Cowries and Rice

The global impact of the exchanges and experiences between China and Africa.

Guangzhou, China, a city known for its large African diaspora (Photo: Anna Frodesiak via Wikimedia Commons).

Studies of China in Africa and vice versa have begun to proliferate in recent years. Journalist Howard W. French‘s China’s Second Continent (2015) has earned critical acclaim from both popular and academic circles, and he has had numerous stories featured in the pages of The New York Times and The Atlantic, to name but a few. Jamie Monson, the new director of the African Studies Center at Michigan State University, has published a study of Chinese involvement in the construction of the TAZARA railway between Tanzania and Zambia in the 1960’s, entitled Africa’s Freedom Railway (2011). There are also lots of great China-Africa digital projects available (We’ll be covering some of these in future installments of #DigitalArchive) like the China-Africa Knowledge Project acts as a “one-stop shop for researchers and practitioners working on the China-Africa relationship,” featuring conference announcements, recent book releases, and a database of researchers working on this important topic. This brief collection of authors and resources only begins to scratch the surface of what’s available online, which makes the existence of projects like Cowries and Rice, this week’s featured project, all the more important.

Winslow Roberston, a specialist in Sino-African relations who holds an M.A. in West African history from Syracuse University, created Cowries and Rice to learn more about “how African countries and China have interacted” and communicate that knowledge to a wider audience throughout the world. The Cowries and Rice team uses podcasts and blogs to achieve these goals, bring much-needed attention to Sino-African relations from a variety of important perspectives. I first came across Cowries and Rice when my friend Hikabwa Chipande appeared on the podcast (his episode is linked below) to discuss the construction of football stadiums by Chinese companies in Zambia, connected to his dissertation research on the history of football in Zambia. When I first listened to his podcast, I began to explore the rest of project, being really excited about all of the information that was available that would normally be really difficult for me to access otherwise. Translation Tuesday is a particularly useful feature, where each week, translations are posted for stories originally published in Chinese. For Anglophone readers, this is an incredible resource that opens up new pathways for understanding Sino-African relations.

The podcast has covered a range of topics from Chinese migrants in Lesotho to the history of Chinese/South Sudan Relations to a guide for beginners interested in Chinese-African relations. For founder Winslow Robertson, one of his favorite series of podcasts was the month-long discussion of Asian women in Africa, including one episode totally in Mandarin. You can listen to one of the episodes from this series on below and find the full series here.

In the future, Robertson hopes to further diversify the project, envisioning a “Hausa, French, Arabic, and Chinese-language podcast… that not only looks at China-Africa scholarship and debates but also gives practical advice on how to navigate the China-Africa relationship.” He wants this blog to have true practical impact for those people who are impacted by Sino-African relations on a day-to-day basis, be it “Senegalese traders in Yiwu” or “Chinese shop-owners in Lesotho.” No doubt, the contributions of this project hold huge potential for changing the way that we can conceptualize both China in Africa and Africa in China, as well as the global impact of these exchanges and experiences.

Follow Winslow on Twittter: @winslow_r, you can find all of the podcasts on the Soundcloud.  Cowries and Rice would not exist without the support of a wide-range of partners: Dr. Nkemjika Kalu was his initial podcast co-host before moving back to Nigeria; and Laiyin Yuan; Zander Rounds, and Joe Webster were the primary translators for Translation Tuesday.

As always, feel free to send me suggestions via Twitter (or use the hashtag #DigitalArchive) of sites you might like to see covered in future editions of The Digital Archive!

Further Reading

A private city

Eko Atlantic in Lagos, like Tatu City in Nairobi, Kenya; Hope City in Accra, Ghana; and Cité le Fleuve in Kinshasa, DRC, point to the rise of private cities. What does it mean for the rest of us?