My initial attraction to the study of China’s activities in Africa stemmed from an intellectual imbalance I noticed while writing two separate MA theses. Many of the best-known scholars, including those that I respect on the subject, are non-African. In Nigeria, only a few scholars have fundamentally contributed to the subject. My interest was further deepened by an experience I had during my MA research: I had to e-mail a number of scholars to get clarifications and additional research materials related to their articles but they were mainly non-African.
This intellectual imbalance has both epistemological and developmental implications. Without local capacity for research on the topic, where do African leaders turn to for critical evaluation of China’s policies and presence in Africa? How would there be an organic African China plan when there are very few African scholars with expertise on the topic on the continent?
Since then, my research experience has been simultaneously splendid, bumpy, and sometimes clumsy. Although since becoming a Next Generation Social Sciences in Africa fellow, I have managed to turn my ideas into publications, researching China in Africa is challenging. Not least, getting official information from Chinese organizations and the embassy and consulate in Nigeria has remained a difficult task.
In spite of these research challenges, I have mainly situated my route towards completing my PhD in terms of the blunt but true quote of my supervisor: “There are plenty of things that can go wrong with a research plan, so being flexible and being willing to persevere in adverse circumstances are desirable traits in a social researcher.”
I can only prepare for the coming challenges and view them as a training process in preparation for a more fulfilling post-PhD era when I hope to ultimately become one of my generation’s most cited and respected scholars on China in Africa.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published to the SSRC’s Next Gen Microsite on April 18, 2014 and is cross-posted to Kujenga-Amani with permission. It is also updated to reflect some new edits.