Bureaucratic agency and power asymmetry in Benin–China relations
Bureaucratic agency in the context of the power asymmetry in Benin’s relations with China is the subject of this chapter. It focuses on the negotiation tactics and manoeuvres of bureaucrats of Benin when negotiating infrastructure project contracts with China, and questions the latitude of social action of bureaucrats as substate actors often acting in the shadows of negotiation processes and the agentic dimension of their action. More specifically, it focuses on bureaucrats located in ministerial departments in charge of reviewing calls for tenders, monitoring execution of public works and closing projects. Bureaucrats in small African states, despite negotiating in starkly asymmetrical relations, are not passive and conforming agents during negotiations; they use influence strategies in order for civil servants’ minorities’ views to prevail. While exploring the specificities of a particular and less-studied case, this analysis has wider relevance and use in its applicability to other African contexts through the connecting analytical framework of bureaucratic agency, including in the circumstances of asymmetrical power relations.