Accepted paper:

Capturing the Rains: A Comparative Study of Chinese and World Bank financed hydro-projects in Cameroon


Yunnan Chen (Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS))

Paper short abstract:

This paper uses a comparative case study of a World Bank and a China Eximbank financed hydropower dam in Cameroon to evaluate the involvement and influence of Western vs. Chinese finance in the institutional design, implementation and impact mitigation of these infrastructure projects.

Paper long abstract:

As a consequence of the "Going Global" policies, China is becoming an omnipresent player in infrastructure construction across the world, particularly in developing economies in Africa and Asia, where infrastructure deficits have become a key bottleneck to economic growth and investment. Hydropower is one area in which Chinese financial resources and its domestic expertise could make significant contributions to a number of African states in terms of their energy security and water management. However many of China's hydropower projects remain controversial both domestically and overseas, due to their social and environmental impacts, and perceived lack of transparency surrounding negotiations and contracting. This paper uses a process-tracing methodology using fieldwork and stakeholder interviews to compare two partially-complete hydropower projects in Cameroon, financed and constructed in the last 5 years: one financed by China Eximbank, the other financed by a multilateral consortium led by the World Bank. After a retreat from major infrastructure projects in the 1990s, the number of World Bank financed dams has also risen dramatically in the late 2000s. The single country case study affords an opportunity to comparatively evaluate the projects' tendering, approval and implementation processes by the Cameroonian government, with respect to the two sets of financiers, and examine how the different financing structures have influenced implementation and approaches to environmental and social impacts and mitigation. It offers an insight into Chinese practices around infrastructure project financing, planning, and assessment standards, as well as that of the World Bank, as a re-emerging donor in the field of hydropower.

panel P69
Political ecology of rising China (roundtable format)