The Developmental State Strikes Back? The Rise of New Global Powers and African States’ Development Strategies


With the arrival of new players such as China and other emerging economies, the developing landscape is changing. The project addresses the question whether the African states are able to take the lead on the planning of development programmes and if the new players represent alternative models.

About the project


This project proposes to study the place and role of African states in the context of a changing development landscape at the global level as well as on the continent. Our reflection builds on two interrelated observations: (a) since the end of the Washington consensus, new paradigms in the field of international development are emerging, whereby the state is given a more important role as driver of development; (b) thanks to unprecedented levels of economic growth and a diversified donor and investor landscape, African states are in a position to increase their room for manoeuver and thus able to play a more central role in the definition of their development agendas. In this project, we put the development strategies of African states at the centre of the analysis. We interrogate how they react to and appropriate changes in development policies at the global level as well as the arrival of new players such as China and other emerging economies on the development scene. We also ask whether and to what extent the strategies of African states in this new setting are conducive to long-term changes in terms of social and human development, or whether they tend to reproduce and reinforce established power relations. We thereby bring a new perspective to both academic and policy debates on the topic.


This project is structured around three sets of research questions corresponding to three different levels of analysis.

1. New development discourses: At the macro level, we seek to understand the ongoing shift in international development discourses and policies, questioning in particular how the state is (re-)emerging as an engine of development. The transition away from the Washington consensus has been the object of a growing body of literature. The following research questions will guide our macro level analysis: How is the transition away from the Washington consensus playing out in global development discourses and policies? Does the arrival of China and other emerging global powers on the global development scene have an impact on these changes? How influential is the Chinese ‘high modernist’ development model on the design and implementation of developmental plans and strategies in Africa? How do African states conceive of their modernising role in this new context?

2. New actors, new ways of financing and new practices of development: At the meso level, we aim to capture the diversification of African practices of development over the past ten to fifteen years in two dimensions. On the one hand, in our countries of focus, we will study how African governments implement their development strategies taking into account the multiplicity of global players that open new opportunities for material or financial support. What kind of influence do the type and the condition of funding have on the actual development strategies? Are African states able to take the lead on the planning of development programs by playing out the competition between ‘new’ and ‘traditional’ global players and the increase of their own financial support? Do China and other emerging global powers represent alternative models of development? How are development expert influenced by these models?

3. New projects and development governance: Finally, at the micro level, we concentrate on development projects in the two partner countries. By focusing on a few major infrastructure projects we will be able to better understand national development strategies from below. We will consider these projects both in their obvious infrastructural dimension and as symbols of a particular vision of development. Are they just an engine of economic growth in a development strategy articulated with industrial or pro-growth policies? What are their other dimensions – political, symbolic, rhetorical? By studying the history (conception, funding, realisation) of these projects we will be able to understand the real meaning of the discourse on emergence. To this end, we will answer the following research questions: What kind of effects does the return of the developmental state model have on governance structures and power relations in Africa? To what extent are economic growth policies and investment strategies driven by a developmental agenda? What are the links between the return of the developmental state and the construction of legitimacy for African states and regimes, both nationally and on the international scene?


Contrary to prevailing perspectives and analyses on the changing nature of development in Africa primarily seen through the lens of IFIs, Western donors and emerging powers (BRICS), our project seeks to understand changes in development trajectories from the point of view of African states. We argue that in the new context of development in Africa, the consideration of African states’ agency in response to these changes is critical, as their space to define and shape their development agendas seems to have increased. It is by shedding light on agency and by exploring development strategies of African states that our research aims to make an impact. Our project will capture in detail the changes in donor landscape and aid flows as well as the diversification of development models in light of the arrival of ‘new’ donors (BRICS) with a focus on China based on its relative influence on the African continent. By engaging with ministries for planning and development planners as well as with actors in the private sector (business associations, chambers of commerce, etc.) our research will uncover considerations and motivations of African states to pursue a specific developmental path and provide insights as to the relative importance of donors, investors and aid flows. With the synthesis of our findings we ultimately aim to provide a basis for new ways of intervening for development and of delivering pro-poor policies more effectively. Through the provision of knowledge, we envision creating greater awareness of the diversification of the global aid and development architecture and its conse-quences among policy makers and practitioners both locally and internationally. We ground this vision in the assumption that economic growth does not necessarily translate into change in the livelihood of the majority of the population and that good governance is insufficient to address the risks of personal and group enrichment leading to increased inequalities. Based thereon, we will contribute to a more differentiated understanding of power relations and their institutionalization in many African countries, which in turn will sketch potential ways in which practitioners and policy makers and their institutions could account for issues of power relations.

Geographic scope

  • Cameroon
  • Côte d'Ivoire

Research consortium


  • Antoine Kernen, Université de Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Didier Peclard, Université de Genève, Switzerland
  • Francis Akindes, Université Alassan Ouattara (Bouaké), Côte d'Ivoire
  • Fabien Nkot, Université de Yaoundé, Cameroon

Project link to P3

  • Link to project on SNSF research database P3 (from October 2016)




Further information on this content


Dr. Antoine Kernen Faculté des sciences sociales et politiques Université de Lausanne Bâtiment Géopolis CH-1015 Lausanne +41 21 692 32 30