Why do Chinese-funded and constructed projects that are similar in nature develop into starkly different trajectories in different African states? This question sheds light on the varying state capacity of developing countries. Divergent from existing structural explanations that stress the external agency and institutional explanations that emphasise bureaucratic capacity, I propose a political championship theory to explain variances in developing states’ capacity to deliver functional infrastructure projects. I argue that perceived threats from competitive elections engineer leader’s commitment to developmental project. When the leader has strong authority, they build a coalition to push for the implementation, leading to high effectiveness. To empirically examine the political championship theory and two competing theories: the external agency and the bureaucratic capacity arguments, I trace the process of two Chinese-funded and -constructed railway projects: the Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya and the Addis-Djibouti Railway in Ethiopia. I rely on over 180 interviews conducted during field research from 2015-2019 in Kenya, Ethiopia, and China. This research contributes to the theoretical debate on state capacity by emphasizing individual agency within structural and institutional constraints, a previously understudied area in state capacity. The thorough documentation of two Chinese-sponsored projects in Africa also contributes to the understanding of Chinese infrastructure projects in developing countries in general.
Bio: Yuan Wang is a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia-Harvard China and the World program. Her research interest is African state effectiveness, China’s economic and political engagement with Africa, and the Belt and Road Initiative. Her book project investigates why Chinese-financed and -constructed develop into starkly different trajectories in different African countries. Her work has appeared in Comparative Politics, Economic History of Developing Regions, etc.
She received her PhD from Oxford. She also holds an MSc in Politics Research from Oxford, MPP from Harvard Kennedy School, and a BA in international relations from Shanghai International Studies University. She also served three years in UNDP China and Sino-Africa Centre of Excellence Foundation in Kenya.
This event is organized by the Columbia Harvard China and the World Program and cosponsored by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University.