South Africa | Feb 15, 2021
€‹Which Chinese infrastructure projects are transforming the continent in 2021?
The Chinese are taking the lead in developing some of the continent’s most ambitious infrastructure projects this century.
From the Horn of Africa to the Gulf of Guinea, there’s scarcely a country that hasn’t fallen into Beijing’s string-tied orbit.
Yet it takes two, after all, to tango—and China’s terms are often less ruinous than European and Middle Eastern lenders. What’s more, of the estimated USD130-170 billion a year that Africa needs to bring its infrastructure up to par, it gets barely half that; in short, as most African leaders see it, the more yuan, the better.
Investing USD380 billion in Africa between 2005-2018 alone, across road, rail, concrete production, and electricity projects, TBY has been closely following Beijing’s biggest endeavors on the African continent.
Here is an update on five of lesser known but important infrastructure projects underway.
Once completed, the Trans-Maghreb Highway will connect 55 major North African towns and cities, 60 million people (of the region’s 100m), 22 international airports, and the region’s chief universities, hospitals, and research centers along one road.
Like the Tran-Siberian or Transcontinental Railway before it, the 3,200km Trans-Maghreb Highway will bind the region’s economies together in ways unseen since the Ottoman or French empires.
Along with Algerian and Japanese contractors, the Chinese consortium CITIC-CRCC is playing a leading role in paving the 1,200km of the Trans-Maghreb that crisscrosses Algeria.
Already a USD11 billion investment, the same Chinese consortium signed an agreement with Algiers to build a USD6 billion phosphate plant near the Tunisian border in November 2018, “the first major and important industrial project that Algeria has launched in nearly a decade,” according to then-prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia.
However, bringing said phosphate to market will require better road and rail links, which is why Chinese firms are already bidding to help Anesrif, the Algerian national railway network, build a line from El Affroun, 60km southwest of Algiers, to the central port of El Hamdania.
Mambilla Power Plant (Nigeria)
First conceived in 1972, it took another 35 years for work to begin on Nigeria’s gargantuan Mambilla Hydropower Plant.
Awarding the contract to a Chinese consortium led by the Gezhouba Group in 2007, Nigeria’s largest power generator is slated for completion in 2030.
To produce 3,050MW of energy, the project on the Dongo River will comprise four dams and two underground powerhouses with 12 turbine generators.
Completing the ground survey in 2010 and gaining the environmental approval in 2011, construction began on the USD6 billion project in 2017 with 85% funding from the Chinese Export Import Bank and 15% from the Federal Government of Nigeria. Once finished, the megadam on the Dongo will help power 700km of transmission lines across Nigeria, and nearly double the country’s total electric power production.
Long the continent’s biggest economy, and with the largest population, arguably the main thing holding this giant back is its chronic electricity shortages.
Though the country has in theory the capacity to produce 12,000MW of energy from hydro and thermal sources alone, most days it is only able to generate around 4,000MW.
Once on the national grid, Mambilla will boost this by roughly 80%.
East Africa has long been on China’s mental roadmap.
It now figures very prominently in China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative to transform the Indian Ocean into Chinese property.
Having already rebuilt the historic Addis Ababa-Djibouti line, not to mention the hugely important Nairobi-Mombasa line, China is losing no time in helping develop the rest of East Africa Master Railway Plan.
China is building upon a storied tradition in the region, having famously already laid the 1,860km Tanzania-Zambia line in 1975 (whose capacity plummeted after Namibian independence and the end of Apartheid, both of which opened up new avenues for exported Zambian copper).
Given the pace of East Africa’s growth—three of the world’s 10-fastest growing economies call it home—and the scope of China’s BRI ambitions, the stakes have never been higher.
Set to bind together Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Rwanda, Burundi, and even South Sudan, the East Africa Master Railway Plan’s central artery will be the Mombasa-Kigali line connecting Kenya’s largest port with the Rwandan capital and seat of East Africa’s second-fastest growing economy.
Though work has progressed on the Isaka-Kigali line, connecting Rwanda with Uganda, progress between Rwanda and Kenya, the train’s main artery, has been slow.
That being said, important progress was made this year on the Nairobi-Kampala line, tying the Kenyan to the Ugandan capital.
With 90% completed by March of this year, the 120km Nairobi-Naivasha line connecting the Kenya capital with the country’s favorite lakeside resort town should be complete by Autumn.
Walvis Bay Container Terminal (Windhoek)
With container facilities, military bases, and proprietary rights over ports everywhere from Greece, Sri Lanka, and Djibouti to Rotterdam, Hamburg, and Antwerp, it should come as no surprise that Beijing is interested in the southwest coast of Africa, a critical trade and shipping hub since the late 15th century.
With USD300 billion in funding from the African Development Bank, the China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd. is slated to open a brand-new state of the art 40-hectare reclaimed container terminal in Windhoek by the end of the month.
Set to increase the Namibian capital’s total storage capacity from 350,000 to 750,000 containers per annum, the Walvis Bay container terminal will be a huge boon to helping spur the tiny 2.5m country’s nascent economy.
Caculo Cabaca Hydropower Project in Angola
For another energy-rich country that suffers from insufficient electricity generation, the announcement of construction on the massive Caculo Cabaca hydropower plant in 2017 came as a major boon to Southwest Africa’s largest economy.
To be built by China’s Gezhouba Group (CGGC), the firm already constructing Nigeria’s Mambilla plant, the USD4.5 billion Caculo Cabaca project is expected to produce 2,172 MW of energy upon completion in 80 months (roughly seven years—or 2024) and meet more than 50% of the country’s electricity needs.
To be constructed in the middle of the Cuanza River, the country’s longest waterway, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean at the capital of Luanda, Caculo Cabaca is also expected to create 10,000 local jobs at the peak of its construction.
It will deepen Chinese-Angolan ties. Already Angola’s largest trading partner, Angola is China’s second-largest trading partner in Africa and the largest source of Chinese imports on the continent.
Adding to a cumulative USD50 billion of Chinese capital already invested in the country, Caculo Cabaca will ensure that Luanda remains at the top of Beijing’s continental priorities for years to come.