skip to content

MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Implications of China's Growing Aid to Africa for USAID Conservation Programmes: Opportunities for Synergy

William Brower

Implications of China's Growing Aid to Africa for USAID Conservation Programmes: Opportunities for Synergy

As its presence in sub-Saharan Africa has grown over the last decade, the People’s Republic of China has been implementing a development model in the region which is a break from the consensus approach of the primary donor institutions.  Although this is a widely recognized issue in development, the discussion of the current and potential effects on other countries’ aid programmes has thus far been speculative.  This research takes a detailed look at Beijing’s overseas development programme to determine the implications for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) of China’s emergence as an influential donor in the region and opportunities for coordination between the two programmes.  In Gabon significant interaction between the countries’ development efforts is already being seen, so the situation in this resource-rich Central African country is assessed.

Resources play an integral role in Beijing’s new “development-assistance model”, which is the basis of China’s primary involvement in Gabon.  It is not surprising therefore that overlap is being seen with USAID’s primary development effort in Gabon, a conservation programme seeking the protection and sustainable use of natural resources.  To look objectively at how the differences between the two countries’ approaches to development assistance play out on the ground and likely areas for further interaction an assessment tool, adapted from the literature and based on the concepts of sustainable development, was used.  From this opportunities for greater synergy between the programmes become evident.

In Gabon, China is proving an attractive alternative to traditional donors.  As its influence increases (possibly at the expense of the U.S.) some USAID initiatives are becoming more politically sensitive. Areas of friction have begun to emerge between the two programmes, centring on natural resources.  But through enhanced coordination USAID has the opportunity to minimize future conflict and form a constructive relationship with China.

Although their approaches differ significantly, China and USAID have many of the same objectives for their development efforts in sub-Saharan Africa, with overall stability chief among these.  With this as a foundation, suggestions are made for ways to enhance coordination.  China has a highly centralized aid structure so efforts should be made to engage ministers in Beijing.  On the ground in Gabon and other African countries the following recommendations are made for how to approach China and for areas where coordination efforts should focus.
Strategies for in-country coordination:

• Encourage China to participate in donor coordination groups in creative ways
• Stress that the goal is coordination not homogenization
• Engage with overseas Chinese companies
• Work with regional and sub-regional organizations

Areas for in-country coordination:

• Linking infrastructure & poverty reduction
• Uncontroversial sectors (e.g. health, education, agriculture)
• Involving the partner country in determination of programme objectives

A coordinated effort would be more effective at working with the people of Gabon and other African nations toward positive development of their country.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.