Shifting ideas of freedom of expression, development and state security: the role of China in Africa

Through the lens of China in Africa, this project examines the transformations in the relationship between the Internet and the state. China’s economic success, impressive growth of Internet users, and relative stability have quietly promoted an example of how the Internet can be deployed within the larger political and economic strategies of developing states, moving beyond the democratization paradigm promoted in the West. New evidence suggests that this model is becoming increasingly common, but it is not clear why and how it is spreading.

Through a case study comparison of Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda, two democracies and two autocracies where China has recently increased its involvement in the communications sector, this project investigates whether and how the ideas of state stability, development and community that characterize the strategies the Chinese government has employed to shape the national Internet are influencing and legitimizing the development of alternative models of the information society in Africa.

This phase of the project started in January 2012 and it will last for three years. In addition to academic outputs such as a book and various articles, it also aims to promote public debate on the increasing role China is playing on the media in Africa and globally and to create a terrain where different conceptions of the media can be shared, beyond ideological divides. As part this effort, on 9 November 2012 an international conference on New Trends in African Media: The Growing Role of China was organized in collaboration with Oxford University China-Africa Network (OUCAN) and St Anthony’s college which offered an unprecedented opportunity for Chinese, African and Western media actors operating on the continent, such as CCTV, Xinhua, and the BBC, to confront views on the role and functions of the media and of media assistance in Africa.

This research builds on a grant in 2010 that PCMLP was awarded from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to examine China’s media assistance to Africa.

In June 2010 PCMLP hosted researchers from China, Africa and Europe to reflect on China’s increasing influence on the media in Africa and on the implications this has for traditional approaches to media assistance and media development on the continent and beyond.  See the Workshop Programme.  The report from the workshop,China in Africa: A New Approach to Media Development, has been published.

In August 2010 PCMLP convened a panel at the Africa Media and Democracy Conference in Accra, Ghana. We have also established a China-Africa Media network.

This research has received extensive media coverage on popular platforms such as The Huffington Post, CNN, and Al Jazeera English.