Africa’s cities are growing rapidly and with it, the demand for urban transportation infrastructure and planning. Chinese funding agencies and contractors are important players in this current urban road investment process. More than one billion US dollars of road construction projects are underway or are in planning stages across Africa. But to date there is little understanding of how these plans impact the poor.
The Africa-China Urban Initiative suggests more could be done to ensure that Chinese road investment in Africa contributes measurably to poverty alleviation. Roads and movement have previously been considered peripheral to issues of poverty alleviation, despite their role in education, health, economic, spatial, environment, energy and housing policies.
Equally important is the need to examine indigenous transit responses like the paratransit-type services - service without fixed schedules, coordinated route networks or service standards, often using smaller, and likely not well maintained vehicles. For example, the management of privately owned share taxi transportation systems known as matatus in Kenya is worthy of study to investigate how management decisions result in quality of service improvements for the urban poor, the typical matatu passenger base.
The Africa-China Urban Initiative works towards a better understanding of the processes around decision-making, planning and construction of urban roads, management of public transit and their impacts on poverty alleviation. It is important to better understand the link between Chinese-funded road construction and transit solutions in Africa and poverty alleviation. Expertise needs to be employed to develop tools, guidelines and best practices for urban planning practitioners, and to work with partners to pilot a more inclusive “pro-poor” approach.