Most analyses of China's renewed engagement with Africa treat China as the driving force, and little recognition is given to the role of African agency, especially beyond the level of state elites. This article investigates the extent of African agency in engagements with China and argues that at various levels African actors have negotiated, shaped, and even driven Chinese engagements in important ways. Suggesting a theoretical framework that captures agency both within and beyond the state, the article provides an empirical analysis of African agency first by showing how elements of the Angolan state created a hybrid set of institutions to broker Chinese investment projects, and second by discussing how African social actors have influenced and derived benefits from the activities of Chinese migrants in Ghana and Nigeria. While both cases demonstrate African agency, the ability of African actors to exercise such agency is highly uneven, placing African politics at the heart of any understanding of China–Africa relations.
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