African cities these days are bearing an intriguing resemblance to those of China, thanks to a myriad of Chinese builders and developers working across the continent.
Journalist Michael Hulshof and Shanghai’s own Daan Roggeveen recently published a project researching Chinese urbanism in Africa, dating back to 2013. An exhibition will be launched in Shanghai, as well as Dar Es Salaam and Amsterdam, this April.
For the report in Urban China magazine, Hulshof and Roggeveen interviewed more than a hundred Chinese and African workers in six cities, with the purpose of investigating the way urban areas in Africa are developing — and what China has to do with it.
Beijing Road, Nairobi
According to Roggeveen, the areas of interest were: “In Nairobi, mass housing, in Addis Ababa, infrastructure and Special Economic Zones, in Lagos, the Special Economic Zone, in Kigali, the idea of Rwanda as the ‘Singapore of Africa.'” The two specifically scoped out specialists on the subjects, including academics, entrepreneurs, and even politicians.
Here’s what Roggeveen had to say about the similarities between Chinese and African urbanization:
We all know China’s unprecedented urban transformation, which transformed China from a rural into an urban society in one generation. Now, Africa is urbanizing at the same pace as China did in the past 30 years, but in a process that is less coordinated and aligned. People do not only move to the capitals of African countries, but especially top second and third tier cities.
There are many resemblances. First of all, the speed of urbanization is similar. But also, the level of energy and dynamism and the ambition for progress in Chinese and African cities are comparable. Driving through the fringe of Nairobi, with its construction sites, road works, traffic jams, and advertisements for furniture and processed food one could easily imagine being in the outskirts of a Chinese city.
Thika highway, Nairobi, constructed by Chinese firms
Great Wall Apartments, Nairobi
Another notable example is Kilamba New City, a housing complex in Angola’s capital Luanda. Built by CITIC, the massive development comprises 750 eight-storey buildings for 500,000 people and boasts a similar design to housing units in China.
As for the question of whether there’s any tension between the two countries, Roggeveen merely noted increasing competition between Chinese investors and African companies.
“I think the most interesting thing is the world is globalizing much faster than many people think, with Western influence drastically changing and international relationships radically shifting,” he summarised.
Tanzania National Football Stadium, completed in 2007 with a $20 million grant from China
Hulshof and Roggeveen’s exhibition will be launched at the HKU/Shanghai Study Centre on April 26 at 3pm. Roggeveen himself will be speaking, along with other academics.
The Chinese-designed African Union Building in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
The Eastern Industry Zone, owned by the Jiangsu Qiyuan Group, in Addis, Ababa
The Lekki Free Trade Zone, designed by Shanghai urban planners, in Nigeria
[Images via Hulshof & Roggeveen]