Unpacking local agency in China–Africa relations: Frictional encounters and development outcomes of solar power in Kenya

Padmasai Lakshmi Bhamidipati*, Ulrich Elmer Hansen

*Corresponding author for this work

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China is a ‘rising power’ in Africa, and growing Chinese investments in the renewable energy sector in SSA (e.g. in wind and solar) are gaining traction. The ways in which China is shaping low-carbon energy transitions in SSA and the implications of it doing so merit attention. While existing research has tended to focus on fossil fuels and hydropower, it is crucial to undertake analysis of Chinese-backed wind and solar projects and of the micro-level engagements of Sino-African actors in order to further unpack the nature and complexity of Chinese involvement as it unfolds on the ground. In this article, we employ the concept of ‘frictional encounters’ in order to investigate empirically the development of the first utility-scale solar PV project in Kenya, which was delivered as a turnkey package along with a Chinese investor, technology supplier and construction contractor. Building on qualitative research methods, including semi-structured interviews and focus-group discussions, we explore the micro-level frictional encounters between Chinese and Kenyan actors involved in the project in the areas of community development and employment. The article offers two important insights: (I) that the project organization has important implications for the scope of the development outcomes; and (II) that these outcomes are not likely to accrue automatically without deliberate government intervention. In addition, the article offers a finer-grained perspective on Chinese projects in Africa focusing on the often overlooked significance of local African agency in Sino-African relations. Finally, the article provides a contribution to furthering understanding of the theoretical processes and features of the concept of frictional encounters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-217
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Solar PV
  • Energy transition
  • China–Africa
  • Frictional encounters


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