Exporting the Tools of Dictatorship: The Politics of China’s Technology Transfers to Africa
Dec 15, 2022
Erin Baggott Carter, Brett L. Carter
Carter, E. and Carter, B. (2022). Exporting the Tools of Dictatorship: The Politics of China’s Technology Transfers to Africa. Working Paper #122. Williamsburg, VA: AidData at William & Mary.
The Chinese government is revolutionizing digital surveillance at home. Are digital technology transfers from Huawei, China’s leading information technology company, enabling recipient governments to expand their digital surveillance operations and engage in more targeted repression against dissidents? To answer this question, we focus on the African continent, which has received nearly half of all global Huawei technology transfers. Using a series of identification strategies, we show that the effect of Huawei transfers on digital surveillance and targeted repression depends on preexisting political institutions in recipient countries. In Africa’s autocracies, which account for 81% of transfers to the continent, Huawei technology transfers facilitate digital surveillance, internet shutdowns, and targeted repression. In Africa’s democracies, Huawei technology may induce a small reduction in human rights abuses, though the effects are less consistently estimated. Most broadly, this paper suggests that China’s digital technology exports are reinforcing repressive governments.