Ep. 97: A conversation with Lina Benabdallah on the link between China and Africa

Presidential elections are happening in multiple African countries, where we’re seeing constitutional changes that allow presidents to seek third terms. Kim and Rachel also talk about the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in Nigeria, the politics of education access, and a new report on migration in Africa.

This week’s interview features Lina Benabdallah—an expert on China-Africa relations—and the links between China and Africa (plus, her new book!).

Listen to the episode below!

Books from the Episode

Shaping the Future of Power: Knowledge Production and Network-Building in China-Africa Relations by Lina Benabdallah

A Sensational Encounter with High Socialist China by Paul G. Pickowicz

Other Links and Articles

With Elections Ahead, Some African President Try Engineering Results” by Ruth Maclean

Africa Reacts to the First Presidential Debate and Trump’s Case of COVID-19” by CSIS Africa

#EndSARSNow Is Just the Beginning of Police Reform in Nigeria” by Bulama Bukarti

Bid to Rein in Police’s Rogue SARS Unit Falls Flat—Again” by Tolu Olasoji

Nigeria is Fighting Its Own Battle against Police Brutality” by Tolu Olasoji and Leah Feiger

The Politics of Education Access in Tanzania” by James Habyarimana and Ken Opalo

Africa Migration Report: Challenging the Narrative

How to Talk about COVID-19 in Africa” by Nanjala Nyabola

When I Say Africa (Documentary)

Why We Made a Film about Images That Cast Africans Only as Victims” by Cassandra Herrman and Kathryn Mathers

The West is Obsessed with “Saving” Africa. Is That the Problem?” by Adam Taylor

Previous Episodes We Mentioned

Ep. 4: A conversation with Lina Benabdallah on China and Africa

Ep. 93: A conversation with Kim Yi Dionne and Ken Opalo about the politics and policy of the COVID-19 pandemic and more


Kim:  Welcome to Ufahamu Africa, a podcast about life and politics on the African continent. I’m Kim Yi Dionne, one of your hosts, and I’m joined by my co-host, Rachel Beatty Riedl. Hi, Rachel.

Rachel: Hi, Kim. Well, we have a lot of news this week to cover for all of our Ufahamu Africa listeners, because in these weeks and months ahead, there are so many countries which have presidential elections scheduled. A bright spot potentially is Ghana’s election coming up in December, and we will be having Ghana expert Noah Nathan on that in the run up to the elections to give us the landscape. Another potential bright spot, or at least kind of untroubled election is thinking about Niger where the incumbent president Issoufou is stepping down. And elections are largely on track, as reported this week in an article in The New York Times by the new West Africa bureau chief Rachel Maclean. But in neighboring countries in the region and beyond, in East Africa, the prospects are more worrying. Constitutional changes have been made in at least six countries to smooth a pathway for incumbents to run and not only to run but to win. So, a case in point is certainly in Guinea where Alpha Conde is running for a third term this Sunday, October 18. Even though Guinea requires its presidents to step down after two terms, but because of a constitutional change that he initiated, his first two terms don’t count. So, any kind of constitutional change can then allow for the claim, as we’d seen made earlier in Senegal, Burundi and the like that the President is able to restart the clock so to speak. Similarly, in Cote d’Ivoire, President Ouattara has already served two terms, but following the death of his chosen successor and constitutional amendment, voila! He is now also running for a new first term on October 31. Since that constitutional amendment also made his first two terms disappear. Now in in Cote d’Ivoire, there were protests following this decision. And following the protests, the two front runners in terms of opposition candidates were barred from standing in the election. That includes Laurent Gbagbo, who last year was acquitted of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court and Guillaume Soro, the former prime minister and rebel leader living in exile, who was sentenced to 20 years in jail in absentia in April. Now, if we look over to the other side of the continent in East Africa, Uganda’s Museveni, who is now 76 years old, and has served in power for 34 years, plans to run for reelection in February. The age limit for presidents in Uganda was 75 but he also changed the constitution and continues to exert dominating power not only in terms of the ability to put in place those kinds of constitutional amendments but also over the media limiting the opposition space to campaign. Similarly, democratic backsliding in Tanzania has occurred while limiting the political space for civil society and for critique and threatening opposition candidates, as well as in Gambia where the new president had originally promised just three years of rule after autocratic president Jammeh was ousted. But last month, his supporters in the National Assembly rejected a new constitution because it would limit the current president’s power to only potentially a decade and the disastrous changes in Benin that we’ve been talking about in prior episodes in the legislative and local elections mean that opposition is largely barred from competing against incumbent president Talon. So, to recap, there are very few constraints to dominant parties and super majority parties in legislatures that can sweep through constitutional amendments and thus spur this run of third term candidates, both in the past several years and in the months ahead. Domestic opposition has been protesting, has been claiming the problematic nature of this but the era of third terms is definitely here. And the constitutional changes are the route through which they’re being enacted.

Kim: That’s really troubling. I mean, it’s reminding me of that map of the world where democracy has backsliding everywhere, except, of course, Malawi. You know, talking about these elections, our friends at the Center for Strategic and International Studies posted earlier this month, a piece in their Africa react series, where they asked prominent African journalists, civil society activists and thought leaders to share their analysis on the US presidential election process. And one of the you know, one of the journalists, civil society activists, asked to reflect on the US election was Ansbert Ngurumo, who was a Tanzanian journalist and human rights activist. And he said he made a comparison between the US and Tanzania and he said the United States and Tanzania are holding general elections at a time when their citizens are witnessing a sharp similarity between their president both Donald Trump and John Magufuli have exhibited bullish and demagogic styles of leadership. Trump and Magufuli are seemingly the active champions of autocratic rule. So, really interesting comparisons there. I also want to point our listeners to another great resource on the CSIS website. It’s a piece by lawyer and so as PhD student Bulama Bacarti on the recent massive protests in Nigeria that led to Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, calling for the disbanding of the Nigerian police’s special anti-robbery squad, also known as SARS. Now, Bacarti’s peace talks about why the recent protests against SARS have been successful, and also highlighting that the announcement by President Buhari does not mean that the struggle against police abuses over. Znd so for our listeners who are unfamiliar with SARS, and this SARS Must End campaign, these protests in Nigeria journalist Tolu Olasoji has an excellent background that was published in last week’s issue of the Mail and Guardian’s weekly magazine, The Continent which listeners can subscribe to for free via WhatsApp. Now in this background there, Olasoji describes how the SARS tactical unit has been repeatedly implicated in committing its own crimes, and has a reputation for harassing, assaulting, and extorting young Nigerians. Our listeners should also read another piece that Olasoji wrote this week with Leah Feiger for Vice News, which offers a deep dive on the experiences of young Nigerians at the hands of these rogue SARS officers.

Rachel: Kim, thanks for bringing that up. I actually, you know, I had been hearing about SARS in Nigeria, just in the last few days and in relationship to these protests. And I was unfamiliar with the unit. So, I’m really glad to get some of that background. Now, as we’re talking about elections and protests and citizen demands. I want to highlight a new Brookings report out by Ken Opalo and James Habryimana on the politics of education access. And here they’re drawing from data in Tanzania going back to 2006. And what I think is really interesting about this report more generally, is that we know that largely providing education, especially universal coverage for primary and secondary schools is generally seen as a valence issue, something that most voters want. And politicians say they support when they’re out campaigning, and voters tend to judge those politicians, according to assessments of who appears more capable of providing these desired public services in their area or throughout the country at large. Now, this paper goes beyond that baseline understanding to look at what happens when education is provided. And whether or not those political figures are then benefiting in the polls and public support or whether they’re being held accountable for the quality of that education. So, the report has two main findings. The first is that the electoral impacts of these kinds of large-scale education programs to expand secondary education, which is what they’re looking at, in this case, are actually contingent. So, the promise to increase access to education generates an increase in electoral support of about two percentage points here for the ruling party, the CCM but following the implementation of the policy, the incumbent party actually experienced a penalty, a drop of 1.4 percentage points in their public support. So, once the policy was put in place, and voters potentially held them accountable for the quality of those schools, and how well they were provided, then, in fact, that mechanism was starting to show that decline. The second main finding was that the electoral penalty was really more pronounced in places that had preexisting schools. So, they attribute the negative electoral impact, for example, in 2010, to the manner in which the policies were put in place starting after 2006. So, the construction of new schools which were often judged to be of low quality, involved an implicit tax on the Tanzanians in the form of community contributions. So, we’ll build a new school here, it won’t be great quality, but you’ll have to pay for, you know, a component of it, a segment of it. So, this school expansion program was accompanied by declines in learning outcomes overall, as measured by pass rates in national exams in those places that had preexisting schools. So, this study, I think, really suggest to us that voters are, they’re making their demands known they’re holding the government accountable, not only for the provision of public services, but also the quality and they’re very keenly aware of the cost that they pay to contribute to these objectives. So, policy implementation absolutely matters. And an interestingly advances that have been made in primary school enrollment are now being followed by this second wave demanding expansion in secondary school provision. So, it’s really following these age cohorts through time kind of increasing the demand for higher education.

Kim: I mean, that makes perfect sense right like the government expands schools, your children get to go to primary school now that you know, of course as the school closer to you, but then you know that what happens kids finished primary school, right, they’ve got to go somewhere else. You can’t expand access to primary school and not expect that students and parents are going to want to continue their education. All of this work that Ken and his co-author have done have given me hope that you know, there, there really is greater opportunities for people to access education in Tanzania, and hopefully beyond. There’s also some new research that was coming out this week, the first ever Africa Migration Report came out just this week and a team of scholars have written this report, and it’s edited by three different people, one of whom is Nanjala Nyabola. And as we would expect, as we would expect from Nanjala Nyabola, it’s a very different way of thinking about migration, African migration from the African continent. And it’s the theme of this edition. This inaugural edition of the report is called challenging the narrative, right. And they say that this report tells the story of African migration from the perspective of Africa and demonstrates the continent’s ardent desire to take control of managing this phenomenon in a manner that maximizes its benefits for the citizens of the continent, while also addressing the negative impacts that continued uncontrolled migration imply for African countries and migrants. And I think this is really important, because so often when people are thinking about migration from Africa, people are thinking about migration from Africa to Europe, and what the implications are for Europeans. But this migration report is different because it’s taking a very different perspective on it. I haven’t read the whole report, it’s 200 pages, but I do have it on my list of things to go into in great detail over the weekend. And I also just want to say Nanjala Nyabola has a great piece this week, published in Boston review on how to talk about COVID-19 in Africa, and the article begins with a simple question, “Why aren’t more Africans dying of COVID-19?” But as Nyabola points out, this is a deeply problematic question. She writes, “After all, to ask why more Africans aren’t dying of COVID-19 is to suggest that more Africans should be dying of COVID-19 in a normative rather than a descriptive sense. It exposes the expectation that when the world suffers, Africa must suffer more.”

Rachel: Exactly, Kim. You know, there’s so many ways in which we’ve seen reporting with surprise that, that the continent isn’t being harder hit. And I think that that’s really a powerful perspective in a way of addressing the phrasing of the question in the first instance, not to mention the expectation, as you’ve said, from the outset, about the capacity of government, some governments to respond, and build upon past practice and knowledge. I also wanted to just respond to your point about the Africa migration report and highlight exactly the key empirical evidence that suggests that over 70% of overall migration, African migration is intercontinental. And, you know, I think it really just shows again, it’s the framing of the question in the first instance, about what migration entails. And so often the stories and the narratives really paint migration as a plight, a harrowing plight, and certainly there are those stories and we, you know, we it’s important to hear them and to be aware, but the majority of migration is economically productive migration in which people are seeking opportunities just as we might move to get a job where our skills best meet that labor economy demands, right that people can move to places where they can best secure their own futures and best produce goods and  resources that are of benefit to them and their communities. So, I think that’s really an important aspect when we think about rewriting the narrative of what migration entails. And we’ll definitely be having more experts on migration coming down the pipeline. This season, in season five.

Kim: Listeners can find the links to what we’ve mentioned in this week’s episode, and bonus links on our website, ufahamuafrica.com.

Rachel: This week, Kim talked to Wake Forest University professor of Politics and International Affairs, Lina Benabdallah. Among other things, they talk about her new book on China Africa relations, published earlier this year by University of Michigan Press. Dr. Benabdallah’s research focuses on international relations theory, foreign policy, critical theories of power, and power politics from the Global South. In addition to her work at Wake Forest, Dr. Benabdallah is a research associate at the Johns Hopkins SAIS China Africa research initiative and a contributing editor for Africa is A Country. Her research has been published in the Journal of International Relations and Development, Third World Quarterly, and in the Washington Post, and Foreign Policy.

Kim: Welcome back to the show Lina. I’m excited to talk to you now that your book Shaping the Future of Power: Knowledge Production and Network Building in China Africa Relations is out.

Lina: Yeah, thank you so much Kim for having me. It’s a pleasure to be on the show again.

Kim: So, for the benefit of our listeners who haven’t yet read your book, what exactly does China do in Africa?

Lina: So, China was Africa’s largest trading partner for the 10th consecutive year, by 2019. With trade volumes, surpassing 100 billion dollars annually, the relationship between China and African countries has expanded and increased and over the last 20 years, exponentially. So, you know, the African continent presents potential for a huge market and market access for Chinese products, Chinese goods, as well as sources of natural and mineral resources that are important for the production side, you know. But beside all of these things, I would also argue that it is important to pay attention also to, you know, investments by the Chinese government in human capital development programs in Africa. So these will include training opportunities, scholarships given to students, professionalization trainings, for journalists, for African elites, etc. And so aside from all the investments in infrastructure building in natural resources, there is this other side of the China Africa relations, this story of investments in human capital development. So, you know, put together, everything you can imagine can be studied within the field of China Africa studies, it’s just been expanding over the last 10-20 years, that it’s extremely thorough in a way and very diversified.

Kim: Yeah, it’s certainly rich. And I think we’re getting a much more comprehensive view of it now, then, perhaps, you know, 10 to 15 years ago, I’m sure when you started doing, you know much of the thinking, and then the research that you’ve done for your book. And your book, what I really like about it is how it really centers the human to human interaction, right. So the people, the people interactions in thinking about China-Africa relations, where so much of what we read about China- Africa relations focuses on these large infrastructure projects. And I’m curious to know what you think the impacts are for improving China Africa relations, doing it in this manner, right, like looking at the human to human interactions on political elites, as well as ordinary citizens.

Lina: Yeah, so the people to people relations has been a feature of Chinese foreign policy conduct in Africa for a long time. So, this goes back all the way to the 1950s and 60s with Mao was as a leader of China. And, at the time, several African countries… I’ll take Algeria as an example, even before independence, the provisional government of Algeria in the 50s was sending delegations to China to meet with Chairman Mao to meet with several elites in Beijing to essentially discuss the cause of the you know, war of liberation and try to gain support from China whether the support was in material in fact, it turned out the support the material support was very, very little and very shy. The bigger support was sort of this diplomatic, people to people, delegation visits and exchanges. So, this is a feature of China Africa relations from the beginning. And it’s not exclusive to China Africa relations, but it is something that has been honed in in the China Africa relations through the forum for China Africa cooperation over the last 20 years. And it has become such a big part of China Africa relations that as you said, maybe 15 years ago, we didn’t see this but now, more and more we pay attention to this people to people side of the relations. And there are several impacts. There are several long-lasting impacts on these people to people connections and investments in human capital development. But we can think about them in maybe two, three broad categories. I personally think about these impacts when you know thinking about the you know, increasing knowledge and experience of China or when African journalists or delegations in general or even students when they get to travel to China for professionalization training programs. If these are you know, whether they are short term programs or long-term programs, the benefit or the impact that these have is a stronger knowledge of Chinese culture and Chinese history and sort of a first-hand experience of China. And traveling across and around China enhances and increases the participants’ knowledge and experience of China. So, this is a really important aspect. And the other one that’s very obvious, and it sort of is in the name, it’s about building network. And it’s about increasing and enlarging the network of connections between elites on the Chinese side and their counterparts in several African countries. But this isn’t just the elites, it’s, you know, connections. Of course, we can imagine that if we’re talking about, you know, party members, or government officials or military officers, that building these connections and expanding these networks can have immediate tangible benefits in terms of striking deals, in terms of, you know, getting Chinese products to be marketed and to be used and bought and looked for in African countries. But also, in general, really, even, you know, training lower ranking officers, or even students and civilians is also really important, because it just creates a stronger sense and set of networks, and connections. And I think that these impacts can be a little bit difficult to measure, obviously, because, you know, when we are studying and evaluating investments in infrastructure, or investments, and sort of tangible attributes of power, it is fairly easy to either count these investments, or look at how successful they have been, or see how much you know, money went into the investment, and what’s the return on that investment. But the problem or the challenge of looking at the impact of people to people relations and investments in human capital development is that it’s really difficult to see right off the bat, what is the impact? What really is the difference? Let’s say, you know, a delegation of journalists from Algeria goes to China to spend two weeks or three months and then they go back. We don’t actually see that impact right away. But we have a sense of what are the perceptions, for instance, from these delegation trips, and what we have learned from past experiences about these programs to have a sense of why they are so successful, and why they keep increasing in the China Africa relations. Because we’ve seen that in the last six years, there has been an increasing trend towards putting a lot of investment in these professionalization training programs.

Kim: And certainly, you know China’s not the only country that has these kinds of people to people relations. So, think, for example of the US Peace Corps, right? They send people to various countries all around the world as a way of trying to promote cultural exchange at the human level. But it is really interesting to think about it in these ways. You know, even though we’re not really sure what the long-term impact is, of programs, for example, like the Peace Corps, that doesn’t stop us from doing it. And knowing that, of course, it must have some impact or some value. That takes me then to another aspect about your book that I found really refreshing was how it decenters Western states from our understanding of Africa and international relations, you know. It’s not focused on the US and Europe. And I wanted to know a bit more of what you could share with us about other emerging powers that have an interest in Africa, for example, countries like India and Turkey that offer scholarships to African students and demonstrate their presence on the continent through business connections. What does China do differently than these other powers who have an interest in Africa?

Lina: Yeah, I mean, that’s a very important question. The training programs, and certainly the sort of the focus on human capital development isn’t just exclusive to China Africa relations, as you mentioned, Turkey and India have historically provided a lot of scholarships and have been involved in similar foreign policy platforms that focus on the people to people relations. And I think perhaps the difference between what China is doing or sort of the competitive advantage of China, over Turkey and India, you can think about it as possibly on the one hand, just the numbers, the sheer numbers of opportunities that are sponsored and funded by China overtakes, in terms of, you know, what Turkey and India are doing right now. It’s also really interesting to look at it from a timing perspective, which is to say Turkey and India, were doing this maybe 20-30 years ago and then at some point, this reaches a plateau and then that plateau fades off. Whereas in China, the timing of it right now, it is sort of at peak time. So, at some point, perhaps we can imagine that this might plateau and we don’t know if this is going to be sustained over forever, or at some point, we’re going to reach a place where this is going to, again, fade. So, it’s a question of timing as well. So, scope, timing, but also, the other difference is that kind of, like I said, people to people investments and programs in China Africa, relations have been going on, you know, since the 50s, and 60s. But what’s kind of given China also an edge here is that we can also remember, you know, that China has a seat, permanency that in the United Nations Security Council, and it’s at the same time, also the second largest economy in the world. And so, in a way, China claims leadership in the Global South, it claims this sort of leadership role. And that leadership role, positions it in a way, differently from Turkey and India, in Africa, when it comes to provide evidence of these human capital development. So, opportunities… So, I think that those are three differences that I can see are between China, Turkey, and India, when it comes to these platforms.

Kim: I wonder if you could project a little bit into the future for us just thinking, you know, from what you’ve learned, studying China Africa relations, what can we say about the future of South-South relations in general? How do these, I don’t want to call them new relations, but this increasingly more prominent way of relating or way of cooperating across countries? How does that challenge the traditional ways that we think about power in international relations?

Lina: So I think from my perspective, I think the main takeaway is that, as scholars of international relations, in my sense, we should not assume that power attributes or power approaches in the international system have to manifest themselves in the same way when we’re looking at global power politics, from the concept of, from the perspective of US and European powers as it would be from the perspective of rising powers that, as you mentioned, China is not the only one, there are several other powers. And so increasingly, I think here the the argument is, instead of sort of assuming that all rising powers are going to behave in the same way, and that same way, is what we know from mainstream IR theories built with in mind, power that is  democratic, Global North, Eurocentric power. So, I think instead, we should look at what matters in the thinking, and in the context of the places we’re looking at. So, in my particular context, when I’m thinking about, you know, what matters, I see that social capital is really important, and it’s social capital is important. When I think about how people in Algeria, think about politics as much as it is when I think about how people in China think about politics. And right away, that just click something that it needs to be captured in a framework that looks at the dynamics of power relations, that it’s not just about material attributes that we normally see, used in mainstream IR theory. So, it’s not just about that base in Djibouti. So, when we’re thinking about China Africa relations, that base hide so many other layers of intricate relations that are going on, that just at the end of the day, kind of like manifest in that base. But there’s so much more beyond and above that base that need to be captured if we’re really interested in understanding how people in Djibouti view their relations to China and how people in China view their relations to Djibouti. And I think that that’s a very important step forward in thinking about future theories of IR that are decentering the mainstream and thinking about what it would mean for me to study Africa China relations, not necessarily focusing and limiting my tools to only what I know is important from the context of say, you know, the Cold War or from theories that have been used time and time again, to analyze the world as if only Global North exists in the world.

Kim: Right, and not to nerd out too much, but I mean, this is another thing that I really liked about your book is that it doesn’t reify or kind of focus too much on the nation state. It introduces like other ways to think of, you know, it’s not just nation states interacting in the world, you know, people interact in the world, and they may be, you know, located in these nation states. But you know, we have to think about relations beyond nation states, which is what I think a lot of IR has done, at least mainstream IR literature, in the I don’t know, ever since I started my Ph.D. program at least.

Lina: Right. That’s correct.

Kim: So, I know, it’s probably too soon to say anything definitive. But how has the COVID 19 pandemic affected China Africa relations?

Lina: Yeah, I mean, preliminarily, like you said, it’s probably too soon to really have a very solid analysis of the situation. But preliminarily, there are a few things we can see. I think from my perspective, first of all, we saw that China has moved beyond that reputation or story, seeking a reputation for public good provider. So yeah, we saw the PPE donations, we saw Jack Ma come in with all kinds of equipments and, you know, ventilators and masks and all of those equipments. But there was something more going on here, which is sharing expertise and sharing sort of the China model of combating the pandemic. And that was manifested through, you know, sending teams of Chinese health experts and doctors to several countries in Africa. Algeria was one of the recipients of the teams, not without controversy, of course. But from the Chinese side, what you see is this idea that China has more to share than just those masks and the PPE equipment, it has knowledge to share, it has experience and expertise. I think that is a step up from the kind of one single, one dimensional view of the China Africa relations. Again, that’s usually about the materialities. The controversy, obviously is also important is that some African countries who are more recipient to these expertise, knowledge sharing, and others, you take the example of Nigeria, The Medical Association, was opposing the idea that you have experts coming in from China to help out. So, there was a huge controversy around it, and then the government was not going to just, you know, give access to Nigerian patients, you know, without permits, and without the right paperwork. And so, there was a huge controversy around it. In other cases, like Algeria, there was a very much uncritical accepting of this history of friendship, they the very, very, very first team of Chinese doctors that were sent abroad was in 1963. And it was sent to Algeria. And they were from Mohan. And so, there was all of these connections that came back. And so, this time with COVID, yet again, you know, we have that continuity, it’s like, nothing changed. It’s like, we’re here to send doctors to help. And so, there was a lot of that sort of diplomatic clout around it. And you know, and on that side, sort of, that’s one thing that I can, you know, think is important takeaway, but the only other side would be saw from the incidents in Guangzhou, and incidents in several Chinese provinces where Africans and African Americans, nationals and diaspora were discriminated against, because of fear that they were carrying COVID. And that had a huge backlash on the relations between China and African countries. And that backlash created a discrepancy in the way that Africans reacted to the backlash. And the discrepancy showed us that there were two levels of reactions, there was a government reaction from African elites. And then there was the reaction from regular people, and they were not the same. And we saw that the government-government relations, yeah, there was some voiced concerns. But immediately everyone that voiced concerned was very happy to sweep under the rug sort of this incident and say, it’s been figured out, we’re solving the problem, it’s okay. Moving on to the next thing we need to think about, you know, all kinds of other relations and aspects of the China Africa relations. Whereas you know, in the regular what you see comments with people commenting on social media, what you see people writing an op eds, etc., did not reflect that readiness to forgive or readiness to move forward. But there were deep, deeper wounds and experiences and scary experiences of discrimination and racism, that, again, we don’t know what the long impact of these will be, but certainly, they were much more voiced at the level of associations of parents of students who have African students who were stuck, you know, in China during the pandemic, you know, they didn’t have really good things to say about the experiences of their kids or African students who were stuck in China during the pandemic and did not have good experiences either. So, yeah, so I think that that impact on the people to people level of the relationship might be on the long on, at least on the immediate short term might actually be, you know, negative, as opposed to the government to government relations that just seem to be fine now.

Kim: Yeah, it was it was a very quick blip among elites, though, you know, the acts of discrimination and racism that Africans and Black people in China more generally experienced, you know, after particularly news of these five Nigerians who had tested positive for Coronavirus after that happened, right? You saw quite a bit of shunning discrimination, even some property damage that looked like it could be violent. I mean, it was and those things happened, you know, not in isolation, right? This is, and this is something that we know about othering during pandemics is that they tend to just bring to light existing forms of discrimination. And it’s interesting, though, that you bring up Guangzhou, which is, which is where the most widely reported incident of this happened. Because the last time you were on the show, you actually, it was you know, how I learned about Guangzhou, you had recommended a film, in your previous interview, you recommended Guangzhou Dream Factory to our listeners, and I wonder, do you have any new film recommendations for our listeners?

Lina: Yeah, I think I want to recommend… I struggle with this a little bit. And it was final top two. But of the final top two, I’m going to mention this documentary called When I Say Africa, you probably have heard of it Kim?

Kim: No, I haven’t.

Lina: It’s a documentary that follows a young American volunteer who’s questioning her mission to help in Africa and a Kenyan photojournalist whose activism blows apart the nation of needs. So, it’s a beautifully made film. It’s currently in post-production. So, I really imagined it to be out, hopefully, really soon. And I’ve heard of it because there’s a page for it, you can see excerpts, you can see it’s been reported, of course. Africa is a Country did a piece on it, and several other media outlets did a piece on it. It’s really beautifully made, I got access to look at a precut, pre finalized sort of cut. And it’s really beautiful. And I think that it’s going to be a sort of a must for my classes when I’m teaching my seminar on African Studies, or my class on international development, or my class on Africa and IR, so it’s just going to apply to all of them.

Kim: Yeah, that’s great. And then finally, a question that, you know, we asked all of our guests at the end of the interview, what have you read lately that you would recommend to our listeners?

Lina: So, I have, again, I struggled a lot with this question as well. But I’m going to recommend something very light and perhaps a little bit different. And this is a book titled Sensational Encounter with Socialist China. And the book is by Paul Pickowicz. And what’s kind of cool about the book is, it’s divided into five acts, not chapters, acts. And acts are around the different senses. So, Act One is touch. So, the author is describing, you know, what do you touch? What do you see? What do you touch actually, in this first act, and the second act is sound, so describing the sounds of China in the 70s. And then the third act is taste. And then the fourth one is sight. And then the fifth one is smell. And it’s full of pictures, just to accompany. So, a lot of it is just like one page is writing and the other page is pictures. And so, a lot of it is sort of describing the images and talking about the experiences that the author had in China in the 70s as going through these different senses. I think it’s a really cool book. It’s a very different way of talking about experience in China, in the 70s. And I think talking about the five senses is very cool and very effective.

Kim: That’s fascinating. I could imagine we could write a book like that about a lot of different places. It’d be a really unique way of experiencing a new place.

Lina: Yeah, absolutely.

Kim: Well, thank you, Lina, we really appreciate having you on the show again.

Lina: Thank you so much.

Kim: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of Ufahamu Africa to find any of the articles, books or links we talked about on today’s episode, head to ufahamuafrica.com. We are also available on Spotify, Apple podcast, SoundCloud, and Stitcher. This podcast is produced by Megan DeMint, with help from production assistants Fulya Felicity Turkmen and Aliou Kamau Gambrel. We are generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and receive research assistance from Cornell University and the University of California Riverside. Our music is courtesy of Kevin Mcleod. Until next week, safari salama!

2 thoughts on “Ep. 97: A conversation with Lina Benabdallah on the link between China and Africa

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