New chapter in Routledge book on Africa’s Railway Renaissance: The role and impact of China
This chapter sketches the historical development of China’s own railway sector and documents the centrality of railways in the current spatial reorganisation and expansion of the Chinese economy under the banner of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It problematises three contradictions that have arisen in the context of Chinese railway projects in Africa. First, the question to what extent Africa’s railway renaissance is ‘owned’ by Africans. The author argues that certain knowledge-transfer and capacity-building measures have ensured a degree of local ownership of Chinese rail projects. Yet, just as other foreign commercial actors, Chinese firms have little interest in technology transfers to an extent that would enable African construction firms and manufacturers to join the very markets these firms are keen to exploit. Second, the state-orchestrated incentivisation of overseas rail projects has resulted in cut-throat competition among Chinese firms in African markets, which, in turn, has fuelled corrupt practices to win contracts. The author suggests that intra-Chinese competition is likely to remain stiff in Africa, as loan financing from Chinese policy banks has been restricted. Simultaneously, competition with other foreign firms will intensify. Lastly, it is shown that Chinese railway loans have caused political controversies across the continent and have become increasingly risky. To keep up demand for Chinese construction firms and railway manufacturers despite unsustainable debt levels, sovereign railway loans will likely make way for more public-private partnerships in the coming decade of Africa’s railway renaissance.