Local government, economic growth and human development

Chinese lessons for Kenya and Uganda?

Professor Lina Song, University of Nottingham

Start Date: Dec 2014   |   End Date: Dec 2018

Research Councils UK project page

The instability of many African states has led to diminishing livelihoods and low investment. During the process of a nation's development, local governments can be vital in adopting and implementing policies to assist national economic growth and promote local benefits. For much of China's economic reform period, local governments played a key part in driving gross domestic product (GDP) growth.

This project will consider whether China's experiences provide insights into how local governments in Africa may successfully contribute to economic growth and human development. Conducting rigorous analysis, the project will explore the impacts of local governance on the economic and human development of China and two selected African countries, Kenya and Uganda.

It will explore four areas:

  • To conduct comparative analysis of local governance in the three subject countries identifying their policy environments, structures and incentives to promote development.
  • To explore the impact of local governments on economic growth and on production of tradeable goods, whether in agriculture or manufacturing.
  • Assess the effectiveness and efficiency of local government in providing health and education services.
  • Estimate the contribution of local authorities to poverty reduction.

The research team comprises well-regarded development economists from Kenya, Uganda, China and the United Kingdom.

Chinese firms and employment dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa

Dr Carlos Oya, School of African and Oriental Studies

Start date: Jan 2015   |   End date: Jan 2018

Project webpage
Research Councils UK project page 

Emerging economies in Africa have experienced accelerated growth and varying degrees of structural change in recent years, especially since the early 2000s. In some countries growth has been resilient, even during the post-2008 global recession—at least until very recently. International investors and contractors from different parts of the world have contributed to these processes in different ways.  

Foreign firms, including Chinese firms in particular, have had a substantial role to play in many African countries. Indeed, China’s growing economic engagement in Africa is attracting widespread attention, and is generating debates both in the continent and beyond about the implications for Africa’s economic development.

While myths and rumours abound, there is as yet little reliable evidence on the effects of this investment on employment dynamics, especially in some of Africa’s fastest growing sectors, such as construction, services and manufacturing. Whether foreign investment can contribute to creating an industrial labour force will be important not only for Africa’s economic development but also for the livelihoods of its workers.

In response to such concerns, this project is designed to carefully collect quantitative and qualitative evidence on employment in foreign (including Chinese) and domestic companies in the key sectors of construction (mainly public works) and manufacturing. Ethiopia and Angola will be the focus of the survey efforts, two countries where the presence of Chinese and other foreign firms has been significant in the past ten years.

In particular the project will examine:

  • Direct employment creation, namely, the number of jobs provided to national workers in both Ethiopia and Angola, the nature of such jobs (temporary, permanent, etc.), and the share of jobs held by national workers as a proportion of the total employment created within both different groups of firms.
  • The working conditions for national workers in sampled firms, focusing on wages and other benefits. The project will also investigate how conditions across all types of companies compare to those in the same sectors in China itself.
  • Skill development and upgrading for national workers who have worked in foreign and domestic firms in the target sectors and comparative training mechanisms across different firms. The focus will be on skills development, training and job experience.

Chinese foreign direct investment and structural transformation in Africa


Dr Deborah Brautigam, Johns Hopkins University

Start date: Jan 2015   |   End date: Jan 2019

Project page
Research Councils UK project page

For the past decade, sub-Saharan Africa has seen growth, yet this is not the same as structural transformation.  China's development path since 1980 provides an example of how a government focused on modernisation can use foreign capital and technology to assist in the reduction of poverty and economic transformation in manufacturing and agriculture. In Africa, China is largely seen as a competitor for local firms, primarily through imports. Whilst this competition can be devastating in some countries and some sectors, growing Chinese investment in African manufacturing and contract farming can also offer opportunities for joint ventures with local firms, training, and diffusion of more productive technologies.

This project focuses on Chinese engagement in Africa and investigates its potential for enhancing structural transformation through direct training, technology dissemination, backward and forward linkages, subcontracting and personnel transfers. Four components of research are envisaged; data collection and mapping; field-based scoping studies; comparative analytical narrative case studies; new survey research.

The research will offer a robust basis for analysis of the current and future possibilities for technology transfer in China's African investment, and guidelines for governments and development partners to derive maximum benefit from these opportunities.

Chinese national oil companies and the economic development of African oil producers

Professor Giles Mohan, Open University

Start date: Mar 2015   |   End date:  Mar 2018

Research Councils UK project page
Project website

African economies are experiencing growth rates that are among the fastest in the world. Much of this growth is based on the export of commodities, like oil, to China and other emerging economies.

This project aims to explore the interaction between China’s oil interests and African state and non-state actors in three African countries, Ghana, Angola and Sudan. It will assess whether policies can help maximise the benefits to Africa’s development.

While the research is interested in the ‘methods of operation’ of Chinese National Oil Companies (NOCs), it also wants to move away from a crude ‘impact of China on Africa’ focus to a more holistic analysis which takes account of African impact. This includes both the drivers of China’s presence in the African oil and gas sector and the economic and political determinants of Africa’s response. There are four themes of research:

  • China’s energy strategy, global competition and Chinese outward Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa.
  • The distinctiveness of Chinese NOCs in Africa.
  • African agency and the developmental impact of Chinese oil and gas firms.
  • Leveraging African development.

Data sets on Chinese foreign direct investment and African social indicators will be collated along with interviews from key Chinese and African actors. 

This will offer a detailed understanding of the different motivations, roles, and impacts of Chinese NOCs and the role played by Africa in shaping this engagement. It will provide an understanding of changing oil sector dynamics in Africa and their impacts on African economies.


Natural resources, rural poverty and China-Africa trade

Equity and sustainability in informal commodities value chains

Dr William Vorley and Xiaoxue Weng, International Institute for Environment and Development

Start Date:  Jan 2015   |   End Date: Jan 2018

Research Councils UK project page

This project address two key development challenges and opportunities concerning Africa’s natural resource governance today; the growing informal commodity trade, and engagement with China. It focuses on the impact of Chinese actors in informal agriculture, mining and timber trade along two fast developing trade corridors connected to the Indian Ocean.

Using Kenya, Uganda and Zambia as case studies, this project will provide insights on natural resource governance, global trade patterns, as well as the positive and harmful effects of informal resource exploitation on local poverty and the natural environment.

The project will cover four main areas;

  • Value chain analysis of selected commodity chains with a particular focus on power dynamics and benefit distribution.
  • Political-economic analysis of regulatory and customary regimes governing the selected commodity trade.
  • Environmental impacts analysis through land-use/land cover change.
  • Cross-sector synthesis of the three sectors’ findings and key policy lessons.

Envisioned as one of the first systematic examinations of micro-level Chinese activities in Africa's natural resource governance, this research will provide rigorous evidence and dispel misconceptions about Chinese trade and investment in Africa's informal economy.