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China’s Latest African Building Contracts Prove the Success of ‘Stadium Diplomacy’

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Contracts to build two new major stadiums in Tanzania and Kenya have been awarded to Chinese companies, with observers saying the move is part of Beijing’s long-standing tradition of “stadium diplomacy”.

A 30,000-seat stadium in Arusha, northern Tanzania, and a 60,000-seat one in the Kenyan capital Nairobi will both host football matches during the 2027 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon). They are the latest in a long list of stadiums Chinese companies have built in Africa, as part of a longer-term plan by Beijing to boost diplomatic ties by funding large-scale infrastructure projects.

On Tuesday, Tanzania awarded the state-owned China Railway Construction Engineering Group (CRCEG) a US$112 million contract to build the arena in Arusha, which will be named the Dr Samia Suluhu Hassan Stadium, after the country’s current president.

According to the Tanzanian minister for culture, arts and sports, Damas Ndumbaro, the stadium will be completed in time for Afcon, Africa’s biggest sporting competition, which Tanzania will jointly host with East African neighbours Kenya and Uganda.
The stadium will also host other activities such as athletics and trade events, helping to boost tourism in the country.
Zhou Zejun, chief engineer at CRCEG in East Africa, told Chinese state news agency Xinhua that inspiration for the stadium’s shape and design will come from Mount Kilimanjaro and the local gemstone tanzanite, while its colours will come from the Tanzanian flag.

“The overall architectural style is light and simple, perfectly integrating the local environment and culture,” Zhou was quoted as saying.Meanwhile, in Kenya, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) has been awarded the contract to build Nairobi’s Talanta Stadium, a Fifa-standard 60,000-seat football arena also suitable for rugby matches. Kenya’s defence and sports ministries will be official owners of the venue.

CRBC currently operates two other major projects in Kenya – the Standard Gauge Railway and the Nairobi Expressway.
While the cost of building the stadium has yet to be disclosed, it is expected to be completed by December 2025 and will serve as the main venue for Afcon 2027’s opening and closing ceremonies.

Talanta Stadium will be built under a public-private partnership arrangement, the same model CRBC used to fund and build the 27km (16.8-mile) Nairobi Expressway, running from Kenya’s main airport into its capital, which opened in 2022. The company will toll the road for 27 years to recover its investment, before it transfers ownership to the Kenyan government.

At the official stadium groundbreaking earlier this month, Kenyan President William Ruto said: “I have agreed with the Ministry of Sports and the Ministry of Defence that this stadium will be built to world-class standards with military discipline. I will therefore expect our defence team … to ensure that all the timelines we have agreed are met by the contractor.

“I also expect that there will be weekly and biweekly supervision and I will be here myself every three months until this facility is completed.”

The two venues are just the latest in a long line of arenas built or funded by China as part of its “stadium diplomacy” to win influence with African governments.
The recent 34th Afcon games in Ivory Coast featured at least three stadiums funded and built by Beijing. These included the 60,000-seat Alassane Ouattara Stadium north of Abidjan, also known as the Olympic Stadium of Ebimpe and Ivory Coast’s largest such venue.
There was also the US$107.5 million Laurent Pokou Stadium in San Pedro, funded by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
China is not new to building stadiums in Africa: Kenya’s main sporting facility, the 60,000-seat Moi International Sports Complex in Kasarani, was funded and built by Beijing nearly four decades ago.

According to Chinese nationalist tabloid Global Times, the country has built more than 100 stadiums across Africa.
Observers say the stadiums are part of a wider long-term plan by China to boost diplomatic ties with African countries by funding large-scale infrastructure projects. These have included diplomatic and military education facilities, presidential palaces, parliament buildings, hospitals and foreign ministry headquarters.

Writing in The Conversation in January, Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at SKEMA Business School in France, and Chris Toronyi, a PhD candidate and lecturer at Loughborough University London, said the stadium building was tied in to China’s belt and road ambitions.

“Linked to the Belt and Road Initiative, which is intended to promote trade and foster interdependence between China and other nations, stadiums have frequently been gifted to African nations [or else paid for using relatively cheap loans],” they wrote.

In an interview with the Post in January, Paul Nantulya, a China specialist at the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies in Washington, said the building of stadiums and other aid projects such as presidential palaces, military headquarters and parliaments, was “a cost-effective way of generating political influence with different elites”.
However, he said the projects were invariably add-ons as part of bigger deals.

Whether it was energy projects or building a railway, “you will always find those being included in these deals as a by-product”.
“China is essentially benefiting from those economies of scale,” Nantulya said. Over the past two decades, he said, China had built at least two or three major buildings in more than 40 African countries – or at least 180 buildings by 2021.
But Nantulya said there was more to it than just bricks and mortar. If the buildings were the hardware, there was also a software element to these deals.

In Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, Chinese instructors not only regularly teach at military colleges that Beijing had bankrolled and built, but they also play a role in developing the curriculum.
“It also comes with training, which I call the software aspect of it – and that’s really where the influence comes in,” Nantulya said.

Source: Scmp

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