Transportation infrastructure in Tanzania and Kenya: A comparative analysis of Chinese and non-Chinese projects and their urban impacts

This PhD project is based at the University of Manchester with a 12 month stay at University of Melbourne.

Project Description:

The deterioration of the relationship between the US and China accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic, and according to some commentators it heralds a ‘new Cold War.’ Indeed, the Financial Times recently launched a New Cold War Series. The ‘new’ Cold War differs from its namesake because the USSR had a small economy based on natural resource exports, it was technologically backward and autarchic. By contrast, China’s economy is on track to become the largest in the world, its firms can operate competently at the technological frontier and it is deeply integrated in the global economy.

Thus, the ‘new’ Cold War will be a very different conflict from its predecessor. Most importantly, the containment of the USSR was Washington’s primary foreign policy objective for nearly four decades, but US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently noted that the competition with China “isn’t about containment…It’s about a complex new challenge that we’ve never faced before. The USSR was closed off from the free world. Communist China is already within our borders.” Therefore, the new Cold War exhibits a novel territorial logic in which China, and the US and its allies, compete to strategically integrate territory in ways that orients it towards value chains anchored by their domestic champions. To this end, the US, Australia and Japan recently established the “Blue Dot Network,” whose objective is to “strengthen development finance cooperation in support of principles-based infrastructure and sustainable economic growth.” China has a head start, however, because its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was launched in 2013 and it is the world’s most ambitious infrastructure development scheme. Through a series of terrestrial and maritime development corridors, the BRI serves to expand China’s infrastructural linkages, open new markets for its construction sector and offshore labour-intensive manufacturing.

The competition to strategically integrate territory is on full display in East Africa. According to the 2019 Deloitte Africa Construction Trends Report, Tanzania and Kenya are tied at the top the table of African countries, each with 51 new large-scale infrastructure projects launched in 2018-2019. This project will compare how transnational railway projects in Kenya and Tanzania impact urbanization.

The rail project in Kenya was financed and built by Chinese firms, and it links the country’s two largest cities (Nairobi and Mombasa). By some estimates it is the most expensive railway in the world in terms of cost per kilometre, and critics claim it constitutes a ‘debt trap’ that will render Kenya dependent on China. By contrast, Tanzania’s relationship with China was ruptured when President John Magufuli canceled a $10 billion port project. Chinese firms are virtually absent from Tanzania’s booming infrastructure sector, and the central corridor railway that links Dar es Salaam with Central Africa is publicly funded and it is being constructed by a Turkish firm.

This research will examine how the different finance and planning models in Kenya and Tanzania impact urbanization. In particular, it will compare land assembly, engagement with local communities, localized economic spillovers and prospects for global market access to local producers.

Supervision team:

Dr Seth SchindlerProf Kevin Ward (The University of Manchester)
Dr Julie Tian MiaoProf Michele Acuto (The University of Melbourne)