains ideologically wedded to its policy of non-intervention in other countries internal affairs, it has more frequently been confronted with conflicting interests as it has established itself as a stakeholder in the region. Recently, for example, as Sudan and South Sudan have descended into an undeclared war, the international community looked to China to help mediate a resolution to the conflict. China has credibility and deep diplomatic relations with both governments, as well as a vested interest in maintaining the peace: when South Sudan seceded from the North last year, its territory encompassed the most important oil fields, but the pipelines needed to transport that oil to the Gulf are controlled by Sudan, meaning that conflict between them threatens Chinas energy supply.56 As The Economist notes: A need for oil and other resources greatly shapes Chinese foreign policy in Africa. Having long supported the government of Sudan (a big supplier of oil) in its fight against secessionist rebels, China eventually swung into line with Western governments. It was quick to recognise oil-rich South Sudan when it seceded in July, having sent observers to monitor its referendum on independence.57 While the West should not stop pointing out harmful consequences of Chinas policies when warranted, it should tread carefully on how it presents those concerns to China. Treating it as a responsible stakeholder rather than a rogue donor is more likely to keep the door open for productive cooperation in the future. Part of this may mean engaging China differently than it does other more like-minded nations. The process of win its support on threatening UN Security

55 56 57

Brautigam, The Dragons Gift, 311. Sudan v South Sudan. Chinas Evolving Foreign Policy.

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Council resolutions, for example, has been counter-productive, indelicately challenging Chinas policy of non-interference, rather than framing peacekeeping in terms of mutual benefit. Second, the West should be more open-minded towards the possible benefits of Chinese economic engagement in SSA, while being more analytical and accurate with where to focus its criticisms. Cases like Angola and Zimbabwe illustrate the serious risks of Chinas flood of investment into oil-rich autocracies, but there are also examples like Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, etc., where democratic institutions appear to be more resilient to the negative aspects of Chinese economic engagement. I concur with Joseph Siegles analysis of such cases: Resource-rich countries that are already engaged on the road to democratic reform (such as Nigeria, Indonesia and Zambia) represent a vital opportunity to break the resource curse. Accordingly, these countries merit energetic international support so that they can reset their institutional incentives away from the unaccountable norms they have inherited.58 An excellent example of this policy is how the international community has welcomed political and economic reforms being implemented in Burma over the past year. Burmas reforms have been both sudden and extremely energetic, and while significant work remains to be done, the West has been very quick to lift sanctions and restore diplomatic ties to encourage its good behavior. The hope is that other autocracies that have isolated themselves economically will see Burmas warm reception and face pressure to open up. The strategy has certainly been driven even more by the fact that Burma is an oil-exporting, resource-cursed country deep inside Chinas sphere of influence. Zimbabwe, take note.


Siegle, Governance Strategies to Remedy the Natural Resource Curse, 50.

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Lets return to the question I set out to answer: How has Chinese economic engagement impacted democratization in Sub-Saharan Africa? The data clearly shows that the level of economic engagement between China and Africa has been increasing dramatically, primarily over the past decade. At the same time, democratization in SSA has leveled off from its postCold War surge and has stayed relatively stable, or perhaps declined somewhat. Contrary to the popular narrative of China in Africa, this study has not found a clear link between the two. What we have seen instead is that China engages with countries of all governance types, freedom scores, and corruption levels. There is sufficient evidence to say that Chinas priorities in the region are secure investments and energy security, which have a tendency to draw it into economic engagement with resource-richand especially oil-producingcountries, but this is by no means an absolute criterion. It engages heavily with other countries as well, seeking expanded export markets, geopolitical objectives, and diplomatic advantages. These interactions are not always beneficial to African nations. While the anti-China narrative is primarily based on exceptional cases like Zimbabwe, Angola, and Sudan, there are grounds for concern in the other nations as well, extending beyond just governance and resource management. As China works to build a coalition of allied nations to support its positions in international governmental bodies, will the positions it takes really be in the best interest of those countries, or will it always be first and foremost self-interested? Its difficult to say, and Western donor nations dont have a great track record when it comes to prescribing solutions to Africas development challenges either. What a case like Zambia shows us is the value of country being capable of engaging in rigorous internal debate and democratically choosing its own path forward. Promoting democracy, understood as a social/political value and institutional framework for accountability, is thus one prescription I feel comfortable making. And finally, stepping back to view the big picture, we must note that Chinas influence in SSA has accelerated rapidly over the past decade, yet we have not seen a mass flight away from democracy. On the contrary, there have been improvements in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritania, Sudan, Benin, Zambia, Lesotho, Niger, Cote dIvoire and Angola, and much fewer cases of marked decline. Recent pushback in some countries is more likely due to autocrats fears of the possible spread of the Arab Spring than to influence coming from China, and the fact that they are worried is encouragement for the future, even if democratic declines are disheartening in the present.

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Appendix A: Summary Sheet

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Appendix B: Data Tables

Data Table 1 - Freedom Scores

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Data Table 2 - Polity IV Scores

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Data Table 3 - Chinese FDI flows to SSA

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Data Table 4 - Total Trade

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Data Table 5 - Misc. Country Info.

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Keita, Mohamed. Africas Free Press Problem. The New York Times, April 15, 2012, sec. Opinion. Laing, Aislinn. Zambian Election a Referendum on China. The Telegraph, n.d. Lansner, Thomas. Countries at the Crossroads 2011: Zambia. Countries at the Crossroads. New York: Freedom House, 2011. Marshall, Monty G., and Keith Jaggers. Polity IV Country Reports 2010. Data series. Center for Systemic Peace, 2010. de Morais, R.M. The New Imperialism. World Affairs 173, no. 6 (2011): 6774. Mwase, Nkunde, and Yongzheng Yang. BRICs Philosophies for Development Financing and Their Implications for LICs. IMF Working Paper. IMF, March 2012. On Recent Beijing Visit, a Tall Order for Zambia VP. Voice of America ®, n.d. Page, John. Rowing Against the Current: The Diversification Challenge in Africas Resource-Rich Economies. Working paper. Brookings Global Economy and Development, December 2008. Petrovic, Vukasin. The Perilous State of Freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa. Freedom at Issue, February 3, 2012. Puddington, Arch. Freedom in the World 2012: The Arab Uprisings and Their Global Repercussions. Freedom in the World. New York: Freedom House, January 19, 2012. Radelet, Steven. Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries Are Leading the Way. Center for Global Development, 2010. Rodrik, Dani. Can You Get Rich Without Democracy? Dani Rodriks Weblog, August 5, 2011. . The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy. W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. . The Myth of Authoritarian Growth. Project Syndicate, n.d. Roth, Kenneth. World Report 2007. World Report. Human Rights Watch, January 2007. Sen, Amartya. The Idea of Justice. 1st ed. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009. Siegle, J. Governance Strategies to Remedy the Natural Resource Curse. International Social Science Journal 57 (2005): 4555. Simuchoba, Arthur. Zambia, China Revive Ties. Times Live, March 11, 2012. South Sudan Awaits Big China Loan. BBC, April 28, 2012, sec. Africa. Sudan v South Sudan: Close to the Brink. The Economist, April 28, 2012. Swartz, Spencer, and Simon Hall. Nigeria, China Sign Major Oil Deal. Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2010, sec. Business. The Chinese in Africa: Trying to Pull Together. The Economist, April 20, 2011.

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