Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

John O'Loughlin

Second Advisor

Joe Bryan

Third Advisor

Mara Goldman

Fourth Advisor

Brian King

Fifth Advisor

Cameron Thies


China’s rising global influence has significant implications for the politics of natural resource extraction and development in sub-Saharan Africa. Focusing on the uranium industry, I analyze how China’s influence operates at global, national, and sub-national scales in relation to natural resource politics in the southern African country of Namibia. Specifically, I draw on multi-methods fieldwork to evaluate 1) how Namibians are engaging with Chinese investments in mining and 2) what implications these engagements have for the politics of mining and development, including natural resource ownership and the distribution of mining-associated benefits and costs. Contrary to portrayals of Africans as passive foreign investment recipients, I find that Namibian elites are leveraging projects like the Husab uranium mine, which is the Chinese government’s largest investment in Africa to date, to pursue their own political goals. These goals include an increased role for the Namibian state in mining. This outcome — a noteworthy achievement for a small African state — suggests that foreign investment and resource nationalism are not necessarily at odds. It also indicates that African leaders can leverage Chinese investments to improve their bargaining positions in relation to both the global economy and their own domestic politics. Within Namibia, however, the distribution of benefits and costs associated with projects like the Husab mine is likely to further marginalize already-marginalized populations. Furthermore, by reinforcing the state as the trustee of development, projects like Husab may also make it more difficult for minority communities to challenge mining-based development. Characterizing projects like the Husab uranium mine as neo-colonial exploitation by China is an over-generalization given the challenges such projects pose to historical uranium geopolitics and mining ownership patterns. It is equally clear, however, that, far from overturning all forms of mining-related exploitation, China’s rising influence can also deepen historical inequalities associated with mining, particularly for politically-marginalized communities.