Outlining African Agency Against the Background of the Belt and Road Initiative


  • Cobus van Staden
  • Chris Alden
  • Yu-Shan Wu


While Africa’s partnership with China has undeniably led to a jump in trade and investment, especially over the past two decades, many on the continent remain concerned about the relationship’s lack of equality. This issue is particularly striking in the midst of the rising prominence of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and questions around Africa’s role in it. Calls for bolstering African decision-making power in its interactions with China are very common in the China-Africa space. This article argues that for Africa to increase its agency—that is, its ability to make independent decisions and to increase its bargaining power—the continent first needs to unpack the nature of African decision-making in the China-Africa relationship. What does agency mean in the China-Africa relationship and how can Africa improve its bargaining position in relation to China? This article explores these questions by thinking through how African agency has been conceptualised in the past and comparing those ideas of agency a real-world case study: Africa’s relationship with the BRI.