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China in Africa: The Real Story

African Roads: Why So Many Chinese Contractors?

Deborah Brautigam


Thika Road, Nairobi      credit: theeastafrican.co.ke
Sitting in yet another airport, after yet another delayed flight, after yet another conference on China and Africa. Pondering this question: African governments routinely award road construction contracts to Chinese and other foreign companies: South African, Italian, and so on. Why is this the case? A recent discussion in the comments section of this blog addressed that issue. Readers' thoughts welcome.

@Anonymous: Africa needs more infrastructure, no one denies that. I just have one question. Why is it that it is only foreigners who can build this infrastructure? Why can't we Africans rise to the challenge of learning how to construct the infrastructure we need? Is constructing infrastructure too hard for us Africans?

@Margaret Lee: I agree with you. Africans have the capacity to build infrastructure. The problem is that the Chinese are sending many of their people out of China to get jobs because there are too many people in China. All over the continent you have well qualified African engineers who can design new infrastructure and people to actual do the construction. In addition, most African countries have the monetary resources to pay for the needed equipment and supplies. The real issue rest with African leaders who are not serious about African development and would rather allow foreigners, like the Chinese, to do the work. This has been the problem with Africa since independence. Noted brilliant African scholar, now deceased, Claude Ake in his book on Democracy in Africa says,"..the assumption so readily made that there has been a failure of development is misleading. The problem is not so much that development has failed as that it was never really on the agenda in the first place. By all indications, political conditions in Africa are the greatest impediment to development.."