How easy is it for an African scholar to study Chinese companies in Africa?

The ever growing involvement of China in Africa through its enterprises and projects has retained the attention of the media and the academic world among others. China itself likes to recall its connections with Africa and prides itself to have stood by Africans in their ideological fight against Western imperialism and to have delivered development assistance like the Tanzam railway about which it has harped on lately.
Does this Chinese rhetoric about ideological and economic brotherhood together with China’s involvement in Africa imply that Chinese enterprises but most specifically the state owned ones are open and accessible to African academics seeking to advance an understanding of Chinese ways of conducting business and to support a mutually beneficial cooperation?
As an African woman scholar moved by the above question, I attempted to study two Chinese state owned enterprises to find out that access to the managements of these firms were impossible. It is not that they constitute an exception but studying powerful people is a challenge of its kind. R. J. Thomas has pointed out that it took him about two years of all sorts of tribulations to finally be able to interview two executives. Hence having exhausted all means at my disposal to enter in direct contact with the managers of the concerned firms, I resorted to a local assistant who was a sort of gatekeeper with the right connections to the right persons.
However this solution confronted me with two quandaries. On the one hand the executives still restricted for me access to their enterprises and their business cultures. On the other side the gatekeeper identified himself with the powerful research subjects and started acting like one leaving me powerless in an interview situation. I ended up with a partial access to the enterprises and almost no knowledge about their ways of conducting business in Africa.
This led me to seriously question how can Africa be equal partner in a trilateral cooperation with the West as Lu Shaye , a highly ranked representative of the of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Department of African Affairs, put it, if African scholars cannot contribute to bringing insights into Chinese firms’ ways of doing business? A mutual understanding of respective business cultures is one of the important factors needed in a balanced relationship. Chinese firms already face enough criticisms about not just insulating their Chinese imported workers but also about them not being able to communicate with African employees and the population at large and all these due to language and other cultural barriers. Moreover the Chinese state also is being criticised as being the neo-colonialist in Africa. So why shouldn’t it go beyond the rhetoric and make possible an equal partnership with Africa, task for which I praise it. Nevertheless I am really curious about how the Chinese government plans to concretise such a challenge.


3 Responses to How easy is it for an African scholar to study Chinese companies in Africa?

  1. Luuk says:

    And the author is?

  2. Ali Adolf Wu says:

    My apologies for not introducing our guest blogger. She is an African postgraduate student based in a Northwest European country. I leave it up to her if she wants to say more about herself. If she does, then it will appear in the Contributors section.

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