Book Project

The Railpolitik: Leadership and Agency in Sino-African Infrastructure Development (under review)

Why do Chinese-funded and -constructed projects that are similar in nature develop starkly different trajectories in different African states? This question sheds light on the varying state effectiveness in Sub-Saharan Africa. Diverging from existing structural explanations that stress the external agency and institutional argument that emphasizes bureaucratic capacity, I propose a political championship theory to explain variances in African states’ effectiveness to deliver functional infrastructure and policies. I argue that perceived threats from electoral competition generate strong political commitment from the state’s leadership, i.e. a political champion. When a political champion has high authority, their intervention in project implementation generates motivations for bureaucrats and tempers resistance, leading to higher project functionality. I trace the process of three Chinese-funded and -constructed railway projects: the Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya, the Addis-Djibouti Railway in Ethiopia, and the Caminho de Ferro de Benguela in Angola. I rely on 250 interviews conducted during 40 weeks of field research from 2017-2019 in Kenya, Ethiopia, Angola, and China. This research contributes to the theoretical debate on state effectiveness by emphasizing individual agency within structural and institutional constraints, a previously understudied area in state effectiveness. This research also challenges the conventional belief and shows that short-term electoral institutions can be as effective as long-term centralized ones in generating leadership commitment to developmental projects or policies. The thorough documentation of three Chinese-sponsored projects in Africa also fills the research gap of Chinese infrastructure projects in developing countries in general—despite its practical significance, limited empirical research studies have explored this subject due to the hard-to-access nature of Chinese actors and projects.


Peer-reviewed Articles 

Presidential Extraversion: Understanding Sino-African Infrastructure Development. Accept, World Development

Executive Agency and State Capacity in Development: Comparing Sino-African Railways in Kenya and Ethiopia. Comparative Politics, 2022. Accepted Version | Slides PDF

Understanding clientelism and development: a case study of Kenyan Standard Gauge Railway project. Economic History of Developing Regions, 2019. With Uwe Wissenbach | Media: Caixin.

Book Chapters

Sun, Y. and Y. Wang, (2017)‘Learning to Collaborate: The Case Study of a Chinese-Kenyan CSR Effort.’ In Young-Chan Kim (eds). (2015). China and Africa: A New Paradigm of Global Business. Springer. 

Wissenbach, U. and Y. Wang, (2015). ‘Development Policy – alternatives, challenges and opportunities.’ In Wang, J. and W. Song, (2015). China, the European Union and International Politics of Global Governance. Palgrave Macmillan. 

Working Papers/Policy Papers/Research Brief

with Linda Calabrece. Chinese capital, state effectiveness and the BRI: A tale of ‘fractured development’ in Cambodia. (under review).

Wang, (2022). National Champions as ‘Learning Institutions’: Corporate Social Responsibility Norm Acquisition by Chinese State-Owned Enterprises during the Belt and Road Initiative. Research Brief, China Law and Development.

with Benard Musembi Kilaka. Imagined community: African community agency in Sino-African infrastructure projects. Working paper.

Wissenbach, U. and Y. Wang, (2017). ‘Local politics meets Chinese engineers – A study into the Chinese-built Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway Project in Kenya.’ Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies China-Africa Research Initiative (SAIS-CARI) working paper.

Wissenbach, U. and Y. Wang, (2017). ‘Local Politics Meets Chinese Engineers: A Study of the Chinese-Built Standard Gauge Railway Project In Kenya.’ Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies China-Africa Research Initiative (SAIS-CARI) policy brief.

Wang, Y. 2017. How Chinese businesses are seen in Myanmar: A survey of key social, environmental and development issues .  Human Rights Defender. 26(1), pp. 17-19. 

Wang, Y. and S. Zadek, (2016). ‘Sustainability Impacts of Chinese Outward Direct Investment: A Review of the Literature.’ International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) working paper. 

Featured in Media:

Cheng, K.C., January 5, 2022, Africans’ Reactions Mixed to Chinese Presence on Continent. VOA.

%d bloggers like this: