The Future of Chinese Rail Financing in Africa

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By The China Africa Project. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

China famously lent billions of dollars to countries across Africa to build expensive, new railways. Nigeria, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya all used loans from Beijing to build new lines using a standard gauge (SGR) that will one day make it possible for these various railways to interconnect with one another.

While a number of African countries are still eager to build out railways, it appears that the days of easy access to Chinese financing are coming to an end. Chinese policy banks like the China Exim Bank and the China Development Bank are becoming increasingly reluctant to lend money for African rail projects. Over the past year, these banks have refused to finance part of Kenya’s SGR, Uganda’s new SGR and Tanzania’s hugely ambitious plans to become a rail hub in East Africa.

And all of this happened before the economic crisis in Africa brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak. If it was tough before COVID-19, then it’s no doubt going to be even more difficult now for African policymakers to persuade China’s development bankers that railways are a good investment.

At this point, it’s still too early to tell if the massive investments in African rail are going to pay off, either directly through increased passenger and cargo traffic, or indirectly by enhanced economic activity that the railway facilitate. Ethiopia, though, presents an interesting case study, according to Yunnan Chen, a senior research officer at the Overseas Development Institute in London.

Chen conducted in-depth research on China’s role in developing Ethiopia’s rail network for his dissertation. She spent several months doing fieldwork and interview dozens of stakeholders to carefully examine the strengths and shortcomings of China’s railway development model in Africa.

Yunnan joins Eric and Cobus to discuss her findings and to look ahead at what impact COVID-19 will have on the future of Chinese railway development on the continent.

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Twitter: @eolander | @stadenesque | @yunnanchen

Read Yunnan Chen’s recent article: Railpolitik: the strengths and pitfalls of Chinese-financed African Railways

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