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Reviewed by:
  • Will Africa Feed China? by Deborah Brautigam
  • Donovan Chau (bio)
Deborah Brautigam. Will Africa Feed China? New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. xvii, 164 pp. Hardcover $27.95, isbn 978-0-19-939685-6.

The Sixth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was held December 4–5, 2015, in South Africa. This was the fifteenth anniversary of FOCAC and, therefore, an important occasion to highlight progress in Sino-Africa relations as well as chart a course for the following three years before the next FOCAC meeting. In his speech, President Xi Jinping announced a tripling of China’s financial commitment to Africa, from $20 billion in loans in 2012 to $60 billion in investment. Furthermore, Xi proposed ten diverse areas for continued Sino-African cooperation: industrialization, agricultural modernization, infrastructure development, finance, environment, trade and investment facilitation, poverty reduction, public health, cultural diplomacy, and peace and security. Xi made clear the intimacy of Sino-Africa relations when he said: “China and Africa share a common future. We Chinese and African have forged profound friendship through our common historical experience in our common struggles.”1

As the FOCAC meeting illustrated, by all accounts China is firmly ensconced on the African continent—politically, economically, and strategically—and there is little indication this position will wane. Indeed, since 2001 China’s activities on the continent have garnered widespread international attention. But over the past decade, China in Africa has been in the central spotlight of policy makers, researchers, and journalists around the world. Someone who had been following the Chinese in Africa for decades prior is Deborah Brautigam. Presently Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy and Director of the International Development Program as well as the China Africa Research Initiative [End Page 118] at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Brautigam studied Chinese in Hong Kong and Taiwan and conducted fieldwork in West Africa in the late 1970s and 1980s for her doctoral dissertation on Chinese agricultural aid.2 Brautigam, perhaps more than any other contemporary scholar, has the knowledge, skills, and experience to analyze China in Africa, which she does in her latest book, Will Africa Feed China?

A slim, densely packed volume, Will Africa Feed China? is about aid and development as well as China’s rise and its implications for the “poorer regions” of the world, including Africa (p. 10). On the one hand, it is an encapsulation of Brautigam’s previous book-length works (Chinese Aid and African Development and The Dragon’s Gift: The Real Story of China in Africa3). On the other hand, it is a unique stand-alone work, as she reveals the “ground truth” about China in Africa, attempting to distinguish between fact and fiction—realities and myths—being portrayed by both the media and think tank community. In particular, Brautigam takes direct aim at four “widespread beliefs”: (1) the Chinese have acquired large areas of farmland, (2) the Chinese government is leading this effort through its state-owned firms and sovereign wealth funds, (3) the Chinese are growing grain in Africa for export to China, and (4) the Chinese have sent (or plan to send) large numbers of Chinese farmers to settle on the African continent (pp. 1–2, 152–159). Tangentially, and to a lesser extent, Will Africa Feed China? is a critique of recent works that reinforce these “widespread beliefs,” for example Howard French’s China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa.4

In eight concise chapters, we learn that “The Chinese are not building a new empire on the continent” (p. 151). Brautigam makes five key arguments to support her claim: (1) Chinese agribusiness has pursued investments in Africa, but this has not translated to significant land acquisitions; (2) Chinese investments often, but do not always, display an active Chinese government role; (3) all actual and planned Chinese agricultural investments are focused on food production for either local or global markets, including, but not exclusively, China; (4) there is no evidence of an organized plan to export Chinese settlers to farm in Africa; and (5) Africans play key roles in Sino-African agricultural relations, whether as...


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