The Chinese are saving Africa’?

When casually chatting about the pace of Nairobi’s rapid development, my new friend (the brother of a former colleague) exclaimed “the Chinese are saving Africa yo!” He explained to me that Chinese development companies and engineers had taken a business interest in the ‘developing world’. They constructed multiple major highways and thoroughfares around Nairobi and completed the work in a remarkably fast time frame (~3 years or so). They brought the managers with them and now that the job is done, they are gone. Just like that, #OnToTheNextOne. He noted that they didn’t just build any roads, they built good roads. While I can’t claim to know the difference between a good road and a really good road, I trust his assessment; he’s a civil engineer after all. He went on to tell me lots about the changing face of Kenya, its flourishing middle class, budding entrepreneurship culture, the siting of the United Nations’ headquarters and newly built American Embassy. And of course, I wouldn’t be telling the full story if I didn’t mention that he talked about the traffic conditions which I will go deeper on in a separate post. Shortly after my visit, I came across this tweet in my feed. He’s obviously onto something.

It’s easy to see China’s footprint in Africa. On the outskirts of Nairobi, a new highway built by a Chinese firm is crowded with bumper-to-bumper traffic, many of the cars set on tires imported from China. The landscape is dotted with construction sites and, every so often, the logo of another Chinese construction firm. Across the continent, Chinese companies are building highways, railways, sports stadiums, mass housing complexes, and sometimes entire cities.

But China isn’t just providing the manpower to fuel quickly urbanizing African cities. It is exporting its own version of urbanization, creating cities and economic zones that look remarkably similar to Chinese ones. Journalist Michiel Hulsof, based in Amsterdam, and architect Daan Roggeven in Shanghai, began visiting the continent in 2013 to document and investigate whether China’s model of urbanism can work in Africa.”

And then upon further investigation, I stumbled on this short piece by NPR.

“I think Chinese are trying to buy favor,” he says. “One of the biggest challenges in African countries has been poor infrastructure. African people are happy with them, because the roads are better with the Chinese. “Chinese roads are not only building good will — they’re also helping Chinese businesses penetrate the continent. “China is seeing Kenya as a gateway to the East Africa community,” says Joseph Kieyah, an economist with the Kenya Institute for Public Research and Analysis, a government think tank.”

If it wasn’t for our quick little convo in the car after leaving the airport, I wouldn’t have known any of this. Glad it came up because now I want to know all there is to know about infrastructure development in African cities.

[inquire] Remember an instance when local insight tipped you off to broader issues in that place? Have you ever looked into something you learned about a place you visited, after returning home?


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