Chinese Foreign Assistance and African Political Elites

O'Connell, Dannan, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Echeverri-Gent, John, Department of Politics, University of Virginia
Fatton, Robert, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

This paper examines how Chinese foreign assistance impacts the political development of African states. The emergence of China as a major trade and aid partner in Africa has drawn popular criticism that Chinese aid practices are detrimental to African democratization and governance reform. I examine these claims by first constructing a model of African elite interactions, in which Chinese foreign assistance serves as an unearned revenue stream that incumbents may use to retain power and avoid reform. I test this model in descriptive case studies of Angola and Zambia, as well as the comparative case of Algeria. I find little significant evidence that Chinese aid plays an important role in reinforcing the power of incumbent elites. There is little evidence that aid is used as a source of institutionalized patronage, and the effects of aid in other areas are insignificant relative to other variables, particularly the presence of nationalized hydrocarbons revenues. I conclude that governance concerns over Chinese aid are overstated, and that future study of Sino-African political interactions should concentrate on the effects of FDI, trade, immigration, and oil as well as aid.

MA (Master of Arts)
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