Why Do Chinese Investors Want to Build a Dubai-Style City In Kenya?

A coalition of 100 investors announced plans to build a "Chinese-controlled economic zone" populated by skyscrapers and luxury residences. Their new city will be in Kenya, but the goal is to "match the glamour of Dubai." What would motivate investors to go to the trouble of building a massive new city in a country other than their own? It's pretty simple, actually.

The new economic zone outside of Nairobi would include "at least 20 skyscrapers" and boast "a shopping destination that stocks Chinese and other global products," according to Construction Weekly. It seems that, as investors ramp up investment in East Africa, they want to build a self-controlled pseudo-urban enclave from which to do so.

But according to The Daily Nation, there are already two other tabula rasa city development plans slated for the same area: One, Konza Techno City, is a $14.5 billion development aimed at becoming the place where "the African silicon savannah begins." The other, Machakos City, proposes dozens of skyscrapers and acres of suburban homes. All of them are related to Kenya's Vision 2030 development plan, but it's not clear whether they're supposed to co-exist, or whether they're in competition.

China is Africa's biggest trade partner—the country frequently trades the right to develop energy infrastructure for contributing to social welfare and health programs, leading plenty of people to accuse China of acting as a neocolonial force. Just last year, Kenyan officials signed a $5 billion agreement that will allow China to build roads, railways, and more infrastructure within the country.

So why the particular interest in Kenya? Well, after decades of speculation, oil was discovered there only two years ago. There are plenty of unanswered questions about the project—including who will design it, and how—and we'll know more after Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visits Kenya next month. But, for now, that's a pretty solid hint. [Construction Week]

Lead image: Ashraf Jandali.