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What Lessons Can Africa Draw From China in Urban Transportation?

Africa is urbanizing faster than any region in the world. Today, an estimated 472 million Africans live in cities and that number is expected to double over the next 25 years, according to research by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. That means governments have to start to build massive amounts of infrastructure now to accommodate the surge of people migrating to cities across the continent.

And it appears that’s exactly what they’re doing, especially in the transportation sector, where ensuring mobility will be critical to fostering economic development.

Currently, there are 448 large-scale transport projects (road, rail, and bridges) across Africa at all stages of development from announcement to execution with a total investment value of $430.3 billion. Just over 21 percent of those projects are being built by the Chinese.

What’s interesting here is that China went through a very similar transition in the 1990s and 2000s when the government urbanized large swathes of the population, taking China from being a majority rural population to one where most people now live in cities. Along with that transition, China also built out vast new road, rail, and aviation networks to accommodate these new populations.

“It is important for African countries, as they look to build up their own infrastructure stock, to ascertain how to use technological gains to make Chinese investment in African infrastructure environmentally sustainable.” — Dr. Lauren Johston and Robert Earley

Now, China is leading the development of a number of next-generation sustainable transportation systems, particularly in the country’s largest cities like Shanghai and Shenzhen where sophisticated electric mobility networks are now well-established.

So just as other developing regions have leveraged technology to leapfrog past incumbent methods, there are indications African stakeholders will look to China for inspiration on how to introduce new transportation solutions to accommodate the rapidly growing urban populations in their countries.

Two analysts, Dr. Lauren Johnston and Beijing-based consultant Robert Earley, recently delved into that issue in a paper “Can Africa build greener infrastructure while speeding up its development? Lessons from China.” Robert joins Cobus to discuss what aspects of the Chinese transportation development experience can be adapted to meet the growing mobility needs on the continent.

Show Notes:

About Robert Earley:

Robert Earley is a researcher and advocate in the area of sustainable transportation and transport energies. While Robert’s major focus has been on China where he has lived and worked since 2004, he has also worked in various regions around the world in collaboration with international development organizations, national governments and foundations. Robert, a Canadian citizen, is the president of EQ Consulting (Beijing) Ltd., a consultancy focused on spreading best practices in sustainable transportation from China to other developing countries around the world. Robert can be contacted through his twitter account @sinocanadian.

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