Over the years, Chinese companies have successfully funded and built many new developments in African cities ranging from the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to the Lekki Free Trade Zone in Lagos, Nigeria.
According to Shanghai-based architect Daan Roggeveen and Amsterdam-based journalist Michiel Hulshof of Go West Project in a recent report, China’s practical investment diplomacy (offering buildings, roads, railways, power plants and other infrastructure) has emerged as a powerful alternative to Western development aid that is geared towards reducing poverty instead.
“On the one hand, China is able to deliver projects, within budget and on time and propels urban development forward. On the other hand, Chinese companies are able to undercut all other competitors, including locals,” Roggeven explains. “This means African companies are unable to compete. This leads to loss of local jobs and businesses—not only in construction but also in low level jobs like street sellers and construction workers.”
“More and more the Chinese are moving up the value chain, where they also design and even develop buildings and parts of cities. These interventions are very often not aligned with the local context, but rather planned top down,” says Roggeven. “Constructing a building is one thing, but the one initiating the building and designing it is decisive in how a city develops.”
China faces competition from the firms of other countries such as India, Brazil, and Turkey. Its influence is also curbed by the political and economic strength of each African country.