‘Win-win’ contested: Negotiating the privatisation of Africa’s Freedom Railway with the ‘Chinese of today’

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As Africa’s infrastructure sector has increasingly become an outlet for Chinese (state) capital, there is growing interest in the role of African governments in co-determining the design, funding and governance of the continent’s railways, roads, power plants, ports etcetera. This article sheds light on the planned rehabilitation of a symbol of Sino-African friendship, the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA). Drawing on Jessop’s strategic-relational approach and primary data from Tanzania and Zambia, it is shown that the strategies of the Tanzanian and Zambian governments in the 2016 negotiations with a Chinese consortium were informed by strategic learning from previous failed railway privatisation, cautious cost-benefit analyses and awareness about the interests of the ‘Chinese of today’. Furthermore, Zambia’s growing indebtedness and Tanzania’s transformation towards an autocratic developmental state under late President Magufuli have formed part of the strategically selective structural context in which the fate of Africa’s Freedom Railway was negotiated. The article transcends both crudely structuralist accounts of a supposedly all-powerful China and voluntarist conceptions of African agency that are void of structure. Assessing the leverage of African governments (when negotiating infrastructure projects with China) requires analytical sensitivity towards the dialectical interplay between differential capacities and reflexivity of strategic actors and their differentially constraining/enabling political and economic contexts.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Modern African Studies
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 11 Jul 2021


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