China in Africa

The following project is currently being supported by a generous grant from the Sandisa Imbewu Fund, Rhodes University, South Africa

Chinese Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa:  New Dynamics, New Synergies

Research partners: Middlesex University Business School:  Terence Jackson, Professor of Cross-Cultural Management; Rhodes University, South Africa: Professor Lynnette Louw, Deputy Dean, Faculty of Commerce; Nanjing University, China: Professor Shuming Zhao, Dean of the Business School.


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We are currently looking for additional chapter authors. As a result of our ongoing project, Routledge (London) will be publishing our edited monograph next year. We still have space for additional authors working in this area and able to complement the work already done. We specifically welcome empirical contributions, but innovative conceptual chapters will also be considered. Please click on this link for additional information.


China’s presence in Africa is changing geopolitical dynamics impacting at organizational and community levels. Little extant literature focuses on these levels. These dynamics also influence the ways scholars view Chinese activity, often negatively so. Critical theories in international organizational and management studies that draw on Postcolonial Theory focus on North-South dynamics. This may now be inappropriate to critically understanding a new South-South dynamic. The project sets out to collaboratively develop cross-cultural theory and methodology to study these dynamics at organizational level, to investigate the nature of Chinese organizational activity and its implications for Africa’s economic, social and community developme

The presence of China in sub-Saharan Africa is significant for the economies of China and the majority of countries south of the Saharan where Chinese organizations now operate (CCS, 2008). This presence is also of major concern to Western countries on issues such as China’s unrestricted lending that has ‘..undermined years of painstaking efforts to arrange conditional debt relief’, and where purported Chinese disregard for human rights has become an issue (Campbell, 2008, quoting Paul Wolfowitz for the World Bank and IMF ). Extant literature appears confined to macro-issues such as level of FDI and the intent of China towards Africa (Biggeri and Sanfilippo, 2008). Yet China’s activities directly impact on the lives and wellbeing of African employees and communities, and ultimately on the prosperity and development of sub-Saharan Africa. This proposed collaboration seeks to address the lack of theory, methodology and empirical research at individual, organizational and community levels. This is urgent in the light of the accumulation of often negative anecdotal information in areas such as employment and community relations (e.g. ‘There is at times a stark contrast between the Chinese rhetoric of brotherhood with African people, and some of the criticism coming from African citizens.’ CCS, 2008) on which assumptions (UK and Western) policy may be being made. With currently little systematic empirical information based on solidly constructed theory and methodology, there is a need to understand from different perspectives through an international collaboration, the nature of interaction at organizational level (with employees, with local community), for example, how Chinese managers manage African staff, and how these interactions and their effects are perceived.

China in Africa


Our aims are to determine, through cross-cultural collaborative research focused on South Africa, Botswana, Zambia,  Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya and Tanzania, the nature of Chinese activities and organization of a sample of major corporations in key sectors and their impact on employment and community relations, through interviews with policy-makers/executives in China, Africa and in UK (to compare perceptions and policy towards and relations with Chinese activity); surveys in the African countries, with managers, staff and community leaders, and in depth case studies in order to advise stakeholders of the cross-cultural appropriateness, as well as effectiveness, of policies and practices, to enable dialogue among stakeholders and thus contribute to knowledge and scholarly research, policy and practice.

Our proposed methodology is informed by:

(1) The reasons for Chinese corporations being in Africa and the nature of Chinese presence in Africa: In the literature this is often speculative (Shaw, Cooper, & Antkiewicz, 2007; Biggeri and Sanfilippo, 2008; Kapinsky, 2008). There is a need to speak directly to high-level Chinese officials (as partners in research) in corporations operating in Africa; to key stakeholders in African countries; and, to key stakeholders in UK. We will be bringing these different stakeholders together to discuss results and implications. Jiangsu International Economic-Technical Cooperation Corporation, the biggest such corporation in China, has already agreed to assist and collaborate.

(2) How we understand South-South interactions at geopolitical level: Wider geopolitical dynamics have an impact on the nature of knowledge and the way knowledge is transferred internationally (Jackson, 2011). This includes scholarly and management knowledge. Postcolonial Theory (Said, 1978; Bhabha, 1994) critiques North-South relations in this regard, yet with little existing theoretical bases to conceptualize South-South relations and power dynamics. Dependency Theory (Frank, 1969) provides a critique of extant modernization theory that drives much of Western governments’ international development policy (Schlegg and Haggis, 2000) assuming that ‘developing’ countries should follow the same modernizing trajectory as Western countries. China itself has recently gone through an industrialization and modernization process, which may be seen as a model for Africa, but it is unlikely that China’s intent is to impose a modernizing trajectory on Africa, or for China to develop on the back of further contributing to Africa’s underdevelopment in an exploitative way (this assumption reflects the Chinese government’s stated intentions: MOFA, 2006). Yet this may still be disputed. The need to develop critical theory from a scholarly cross-cultural and international collaboration that can incorporate new South-South relations is an ongoing concern.

(3) How we understand these interactions at organizational level:  Some scholars have claimed a disconnection between Western institutions and African communities (Dia, 1996; Jackson, 2004). Influences on organizations in Africa from colonial, Western and indigenous humanistic sources (such as Ubuntu) have been discussed in the literature through cultural crossvergence theories incorporating concepts of power relations (Jackson, 2004). Yet the influences of Chinese management on organization and people management in Africa generally are still to be investigated. Humanistic principles appear to pertain in purported Chinese organizing principles, such as in Ip’s (2009) elucidation of the ‘Confucian firm’. Yet evidence of Western influences on organization in China exists (Jackson, 2002). If China’s intentions are exploitative; or if its intentions involve mutual learning and cooperation (MOFA, 2006), what are the implication for organization, employment and community relations? How appropriate are Chinese corporations’ actions and organization to local staff, communities and ultimately the future develop of such communities within sub-Saharan Africa?


Article: Jackson, T. (2012) Postcolonialism and Organizational Knowledge in the Wake of China’s Presence in Africa: Interrogating South-South relations, Organization. 19(2): 181-204.[Article][Journal]

Conference presentation: Jackson, T., Louw, L. & Zhao, S. (2010) China in sub-Saharan Africa: HRM implications, 11th International HRM Conference, Aston University 9-12 June 2010. [OHPs]


Bhabha, H K (1994) The Location of Culture, New York: Routledge

Biggeri, M., & Sanfilippo, M. (2009). Understanding China’s move into Africa: an empirical analysis. Journal of Chinese Economic & Business Studies, 7(1), 31-54.

Campbell, H. (2008) China in Africa: challenging US global hegemony, Third World Quarterly, 29(1):89-105

CCS  (2008), The China Monitor Issue 28: China’s Development Assistance to Africa, April 2008, Centre for Chinese Studies, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, accessed at, on 12/05/11

Dia, M. (1996) Africa’s Management in the 1990s and Beyond, Washington DC: World Bank.

Frank, A. G. (1969) Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America, New York: Monthly Review Press

Ip, P. K. (2009) Is Confucianism good for business ethics in China?, Journal of Business Ethics, 88: 463-76.

Jackson, T. (2002) International HRM: A Cross-cultural Approach, London: Sage.

Jackson, T. (2004) Management and Change in Africa: A Cross-cultural Perspective, London: Routledge

Jackson, T. (2011) International Management Ethics: A Critical, Cross-cultural Perspective, Cambridge University Press.

Jackson, T., Louw, L. & Zhao, S. (2010) China in sub-Saharan Africa: HRM implications. Bi-annual International HRM Conference, Aston University 9-12 June 2010.

Jackson, T., Louw, L. & Zhao, S. (2011) Chinese Organization and Management in Sub-Saharan Africa: Towards a Cross-cultural Research Agenda, The Seventh International Symposium on Multinational Business Management Enterprise Management in a Transitional Economy and Post Financial Crisis, June 5-6, 2011, Nanjing, China

Kaplinsky, R. (2008) What does the rise of China do for industrialization in sub-Saharan Africa?, Review of African Political Economy, 115: 7-22

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The People’s Republic of China (MOFA), (2006) China’s African Policy, January 2006, accessed 26 April 2010

Said, E. (1978/1995) Orientalism, London: Penguin

Schech, S. and Haggis, J. (2000) Culture and Development: A Critical Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell.

Shaw, T.M., Cooper, A. F. & Antkiewicz, A. (2007) Global and/or regional development at the start of the 21st century? China, India, and (South) Africa, Third World Quarterly, 28(7): 1255-70