Page 244

AfrikaUK

244  rything construction materials, from wood to plumbing tools. This is a place full of energy, which is so typical for the many cities in transition we have seen in China. The main difference being the utter chaos of it all. Finally, we arrive at the entrance of the Lekki Free Trade Zone. It is a large gate, flanked by two guards wearing AK-47s. On the right is a silver-coloured office building, in front, the flags of Nigeria and China flutter in the wind. Inside is a row of empty desks with signs like “Immigration” and “Customs”, and clocks displaying the current time in London, Lagos and Beijing. This is not unlike a border post. “The Lekki Free Zone is a new offshore city,” explains Wole Adegoke, the charismatic marketing manager of the Lekki Free Zone Development Company. “It is outside the domain of Nigerian customs. It is a tax-free, duty-free zone where foreign companies can set up shop.”  The zone, located some 60 kilometres from Lagos, is planned to become a safe, green and spacious satellite city away from the chaos and dangers of Nigeria’s biggest commercial centre. Measuring 3,000 hectares, the first phase of the Free Zone will harbour factories, oil processing plants and other industries, as well as residential areas for approximately 120,000 people, along with accompanying hospitals, schools, parks and churches. The zone is conveniently placed next to the future Lagos international airport and, once finished, will have its own deep-sea port. When the first phase is successful, another 13,500 hectares of zones in Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shantou and Xiamen were instrumental in attracting foreign investment. Logically, they were conveniently located on the coast, close to Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. All three places boast a wealthy Chinese diaspora, who could be attracted by preferential tax rates and the possibilities for cheap labour in the Mainland.  Like no other city, Shenzhen represents the flagship for China’s rise from a poor, agricultural country to its current “factory for the world” status. In three decades since the start of the Shenzhen SEZ in 1979, the fisherman’s town has transformed into a bustling megacity of 15 million inhabitants at the centre of the Pearl River Delta. The success of Shenzhen has prompted policy makers to develop over a hundred economic zones of different types all over China. And now, they feel, it’s time for the SEZ to travel to Africa. CHINESE CITIES IN AFRICA During a 45-minute drive over a six-lane expressway from the centre of Lagos to the outskirts, we pass an eclectic mix of buildings, including the Church of God Mission, the Newcastle Hotel, The Peninsula, a shop with “affordable cars”, two Mercedes dealerships, Maldini Marbles, a MegaChicken, a Chinese restaurant and a Children’s Plaza toy store. Next to the road are massive billboards from Amstel beer (“Toast to Africa’s best”) and a local congregation (“Jesus loves you – Give Him a call on Valentine’s Day”). Below the slogans, we see informal markets and shops selling evethe African future. The signs are visible in important infrastructure developments all over Africa, such as the Thika Super Highway in Kenya or the new light rail system in Lagos, Nigeria. Just like Addis Ababa, many fast-growing cities in Africa got a new skyline Made in China. Or, as a Rwandese architect told us: “Every building of more than five stories, was designed by a Chinese architecture firm, financed by a Chinese bank, built by a Chinese contractor, with Chinese concrete, Chinese outlets, window frames and fire extinguishers, decorated with Chinese carpets and curtains. And everything was put together by Chinese construction workers.” Until not so long ago, mass housing developments in Africa were almost synonymous with slums. But the impressive economic growth of the past decade has created a sizable middle class that does no longer accept substandard living standards for their families. The first modern housing developments start to appear. And of course, China’s contractors are trying to get a piece of the pie. The “Great Wall Apartments” on the “Beijing Road” in Nairobi are exemplary of the walled compounds you can find in almost every Chinese city. China’s most impressive urban achievement in Africa to date is Kilamba Kiaxi, a new suburb just outside of the Angolan capital Luanda for more than 500,000 people. Financed, Designed and built by a consortium of Chinese state owned companies. Not everyone is cheering China’s efforts. When she was still US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton warned Africa for “a new form of colonialism”. Without wanting to get into an unproductive moral discussion, it is interesting to know whether Africa’s cities are indeed developing “the Chinese way”. In other words, does China export (parts of ) its highly successful growth model to quickly urbanizing Africa? To answer this question, let’s take a look at one of China’s most comprehensive methods for urban development: the Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a specific geographical area that is closed off from the rest of the country and that has more liberal economic laws and preferential policies that aim to attract investors and create jobs. Although SEZs have had de facto existence since the 18th century – Gibraltar in 1704, for example, and Singapore in 1819 – it was China that led the way in applying the model as a strategy for urban development. The first four Chinese


AfrikaUK
To see the actual publication please follow the link above