The Chinese infrastructural fix in Africa : a strategic-relational analysis of Zambia’s ‘road bonanza’ and the rehabilitation of TAZARA

  • Tim Zajontz

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Over the past decade, infrastructure development has turned from a peripheral phenomenon into a key pillar of cooperation between China and Africa. This study scrutinises the political economy of Chinese infrastructure projects in Africa – both in theoretical and empirical terms. Informed by a critical realist philosophy of science, this research has been characterised by an iterative methodological movement between conceptual abstractions and the concrete cases under scrutiny, viz. Zambia’s road sector and the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA). Drawing on David Harvey’s theory of spatio-temporal fixes, the study posits that Africa’s recent infrastructure boom is driven by Chinese overaccumulation. A strategic-relational approach to the structure-agency conundrum is employed to trace African state agency in the unfolding of the Chinese ‘infrastructural fix’ and to assess how African governments are differentially constrained and enabled by their particular structural contexts. With respect to Zambia’s road sector, it is argued that the infrastructural fix has been fostered by the government’s ambitious, debt-financed infrastructure development agenda as well as by ‘not so public’ procurement processes. More recently, Zambia’s shrinking fiscal space has caused a shift in the governance of the ‘fix’ from public debt financing to private project finance, thereby heralding new rounds of accumulation by dispossession. In the case of TAZARA, the Chinese infrastructural fix has not yet materialised because of a changing balance of political forces in Tanzania. President Magufuli’s time in office has been characterised by rigid state interventions vis-à-vis foreign investment, a relative strengthening of legal-rational bureaucratic procedures and the resuscitation of developmentalist policies. This has translated into strategic pragmatism and cautious cost-benefit analyses regarding a Chinese participation in TAZARA. The study concludes that the extent to which Sino-African cooperation in the infrastructure sector affords ‘win-win’ results is largely contingent upon African state actors and their differentially constraining structural contexts.
Date of Award28 Jul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorIan Christopher Taylor (Supervisor)


  • China
  • Tanzania
  • Zambia
  • Infrastructure
  • Debt
  • Spatio-temporal fix
  • David Harvey
  • Critical realism
  • Road development
  • Economic governance
  • China-Africa relations
  • Strategic-relational approach
  • Spatial fix

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  • 24th June 2025

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