African cities are starting to look eerily like Chinese onesWRITTEN BY
August 16, 2015 Quartz Africa
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.
Beijing Road in Nairobi.(Michiel Hulshof and Daan Roggeveen)
Their conclusion? Doubtful. “Simply put, political and economical realities in Africa and China differ too much for a straight forward ‘copy and paste’ approach,” they wrote in an essay about their project, Facing East: Chinese Urbanism in Africa. “All in all, there seems to be no one single answer to the question of the Chinese urban model ‘working’ in Africa. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it doesn’t yet.”
“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.” Quartz: You interviewed over a hundred Chinese and African architects, politicians, entrepreneurs and citizens in six African cities. What were you hoping to find?
Daan Roggeveen: Our focus was the influence of China and China’s urban model on Africa’s urbanization, and in particular the way African cities develop. In every city we looked at one or two different research topics—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.” For each topic we tried to find people that have a specialist view on these particular subjects, like certain academics, entrepreneurs, journalists, and politicians.
Photos: African cities are starting to look eerily like Chinese ones