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China's Special Economic Zones in Africa: Lots of Hype, Little Hope

A decade ago China announced it would develop a series of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Africa to boost trade and industrialization. Given the phenomenal success of China’s SEZs that helped to spark the PRC’s three-decades of history-making economic growth, not surprisingly, hopes ran high in Africa for similar results.

Initially, there were plans for 50 such economic zones to be built across the continent but to date, only six have actually opened, and of those, few are coming anywhere close to meeting those once lofty expectations. The SEZs were intended to provide Chinese companies with special tax incentives, improved infrastructure and a more streamlined regulatory system to help drive trade between the host country and China. To date, the only zone that is fully operational is at the Suez Canal in Egypt while the five others are bogged down in bureaucracy and bilateral disputes.

The Jinfei Special Economic Zone in Mauritius highlights the problems that SEZs have had in getting off the ground in Africa. James Wan, Editor of the Royal African Society’s editorial site African Arguments, recently visited the Jinfei SEZ in his native Mauritius to find out what went wrong there and to find out why this once ambitious plan to jump start Sino-African trade is now being cast aside a failed policy experiment.

James joins Eric & Cobus to discuss this week to discuss the seemingly dim outlook for Chinese SEZs in Africa.

Show Notes:

About James Wan:

James is the London-based Editor of the Royal African Society’s African Arguments website. Previously, he was a Senior Editor at Think Africa Press where he reported extensively on China-Africa issues. Wan is a former fellow of the Wits University China-Africa Reporting Project and, in 2014, was awarded a grant to conduct an investigation in Uganda. He describes himself as having “Chinese blood, Mauritian heritage, and British sensibilities.” A complete profile of James is available on his portfolio website at

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