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Twenty-First-Century Chinese-African Hydropower Projects in Perspective

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The Political Economy of Hydropower in Southwest China and Beyond


This chapter discusses the historical shifts and underlying drivers behind the rise of twenty-first-century Chinese-African hydropower development. It locates the basis of these shifts in changes in financing regimes for hydropower projects in Africa; host country governments have pivoted away from dwindling traditional OECD and multilateral development sources of finance and towards new alternative sources of Chinese state-owned commercial lending. The varied hydro-historical trajectories of Uganda, Ghana, and Ethiopia are compared here through an analysis of select project cases in order to demonstrate how and why different contexts have converged on similar outcomes in pivoting to Chinese partnership arrangements. The three cases, respectively, represent private sector, multilateral, and state-led approaches to African dam development which have each ended up resorting to coordinated bilateral Chinese financing mechanisms to provide solutions to rising energy demand and domestic resource constraints. This chapter concludes with common risks and challenges faced by African cases in various contexts.

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  1. 1.

    Interview with African country government hydro-official in April 2019.

  2. 2.

    The filling of the domestic savings gap in developing countries with external assistance to generate a capital to output ratio was enshrined in the Harrod-Domar model; for a critical take, see Easterly (1999).

  3. 3.

    For more on this, see Mawdsley (2018), and Mawdsley et al. (2018).

  4. 4.

    For more on the differences between multilateral development bank, private bank, and Chinese policy bank lending in the hydro-energy industry, see Plummer Braeckman et al. (2020).

  5. 5.

    For more on modernisation in Africa, see Cooper (1997).

  6. 6.

    For further treatment and discussion, see Miescher and Tsikata (2009) and Tenkorang et al. (forthcoming).


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Funding for parts of this research were provided by the UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund and the FutureDAMS research consortia.

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Correspondence to Pon Souvannaseng .

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Souvannaseng, P. (2021). Twenty-First-Century Chinese-African Hydropower Projects in Perspective. In: Rousseau, JF., Habich-Sobiegalla, S. (eds) The Political Economy of Hydropower in Southwest China and Beyond. International Political Economy Series. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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