Chinese loans in Africa mostly go toward building roads, railways, and power lines, not extracting resources.

The gaotie crisscrossing today’s China is a transformative feat of construction. The high-speed railway, which connects formerly isolated hinterlands to bustling cities, stretches for 19,000 kilometers, longer than  all of the world’s high-speed lines combined.

But Chinese railway construction is not just a Chinese story. In 1975, China built the $500 million Tanzam Railway from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia, the single longest railway in sub-Saharan Africa. Forty years later, China helped build the first light railway on the continent in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which opened in October 2015.

In April 2016, the China-Africa Research Initiative (CARI) at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) released its exclusive database of Chinese loans to Africa (2000 to 2014). One of our biggest discoveries was that Chinese loans on the continent mostly go toward building connective infrastructure – roads, railways, and power lines – rather than pursuing natural resources via the petroleum or mining sectors.

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