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May 30, 2024

The China-US digital competition in Africa and other current issues in African governance: Editorial

Editorial by Richard Jurgens, Editor, The Africa Governance Papers, Volume 1 | Issue 4 | October 2023 by Good Governance Africa.

TAGP is an independent academic peer-reviewed journal published by Good Governance Africa (GGA). TAGP aims to support and develop the organisation’s internal research capabilities by providing its researchers with opportunities to publish peer-reviewed research along with work on governance issues by upcoming and established researchers from across Africa. Early-career researchers are offered the experience of a rigorous and demanding peer review and revision process that contributes significantly to their ability to carry out quality research and to prepare work for publication in other academic journals. Established researchers are offered a platform for the exploration of themes in their ongoing research that apply particularly appropriately to informing governance performance in Africa.

The first four research articles in this new issue focus on the competition between China and the US for digital technology influence in Africa. I thank Dr Bob Wekesa of the African Centre for the Study of the US at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) for interesting the authors of these articles in publishing with TAGP. Their work was produced as a result of a research grant provided by the Africa-China Reporting Project at the Wits Centre for Journalism.

In the opening paper, Tyler Venske argues that there is a need to delink African nation-states from foreign influence and control of the digital sector, and to reframe the continent’s approach to digital sovereignty. Her article seeks to highlight key hurdles to Africa’s digital independence. In his article, Cliff Mboya examines the implications of the rivalry between China and the US for global dominance of the digital landscape and its implications for African countries’ foreign policy postures, applying rational choice theory to a study of “an emerging strategy of agency in Kenya”. Thomas Lethoba’s article examines the “US-China standoff over digital supremacy in Africa” in a media context and, in particular, allegations that China is promoting its internet model, which includes censorship and restrictions, through digital investments in African countries. The article finds that claims that China is exporting an authoritarian digital authoritarianism model to Africa are misleading, but also that African autocracies are exploiting the adoption of China’s model of the internet to roll back democratic gains through surveillance and censorship of civil liberties.

A research article contributed by GGA colleagues Pranish Desai and Dr Ross Harvey starts from indications that there are starkly divergent trajectories between Southern African Development Community (SADC) and non-SADC countries’ output and employment growth as a measure of manufacturing performance. This paper uses econometric model to examine whether the SADC suffers a statistically significant difference in industrialisation trends when compared with other African regions and countries, finding that there is a significant discrepancy. On that basis, the article proposes adjustments to the current SADC Industrialisation Strategy (2015-2063).

In an extended book review, Terence Corrigan discussed Dr Christine Hobden’s Citizenship in a Globalised World (2022), based on her PhD at Oxford, which is centrally concerned with the operation of citizenship across – or “above” – borders. Corrigan finds that the book is framed around a model of citizenship that embodies and promotes justice and that it is “both an analysis and a work of advocacy”. Though it adopts a “broadly liberal” approach with the individual as the basic unit of analysis, the book develops a theory of citizenship as “the construction of societal collectives and their moral obligations”, as Corrigan puts it. He finds a key tension between the book’s “commitment to cosmopolitanism” and the need to respect global differences in ethical ideas and practice, but also that the book contributes useful challenges to standard conceptualisations of citizenship in today’s world.

Professor David Benatar, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cape Town, contributes an extended review essay on Dr Max Price’s recent book, Statues and Storms: Leading Through Change (2023), a memoir of the author’s experiences as vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, focusing particularly on the “Fallist protests” from early 2015 until the end of 2016. During that time, “protesters shut down the university and engaged in intimidation, assault, and arson, with an ever-increasing list of demands. Dr Price himself was subjected to verbal abuse and physical assault”, writes Professor Benatar. His review is sympathetic to the challenges Dr Price faced, praising his coolness and patience. However, he also critically examines Dr Price’s view that he was forced to take “unpopular decisions” during tumultuous times, arguing that unpopular decisions are “only courageous if they are also the right ones”.

Finally, Sara Houmada, with the African Peer Review Mechanism Continental Secretariat, provides an interesting commentary article reviewing the African Union’s review of its First Ten-Year Implementation Plan (FTYIP) in support of Agenda 2063, the AU’s 2013 plan “for stronger socio-economic and political integration among African countries” based on seven aspirations and 20 specific goals. She shows that the evaluation revealed that the FTYIP resulted in “relatively humble achievements” due to “the persistence of a range of challenges”, which she examines in some detail. The rest of the piece concerns the plans outlined in the Second Ten-Year Implementation Plan (STYIP), as consolidated by the AU Commission and AUDA-Nepad, to address the shortfalls and extend development programmes. She concludes by arguing that many of the challenges faced by African countries in addressing Agenda 2063’s challenges could be positively influenced by a focused and conscious adoption of the social contract model of governance around the continent.

My thanks to Cuan Stafford for the excellent layout work. And finally, my thanks to Dr Ross Harvey, director of Good Governance Africa’s research department, whose commitment to TAGP as an independent journal is immense and much appreciated. To conclude, this issue provides a range of research and research-based arguments in a number of areas that demonstrate TAGP’s commitment to both depth and breadth in the pursuit of research on governance. With growing interest and support from our widening circle of academic researchers, the journal aims to build on this approach even further in coming issues.

Biographical Details

Richard Jurgens is editor of Good Governance Africa (GGA)’s peer-reviewed academic journal, The Africa Governance Papers and is a former editor of GGA’s flagship publication, Africa in Fact. He spent 10 years in exile with the ANC in Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as the Netherlands. He has worked in mainstream media, alternative media, the corporate world and for Non-Government Organisations internationally and in South Africa. As a published author, he has recently completed a Research Master’s degree in public policy at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance.


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