Accepted paper:

Infrastructural misfits: Chinese roads and rail in Kampala and Addis Ababa


Tom Goodfellow (University of Sheffield)
Zhengli Huang (University of Sheffield)

Paper short abstract:

We explore major city-level Chinese transport infrastructure investments in Addis Ababa & Kampala. We argue that these lack coherent development logic, being driven forward by contractors rather than states, and explore how they were negotiated as well as the challenges of integration they generate.

Paper long abstract:

The extent to which Chinese agencies dominate infrastructure development in Africa is now widely known and has generated intense global interest. Yet behind the headlines there is still little research on who drives these projects forward, what their temporal horizons are, and how they influence the territories and communities around them. The dominant interest in multi-billion dollar megaprojects connecting far-flung cities and ports has also left smaller scale (but equally disruptive) infrastructure projects relatively underexplored. We consider two projects at the metropolitan scale: the Light Rail Transit in Addis Ababa and the expressway linking Kampala to Entebbe airport. These projects are highly significant because they are designed and implemented through opaque negotiations between national elites and Chinese agencies, with little or no engagement from city authorities, despite the fact that their major consequences are at the urban scale. Unlike the railways linking major ports to the African interior, many of which explicitly build on colonial legacies and are linked to the Belt and Road vision, these city-level projects lack a coherent overarching logic. We argue that profit-seeking Chinese contractors themselves play a key role in driving city-level infrastructural modalities, engaging opportunistically with African national governments whose agendas are inconsistent and malleable. Meanwhile, city planning authorities and other local stakeholders are shut out of the design and implementation. These processes mean that while these projects are beneficial for some, their outcomes are contingent, haphazard and temporally unpredictable, rather than being planned or integrated with broader urban development policies and processes.

panel Econ28
Building and connecting Africa: Infrastructure construction and economic development in the XXIst century