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Sinofinancialization and urban change in Addis Ababa and Nairobi: an ethnography of private Chinese capital in African cities.

Project description

Study of Chinese entrepreneurship in Africa

China’s massive infrastructure projects in Africa include ports, telecommunications networks and railways. But China’s presence is also growing as regards its non-state financial operations. Thousands of Chinese entrepreneurs have ventured to Africa, but relatively little is known about this influx. The EU-funded SURGE project will carry out an urban ethnography of the Sino-financialisation of Addis Ababa (manufacturing) and Nairobi (high-value services). The project will take stock of the special economic zones, new towns, technology hubs and master-planned estates. Findings will provide fresh insight into how the urban structure and economic situation have evolved as a result of private Chinese capital. Specifically, SURGE will analyse the diversity of Chinese capital in Africa, and the ways African cities attract and harness these investments.


SURGE is a qualitative, ethnographic study of urban transformation driven by private Chinese capitals in Africa.

Current research on Africa-China relationships focuses on major government-driven investments, such as the Belt and Road initiative, which is the most recent example of China’s increasing presence in Africa. Scholarly attention is thus directed toward the state and the continental scale, overlooking private and provincial Chinese investments in Africa and their consequences on cities. Very little is known about non-state-driven financial operations of Chinese entrepreneurs, or about the responses of African cities to the influx of Chinese capitals.

SURGE addresses these knowledge gaps with an urban ethnography of the sinofinancialization of two African cities that offer two different models of China’s involvement in Africa: Addis Ababa, for manufacturing, and Nairobi, for high-value services. The research will explore the key urban sites of these financial operations: special economic zones, new towns, technology hubs and master-planned estates, charting the spatial and economic consequences of private Chinese capitals in the making of 21st-century African urban worlds. Methodologically, SURGE will be a multi-sited ethnography of financialization and will combine two disciplines: economic geography and social studies of finance.

The overall aim of SURGE is to contribute to postcolonial urban studies, by foregrounding the diversity of Chinese capital in Africa, and the agency of African cities in attracting and harnessing these investments for purposes of social justice and sustainability that are at the forefront of urban restructuring in the continent.


Net EU contribution
€ 194 433,60
10129 Torino

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Nord-Ovest Piemonte Torino
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 194 433,60

Partners (1)