Pictures: China’s Infrastructure Building Machine Comes Home

The great Chinese infrastructure parade rolled right under my window and I jumped on the extremely rare opportunity to take some pictures of the operation.  This is quite exceptional in the DR Congo as it is both culturally and legally not permitted to take peoples’ pictures without their permission.  Add to this that Chinese work crews are equally camera shy, you can now understand my utter joy this morning snapping away at the road paving team that came right past my apartment early Sunday morning.

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The Chinese have completely ripped up Kinshasa’s main road “Boulevard 30 Juin.”  Ironically, this was essentially the city’s only functioning road so why the Congolese and Chinese governments thought it would be necessary to re-do this particular street remains a mystery to everyone.

China Construction5Before they decided to “improve” 30 Juin, it was a truly wonderful boulevard.  Today, it’s a barren, dust filled desert whereas until 2007 it had huge trees that lined both sides of the road and there was a center divider that did an excellent job of slowing traffic and giving pedestrians sufficient guidance as to where to cross.  Now the situation couldn’t be more different.  The whole city center along the boulevard is not considerably hotter than it was before due to the tree removal.  Sadly, several different locals have told me that due to the Chinese “renovation” there are now one to two deaths per day on this street.  Notice how they have not laid down a single drop of paint on the road for either cars or pedestrians.  It’s a very dangerous road for everyone.  We are all hoping that the Chinese are eventually going to make this boulevard safer by adding traffic lanes and crosswalks.  No one is too optimistic though.

In this particular instance, a small number of Chinese foremen and construction engineers are overseeing local Congolese crews.  The Chinese have also imported tens of thousands of their laborers to work on projects like this so it is not unusual to see construction teams that are almost entirely Chinese doing the exact same work.  It should also be noted that the temperature at 10:30 in the morning when these pictures were taken was somewhere in the low-90s already.  This is back-breaking work under very difficult conditions.

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A Chinese construction engineer (below) supervises the operation.  A fellow observer of this morning’s construction operation noted that on an early Sunday morning the Chinese are working in the hot sun paving roads.  Can you imagine an American doing this same work, speaking the local dialect and being part of a basic infrastructure project?  Americans used to do this kind of work, but it seems far fetched to think that they can rival the Chinese in this endeavor.

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China Construction2 The China Railway Seventh Group is one of several multinational State Owned Enterprises (SOE) that are operating here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Equipment like this from other SOEs can be seen everywhere around town as the Chinese work furiously on a number of high profile projects in Kinshasa ahead of next year’s presidential elections.  The objective here, as it is in most African countries, is that the Chinese build out the infrastructure and incumbent politicians claim credit for their work just in time for national elections.   The situation in Kinshasa is no different where the President Joseph Kabila is reportedly pressuring the China Railway Seventh Group to speed up the pace of construction on Boulevard 30 Juin.

It is important to remember that none of the construction equipment the Chinese are using in the DRC was acquired locally.  Everything — that is every truck, crane, shovel, you name it — was brought in by sea and air.  It’s even funnier to walk up to the trucks and see what Chinese province they come from.  So far I have recorded heavy equipment with Henan, Jiangsu and Guangdong license plates.

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2 Responses to “Pictures: China’s Infrastructure Building Machine Comes Home”

  1. […] speed with which the Chinese ramped up their operations in the DRC was impressive by any measure. Most visibly, Chinese construction teams are ripping up the city from one side to the other to build… Off the streets and in the capital’s vast neighborhoods, the Chinese are also having an […]

  2. […] operation with the Congolese armed forces.  To get from his hotel to the training grounds, Axe and the U.S. troops drove along Boulevard 30 Juin, Kinshasa’s main thoroughfare that was r….  That road, Axe realized, had come to represent the stark differences in how Beijing is engaging […]

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