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China–Africa–Serengeti

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China’s involvement in Africa is a complex web of loans, investments, resource extraction, infrastructure building, and environmental impact.

At China’s recent summit of African leaders in Beijing, Xi Jinping announced another $60 billion in financing to Africa, promising “no strings attached,” meaning African governments can manage their own affairs without political, and presumably environmental, interference.


Investment is not bad in itself. And economic development is certainly needed. The concern is that African governments will get stuck in “debt traps,” unable to repay loans and faced with ever higher interest rates, effectively losing control over their own infrastructure and resources (example, Zambia). Some see China’s involvement as “neocolonialism.” Though perhaps not as sinister as sometimes portrayed 2, China is fueling big change. There will be heavy environmental consequences in the coming years and decades, possibly involving the Serengeti ecosystem.



China’s New Silk Road
 
While the US retreats from international cooperation, China is reaching out. It’s in the midst of a massive One Belt One Road project, a 21st Century “silk road,” of sea and land transportation, described as the largest infrastructure program in world history. It involves 71+ countries in some 7,000 separate infrastructure or extractive projects, will cover half the planet, and is expected to cost China more than a $1 trillion. (see below for links)

Environmental impacts
 
They will be massive. William Laurance, a research professor at James Cook University in Australia, along with an international team of researchers, warned of dire environmental consequences of the Belt and Road project. In a recent interview, he says,
 
“It simply blows out of the water anything else that’s been attempted in human history.” It will be a major contributor of global warming by “promoting massive land-use changes, deforestation, industrial and transport emissions, and emissions from project construction. It’ll use more concrete – a major source of greenhouse gas emissions – than all pre-existing infrastructure projects on the planet.”
 
He states that one of the biggest impacts will be all “habitat loss and degradation that will occur as a result of so much infrastructure — new roads and other projects that will open up vast new frontiers for land-clearing, logging, mining, fires, land speculation and other human pressures.”
 
For its part, China has recently taken up the mantle of environmental responsibility abdicated by the current US administration. With its own growing ecological problems, China issued an Ecological Civilization reform plan. And Guidance on Promoting Green Belt and Road, a document incorporating environmental protections. That is what’s on paper. What happens in reality is a different story, especially since China vows not to impose its own will on partner countries.

East Africa
 
East Africa is an integral part of One Belt One Road. In Kenya, China is finishing a new Nairobi-Mombasa railway, running through the iconic Nairobi National Park, despite opposition from conservationists, citizen groups, even the courts.
 
Many other such projects are envisioned. Much of the network of railways (shown in the map) will benefit Chinese contracting companies currently doing $50 billion worth of work each year. (map: Highways Today)


Tanzania & the Serengeti

Tanzania’s massive new port
China is helping finance a new deepwater port on the Indian Ocean at Bagamoyo, the historic Swahili slave trading town. Construction has begun, and the $11 billion project will eventually create the biggest port in East Africa, shipping goods to and from other inland African nations.

Roads around the Serengeti.

As we have reported, a Chinese  company is constructing a road outside the Serengeti National Park. Work is going on right now. Though our sources say this is being financed by the Tanzanian government, the work is being done by a Chinese parastatal company.

Although the impact of China on the Serengeti is just a trickle, we can expect more. And possibly a flood of Chinese tourists to both Kenya and Tanzania in coming years.

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