On a new 50-kilometer (30-mile) highway leading north of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, dark asphalt stretches across six to eight lanes.
The $300 million road was built by three Chinese companies and financed by the African Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China. It has cut a trip that took several hours 18 months ago to 10 minutes, said Joseph Makori, a professional driver.
‘‘When we see the people from America, they say, ‘We want to assist Kenya’,’’ said Makori as he looked for work at an interchange about 10 kilometers from downtown. ‘‘But I don’t see it. China comes and I see one thing: the road.’’
Chinese companies are starting to win government contracts in Kenya, which has ports that offer access to landlocked Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda. Governments in Africa are keen to work with China because it does not tie development to human rights or democracy, said Stephen Mutoro, secretary general of the Consumer Federation of Kenya.
‘‘China appears to have a long-term plan based on increasing its commercial interests where governance issues are given a back burner,’’ Mutoro said. The experience of Congo might foreshadow a more complex approach that Beijing envisages for other African nations. In 2008, the two governments signed a $9 billion deal for Chinese companies to build 177 hospitals and health centers, two hydroelectric dams and thousands of miles of railways and roads. In exchange, Congo was to provide 10.6 million tons of copper and 600,000 tons of cobalt.
The deal has since been scaled back to $6 billion under pressure from the International Monetary Fund, which felt Congo was taking on too much debt.
China’s outbound investment totaled $67.6 billion last year — just one-sixth of America’s nearly $400 billion — but it could reach $2 trillion by 2020, according to a forecast by Rhodium Group, a research firm in New York City.
As a result, Chinese companies are using a new export — jobs.
Employees at Volvo Cars worried after Chinese automaker Geely Holdings bought the money-losing Swedish brand from Ford Motor Co. in 2010. But two years later, instead of moving jobs to China, Geely has expanded Volvo’s European workforce of 19,500 to about 21,500.
Majority-owned U.S. affiliates of Chinese companies support about 27,000 American jobs, up from fewer than 10,000 five years ago, according to Rhodium.
In Goodyear, Arizona, Stacey Rassas was laid off in May 2010 after a 16-year career in quality control for aerospace and aluminum manufacturers. By late autumn, she and her husband were worried they might lose their house.
She finally landed a job that December at a new factory that makes solar panels for one of the world’s biggest solar manufacturers.
‘‘It was the best day ever,’’ she said.
Her new employer? Suntech Power Holdings Co., a Chinese company.
McDonald reported from Beijing. AP Business Writers Sarah DiLorenzo in Paris and Jonathan Fahey and Scott Mayerowitz in New York and AP writers Michelle Faul in Johannesburg; Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm; Luis Andres Henao in Santiago, Chile; Cesar Garcia in Bogota, Colombia; Paul Schemm in Algiers, Algeria; Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo; Troy Thibodeaux in New Orleans; and Jason Straziuso and Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya; and AP interactive producer Pailin Wedel in Bangkok contributed.