The Geopolitics of Human Rights in Africa-China Relations

Authors: Meredith DeBoom*, University of South Carolina
Topics: Political Geography, Development, Africa
Keywords: China-Africa, Development, Geopolitics, Human Rights, Mining, Politics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 2:35 PM / 4:15 PM
Room: Forum Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Academics and policymakers have expressed concerns about the implications of China’s rising influence for human rights, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, analyses of Africa-China relations often overlook how Africans, not just Chinese actors, are influencing human rights norms at multiple scales. Many Western analyses have also focused primarily on political rights, overlooking Africans’ engagements with long-standing geopolitical debates over the relative importance and interdependence of political as well as economic, social, and cultural rights. This paper draws on fieldwork on uranium mining in Namibia to assess how a variety of actors — from ruling party politicians to youth activists — are engaging with China’s rising influence in the realm of natural resource-related rights. Contrary to portrayals of Africans as passive actors, I explain how Namibians are leveraging this moment of geopolitical transition to advance scale-sensitive — and often competing — rights claims. My findings suggest that China’s geopolitical rise may strengthen some African governments’ abilities to pursue national-scale economic rights in the realm of resource ownership while simultaneously undermining the rights of mining-proximate communities. The analysis demonstrates how a geographic approach can enhance both our understanding of the spatiality of human rights and our ability to engage in normative debates over their status in a time of geopolitical transition.

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