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

A China in Africa Podcast

A decade ago, China announced it would develop of 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, hopes ran high for similar results in Africa.

Initially, there were plans for 50 such economic zones to be built across the continent but, to date, only six have actually opened, and none of those few are coming anywhere close to meeting the plan’s 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 countries 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 and Cobus this week to discuss the seemingly dim outlook for Chinese SEZs in Africa.