Zambia and China: Workers’ Protest, Civil Society and the Role of Opposition Politics in Elevating State Engagement

by Agnes Ngoma Leslie


This paper examines the role of civic protest and opposition politics in changing the dynamics of the relationship between Zambia and China at the top leadership and working class levels.  It looks specifically at how the workers’ plight became elevated to the top agenda and became a major issue for the two countries’ diplomatic and strategic engagement.  It takes the view that China does not always play the dominant role, but is at times compelled to engage in strategic negotiations to maintain a satisfactory relationship with African governments, suggesting that African countries have resources they can use to strengthen their bargaining positions at the negotiating table. The paper concludes that contrary to much scholarship, China does not always play the dominant role with African countries. It suggests that African governments, leaders and communities can and do actively engage in political and community actions that influence their relationships with China. The paper looks specifically at the role that workers’ protest, opposition politics and civil society have played in changing the dynamics of the relationship between Zambia and China, at both the leadership and working class levels.  On the basis of the Zambian case, it suggests that African countries have significant resources that they can leverage to bargain and advance their national priorities when negotiating with China and to exercise leadership in that relationship.

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Agnes Ngoma Leslie is Senior Lecturer and Outreach Director, Center for African Studies, University of Florida.  Her publications include Social Movements and Democracy in Africa: The Impact of Women’s Rights in Botswana (Routledge) and senior editor for the Encyclopedia of African History and Culture: A Learning Source Book.

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