China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a mobilization that mainly focuses on infrastructure building and investment in developing countries. Presently, the global discourse on BRI is polarised into two camps. The Chinese government and media, along with some of the beneficiaries, present a narrative that BRI is a wholly positive and mutually beneficial initiative. Western governments and media, along with some allies, present a contrary narrative on BRI that is almost entirely negative: pointing to the risks of debt traps and the resulting loss of developing country sovereignty. This seminar proposed a third narrative on BRI that unpacks research evidence, which tends to depart from both the narratives above.
Much of the BRI discourse is about Africa. Ethiopia is the continent’s model BRI country, because of elaborate Chinese infrastructure building and manufacturing. Based on documentary research and fieldwork, the speakers developed the third narrative on BRI through the Ethiopian case.