Investigating urban development in the ‘new scramble for Africa’

KampalaAs much of Africa undergoes an urban development revolution, funded in part by Chinese investment, a new research project led by Dr Tom Goodfellow is looking at what impact this is having on the continent.

In recent years, China has come to the forefront of investment in Africa, rapidly increasing its involvement as an aid donor, investor and source of migrants.

Unlike Western donors, such as the World Bank, UK and the US, China has no problem with funding major urban infrastructure and construction projects, including new transport systems, housing projects and Special Economic Zones on the outskirts of African capitals.

Amid China’s rising influence on the continent, some have talked of a 'new scramble for Africa' similar to that of the arrival of the European powers in the late nineteenth century, and debates about whether this is ultimately good or bad for Africans continue.

Yet while there is an increasing amount of research around Chinese engagement in Africa, and growing interest in Africa’s urbanisation trajectory and urban development prospects, there has been little work exploring the link between these two trends.

Dr Goodfellow’s two-year project, funded by a prestigious ESRC Future Research Leaders Grant, will look specifically at the impact that increased Chinese engagement is having on the states of Ethiopia and Uganda, with a particular focus on the cities of Addis Ababa and Kampala.

Dr Tom Goodfellow, Senior Lecturer, said: “This project will explore how interactions between Chinese agencies, other emerging powers investing in Africa, traditional donors and African governments are reshaping the way urban development challenges and opportunities are understood and acted upon.

“In particular, the project will be focus on exploring three critical issues: the governance of urban land, particularly with respect to Chinese approaches to leasing land to finance urban development; major urban infrastructure projects and their impacts on low-income groups; and efforts to create mass industrial and service sector employment.”

Through a range of qualitative methods, the research will engage with municipal and national governments in the two countries, international donors, investors, local communities and Chinese migrant businesspeople in order to build a better picture of Chinese engagement.

Dr Goodfellow added: “As well as expanding academic knowledge on these important developments, this project will involve African city governments, Chinese agencies and international policymakers in the shaping of the research project as it moves forward, ensuring that it is as relevant and useful as possible to all concerned.”