OUCAN 2021 Annual Conference

Dealing with a new Cold War?

Great Power Competition in Times of Covid

Oxford University China Africa Network (OUCAN)

2021 Annual Conference:

Time | 20-21st May 2021

Venue | Zoom


Coming off years of increasing rivalry between the USA and China, the Covid crisis and its reverberations might well have represented the deathblow to the liberal international order. Mutual recriminations over the origins of the pandemic, with virulent rhetoric reminiscent of the Cold War, have exacerbated pre-existing political antagonisms. As in the previous era of superpower rivalry, strategic competition has spanned the Global South (formerly the “Third World”), with Africa and South-East Asia emerging as geopolitical hotspots. At the same time, the US-China relationship brings to the fray many features that were absent in earlier US-Soviet rivalry, including dense economic links between the two superpowers and a new ideational context where universalist, modernizing ideologies of European vintage have fallen out of fashion. In the complex 21st century globalized economy, the increased assertiveness of Asian powers creates a more variegated international landscape, bringing new risks and opportunities for African states, whose external relations continue to provide the fulcrum for the maintenance of domestic order.


Keynote Discussion, 20 May 12pm GMT+1 London (7am GMT-4 New York | 7pm GMT+8 Beijing)


  • Christopher Clapham, University of Cambridge
  • Odd Arne Westad, Yale University


  • Nicolas Lippolis, OUCAN

  • Harry Verhoeven, OUCAN

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What are the parallels between the Cold War period and current Great Power competition? How do the US-China and US-Soviet Union rivalries compare along political, ideological, military, and economic dimensions? And how are these specificities likely to play out in the competition for influence in Africa and other parts of the Global South?


Public Panel: Health Competition and Great Power Politics, 20 May 5.15pm GMT+1 London (12.15pm GMT-4 New York | 12.15am GMT+8 Beijing)


  • Emmanuel Balogun, Skidmore College
  • Kim Yi Dionne, University of California, Riverside
  • Joshua Eisenman, University of Notre Dame
  • Mandisa Mbali, University of Cape Town
  • Gordon Shen, University of Texas Health Science Centre


  • Simukai Chigudu, University of Oxford

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How have contemporary geopolitics influenced the response to the pandemic in Africa? What has been the role of national governments, multilateral bodies, and bilateral donors? How do these dynamics play out in African communities at the grassroots level? And will global health come to constitute a new geopolitical background in the years to come?


Closed Roundtable: Africa, China, and the Political Economy of Debt Negotiations, 21 May 2pm GMT+1 London (9am GMT-4 New York | 9pm GMT+8 Beijing)

The Covid shock has brought to the fore the fragility of many African states’ finances. Unlike previous crises, the current debt situation in Africa is marked by a greater diversity of creditors, including Paris Club donors, multilaterals, Chinese state banks, and the private sector. What considerations are each of these actors bringing to the table? How do the collective action problems inherent to debt negotiations play out in this more complex environment? And how can African states exercise their agency to both restructure their debts, and to put their economies and finances on a sounder footing? The roundtable will bring together practitioners and researchers to touch on the these and other key dilemmas, discussing possible future scenarios for the debt situation. 


  • Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, Oxford University China-Africa Network
  • Harry Verhoeven, Oxford University China-Africa Network
  • Nicolas Lippolis, Oxford University China-Africa Network

OUCAN gratefully acknowledges the support of the Oxford Africa Initiative (AfOx) and the African Studies Centre.
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