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Abdul-Gafar Tobi Oshodi

Researching China in Africa

Tobi_1925My initial attraction to the study of China’s activities in Africa stems from the intellectual imbalance that I noticed while writing two separate MA theses. The majority of the best-known scholars, including those that I respect on the subject, are non-African. In Nigeria only a few scholars have fundamentally contributed to the subject matter. My interest was further deepened by an experience I had during my MA research: I had to e-mail a number of non-African scholars to get clarifications and additional research materials related to their articles.

This intellectual imbalance has both epistemological and development implications. Without local capacity for research on the topic, where do African leaders turn to for critical evaluation of China’s policies and presence in Africa? How would there be a Sino-African compact when there are very few African scholars with expertise on the topic?

Since then, my research experience, to say the least, has been simultaneously splendid, bumpy, and sometimes clumsy. While it has been splendid because I have managed to generate publications from my ideas (while also becoming one of the prestigious fellows of the Next Generation Social Sciences Program), it has been bumpy and clumsy due to challenges I have faced. Not least, getting official information from Chinese organizations and the embassy and consulate in Nigeria has remained a difficult task.

But in spite of these research challenges, I have mainly situated my route towards completing my PhD in terms of the blunt but true quote of my supervisor: “There are plenty of things that can go wrong with a research plan so being flexible and being willing to persevere in adverse circumstances are desirable traits in a social researcher.” I can only prepare for the coming challenges and view them as a training process in preparation for a more fulfilling post-PhD era when I hope to ultimately become one of my generation’s most cited and respected scholars on China in Africa.