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Exploiting Africa: The Influence of Maoist China in Algeria, Ghana, and Tanzania

Exploiting Africa: The Influence of Maoist China in Algeria, Ghana, and Tanzania by Donovan C. Chau. Naval Institute Press, 2014, 224 pp. 


In Exploiting Africa, Donovan C. Chau (California State University, San Bernardino) analyzes China’s involvement in Africa from 1955 to 1976, running approximately from the 1955 Afro-Asian Bandung Conference to the death of Mao Zedong in September 1976. Chau delves deeply into China’s grand strategy and Africa’s place within that plan. Throughout this period, China employed numerous instruments of national power on the continent, including diplomatic, informational, and economic means to achieve its long-term national interests. Chau explains, “Within this expansive and resource-laden environment, China perceived the distinct possibility for political, economic, and, ultimately, strategic exploitation” (p. 1). This book should prove useful to students and scholars of Sino-African history, as well as analysts, policymakers, and general readers interested in the broader contours of China’s efforts in Africa, both past and ongoing. 

Chau’s thesis is straightforward: “The purpose of this book is to provide a historical examination of China’s activities in Africa, which is an important yet overlooked aspect of the general topic of China in Africa today” (p. 1). In accomplishing his goal, the author provides valuable chronological perspective for China’s increasing engagement in Africa currently, something that many contemporary observers mistake for unprecedented. Chau counters this misperception by delineating similarities between Communist China under Mao Zedong and China today: “China—taking into account its central geographic position, its size and population, and its enduring history—was and continues to be determined to become a great world power” (p. 4). Indeed. 

To achieve his aim, Chau employs a case-study approach, looking in turn at China’s endeavors in Algeria, Ghana, and Tanzania from the 1950s to the 1970s. The author provides maps of each of those nations, which should be especially helpful for students and general readers. Chau chose excellent case studies. Each country was important because it had access to a major ocean, that is, the Mediterranean, Atlantic, or Indian, depending on the location. The three nations also allowed China to expand its influence, first into North Africa, second from there to West Africa, and third to East Africa. In doing so, China cultivated relationships with local leaders, especially Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah. To support his arguments, Chau researched a wide range of sources, including government documents, intelligence estimates, speeches, testimonies, nongovernmental organization reports, scholarly books, academic journals, magazines, and newspapers. 

He organizes his book into four parts, comprising 11 chapters bounded by an introduction and conclusion. Part I asks “Why Africa?” and answers this critical question with chapters outlining China’s objectives and organizations, including the New China News Agency, International Liaison Department, and Commission for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, among others. Part II, “Northern Exposure” charts Chinese forays into Algeria with chapters outlining China’s initial entry into that North African country, support for Algerian independence from France, and continued relations with Algeria after independence, including economic projects and political activities intent on leveraging the existing rapport with Algeria to expand China’s presence to other parts of Africa and additional regions of the world. Part III, “No Gold,” studies China’s relationship with Ghana, including enlarging its sway in West Africa largely through the political power of Kwame Nkrumah, an African revolutionary educated at the University of Pennsylvania and the London School of Economics who became Ghana’s first leader after independence. Part IV, “Eastern Jewel,” surveys China’s liaison with Tanzania, including connections with the Zanzibar Nationalist Party, Tanganyika African National Union, and Tanzania-Zambia railway. 

Overall, Exploiting Africa contributes useful background for a prominent modern-day issue in international affairs. Chau proves, “Though it has many more resources at its disposal in the twenty-first century, China’s fundamental approach on the African continent remains the same: self-interested, strategic, and pragmatic” (p. 147). Throughout the work, Chau makes useful distinctions, including differentiating between China’s central and secondary objectives. He also reminds readers that China’s involvement in Africa is not only driven by a quest for resources; China also seeks to acquire allies on the continent as well as to garner prestige and influence beyond. China’s ultimate goal to become a global power motivates such actions. Exploiting Africa provides a cogent and insightful framework for current discussions of China’s role in Africa and is a welcome addition to the literature on this timely topic. 

William A. Taylor 

Assistant Professor of Security Studies 

Angelo State University

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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