The Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa plan is to expand the existing, 10,000 kilometre-long network of major roads to between 60,000 and 100,000 km – either by upgrading existing poor roads or building new ones. The result would be nine arteries, some hugging Africa’s entire coastline, while others strategically criss-cross the continent. Some 250,000 km of smaller roads will be built or upgraded to connect smaller cities to the main arteries, plus another 70,000 km to plug in rural areas.
A recent study in Sub-Saharan Africa by the Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic near Johannesburg, South Africa, shows how roads can do this. If farmers lived four hours travel time from a city with a population of 100,000, their crop output reached 45 per cent of what was possible because they could easily access tools and supplies such as fertilisers. For farmers eight hours away, the yields collapsed to just 5 per cent. “It’s almost incontestable that roads will get them out of that poverty,” says Sayer. People certainly want them. “Pretty much all rural communities in Africa will put improved roads at the top of their wish lists,” he adds.
There are also likely to be benefits to education. Villages of the Congo basin best served by roads scored highest on a scale grading the effectiveness of education
Ahead of the pack are mining organisations, largely funded by China, which have flooded into the continent over the last decade and need ways to transport materials.
Zambia’s relationship with China is growing quickly, spurring development but also friction. While there is nationwide gratitude for the scarce jobs and new infrastructure that China has brought, labor relations are sometimes tense and some Zambians complain they are being exploited.
This complex relationship between China, a global economic giant, and a financially struggling country is one being played out across Africa. The issues are particularly acute in Zambia, where census data shows that about 100,000 Chinese live and more than 500 Chinese companies are engaged in farming, retail trade, pharmacies, hospitals, information and communication technologies as well as road-building, mining and manufacturing.
Chinese mining of Zambia’s copper reserves is an important ingredient in China’s industrial production, said Zhou Yuxiao, China’s ambassador to Lusaka. Chinese mines are expanding into Zambia’s northwest Copperbelt region, where fresh deposits of copper, gemstones, uranium and traces of oil have been located.
Chinese investment is expected to grow even more when industrial parks go into full production in 2015, allowing companies to manufacture and export tax-free goods. All these Chinese activities are being serviced by the Bank of China. China is also helping Zambia overcome electricity shortages by building a $2 billion hydro-electric project, part of which will start operating in December
Other African countries seeking more business with China included South Africa, the continent’s biggest economy. South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe this week ended a trip to China, the African country’s top trading partner. Trade volume between the two countries has grown to $20 billion. In Zimbabwe, Chinese investment has increased so much that Chinese-language signs greet visitors arriving at the international airport in Harare, the capital.
In Zambia, a country of 14 million people with a GDP of $20 billion, the impact of China has been enormous.
“The Chinese have changed Zambia,” said Nelson Mwendabai, a retired civil servant who ticked off Chinese-backed projects: a railway between Tanzania and Zambia, new roads, schools, clinics and stadiums. Mwendabai said: “We should just accept that they are our friends.”
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