Helping Africa to thrive in a changing global economy

Giles Mohan

Helping Africa to thrive in a changing global economy

The burgeoning economies of some rapidly developing countries, notably China, India and Brazil, are shifting the global balance of power dramatically.

Nowhere has the impact of these so-called ‘rising powers’ been greater than in Africa, where Chinese trade and investment now outstrips that of the West.

But while China has a coherent Africa policy, Africa lacks a coherent response to China’s growing involvement in the continent’s development.

Now a team of researchers at The Open University (OU) is helping close this policy gap. The team is working closely with African partners on a series of projects enabling governments and private sector and development organisations to better understand the opportunities and challenges presented by the rising powers, and devise strategies which benefit Africa.

Initiated by Professor Raphael Kaplinsky and currently led by Professor Giles Mohan, the team broke new ground in 2008 when it launched the first rigorous academic research into the rising powers’ impact in Africa.

This research was carried out in collaboration with the African Economic Research Consortium, the leading Africa-based research network for economic analysis and policy support to African governments and regional bodies. 

It resulted in the pioneering African Drivers programme which analysed the rising powers’ impact in 22 individual African countries.

The team has further collaborated with UN Office of the Special Adviser to Africa, the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African Union, NEPAD and the African Development Bank, to increase the scope and reach of their work.

Their reports have, according to the UN Industrial Development Organisation, provided a ‘template for industrial policy in both the public and private sector’, and a ‘practical and constructive road map to push forward the industrialisation agenda’.

The research has also identified new opportunities for small-scale producers in African countries to cater for the Chinese demand for African commodities. In South Africa, it has inspired and guided a number of major development programmes to raise standards and increase competitiveness in key industries such as textiles, clothing and automotive components.

The research has been used by the Judge President of South Africa’s Appeal Court to increase his understanding of the global economy and inform his judgments in a number of competition law cases.

It has also been used to shape the strategies of firms in Britain with links to Africa. The director of one Northants-based firm said that being involved in working with the research team “has helped me think more strategically about how I do business in East Africa”, and has enabled his main client in East Africa to persuade its client, an international mining firm, to source far more of its supplies locally.

“The research has overturned a prevailing assumption that Africa has no say in shaping its own destiny,” said Professor Kaplinsky.

“The Open University team has moved the analytical and policy debate on from a crude ‘impact of China on Africa’ perspective, to explore the role of African agents.”

“This research provides evidence that Africa’s private sector is playing a proactive role in in deepening links with China.”

Africa, Development

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