China’s Digital Silk Road in Africa and the Future of Internet Governance

Image: Flickr, Fortune Global Forum
Image: Flickr, Fortune Global Forum

The Digital Silk Road (DSR) is a Chinese policy initiative launched in 2015. Six years later, there is relatively little concrete information about what it has achieved so far. This study offers a preliminary analysis of what the DSR entails in Africa.

We seek to understand its effectiveness as a policy initiative by measuring its relationship to the Chinese government’s promotion of ‘cyber sovereignty’. In particular, we focus on a series of proposals made by Chinese telecommunications firms at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) between September 2019 and May 2020, and the subsequent public statement of support they received from a group of African countries in July 2020. We compare this with Chinese policy bank lending for technology projects in Africa that would meet the definition of the DSR’s agenda. We find that Chinese lending for technology projects in Africa was actually greater before the launch of the DSR than after. We also find that there is very little relationship between Africa’s loan-recipient countries and those who made public statements of support for Huawei at the ITU. Lastly, we find that despite their significance as a voting bloc Africa has made relatively few engagements at the ITU.

1 Aug 2021