Africa-China Initiative

Over the course of the past ten years, China’s influence on the African continent has eclipsed that of any other nation. The Chinese government declared 2006 the “Year of Africa,” acknowledging and accelerating China’s engagement across the continent. This engagement now spans heightened diplomatic ties, major investment and trade pacts, and security agreements. Migration between China and the African continent has reached unprecedented levels. Yet this major geopolitical transformation remains poorly understood, with much media coverage polarized, representing Chinese interests either as benevolent investors or as rapacious resource extractors and African stakeholders either as canny profiteers or helpless victims of a new colonialism.

Thus, despite increasing academic interest and a few key recent publications, the nexus between Africa and China is in critical need of further study, beginning with the development of an integrative research agenda based on a careful survey of the field. With this in mind, the Harvard University Center for African Studies, the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and the Harvard University Asia Center have launched a four-year Africa-China Initiative, with the first convening workshop to be held in fall 2015.

The opportunity to shape the agenda of the field of Africa-China studies is a rare opening to frame a new kind of area studies. It requires us both to assemble and review existing relevant scholarship by established intellectual figures and to invite younger scholars to help develop new research tools, new concepts, and new paradigms. To this end, the Africa-China Initiative will bring together Harvard faculty and graduate students from across the university with invited scholars from across the globe to identify key areas for research and theoretical interventions.

Key Programs:

Workshop for the Harvard Initiative on Africa-China

The Center for African Studies, in collaboration with the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, the Asia Center, and the East Asian Legal Studies Program, hosted a one day workshop on September 10, 2015. The goal of the workshop is to chart the contours of this emergent field and set priorities for new research that will shed light on facets of Africa’s changing economies and the dynamic political and cultural transformations taking place in the era of globalization. By engaging in a conversation across a broad array of disciplines – politics, anthropology, law, economics, history, geography, media studies, global health, environmental studies – participants in the workshop will help to lay the foundation for a major program of academic collaboration that will explore in depth the issues that today affect the lives of so many millions of people in both Africa and China. In addition, the workshop will also contribute to the understanding of China’s evolving role as a global power. Key note speakers included Professor Robert Rotberg and Henry French.

Professor Rotberg is the Founding Director of Harvard Kennedy’s School’s Program on Intrastate Conflict, President Emeritus of the World Peace Foundation, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Senior Fellow of the Centre for International Governance Innovation. Previously, he was professor of political science and history at MIT, academic vice-president of Tufts University, and president of Lafayette College.

Professor Howard French is an associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where he has taught both journalism and photography since 2008. He received his B.A. from the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He worked as a French-English translator in Abidjan, Ivory Coast in the early 1980s, and taught English literature at the University of Ivory Coast. His career in journalism began as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post and other publications in West Africa. He was hired by The New York Times in 1986, and worked as a metropolitan reporter for three years, and from 1990 to 2008 reported for The Times as bureau chief for Central America and the Caribbean, West Africa, Japan and the Koreas, and China in Shanghai. During this time, his work was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; he was twice the recipient of an Overseas Press Club Award, and his work has received numerous other awards.