China-Kenya partnership holds immense development potential

President William Ruto

President William Ruto makes his speech during the 77th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, US on September 22, 2022.

Photo credit: UN

World leaders under the United Nations family are meeting in New York for the annual UN General Assembly (UNGA) discussions. In his address to the Assembly, Kenya’s new President William Ruto made a passionate appeal for a new form of international cooperation that can deliver solutions to humanity’s most intractable challenges in an inclusive, just and sustainable way.

President Ruto’s call is emblematic of a growing frustration by many countries in the global south of the inability of multilateralism to offset cross-border challenges of our time.

China, which is the largest developing country and a major development partner for many emerging economies including Kenya, has long expressed dissatisfaction with the enduring global order and proposed alternative avenues of cooperation.

One of the key proposals by Beijing include the Belt and Road Initiative, launched in 2013 to promote connectivity and economic integration, and intercultural amity among participating countries.

As the world grappled with debilitating impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, China proposed the Global Development Initiative; a multilateral avenue to concretise post pandemic recovery in the backdrop of worsening climate crisis. On the side-lines of the UNGA, China convened a Ministerial Meeting of the Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative, attended by representatives of 60 countries and institutions like the United Nations.

Emerging economies

GDI is turning out to be an engine of South-South cooperation. Beijing has committed over US$ 4 billion to the cause of development in emerging economies under the auspices of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Many of the priority issues that GDI aims to tackle such as climate change, armed conflict, and poverty also dovetail with President Ruto’s development agenda for Kenya.

At the UNGA, President Ruto called for international synergy to provide respite for millions of people perpetually trapped in penury with little headroom to a better and more sustainable life. In seeking better economic prospects for Kenyans; partnership with China should be repositioned to leverage the existing opportunities for cooperation.

An effective response to the climate crisis will restore Kenya’s ecosystems capability to support life through agricultural productivity and food security. Kenya has set an enviable target of achieving 100 per cent green energy transition by the year 2030. On the other hand, China has honed innovative technologies that could be harnessed by Kenya to help with the cause.

Similarly, agricultural technology transfer can help boost food production and promote export of agro-produce. China has welcomed Kenya’s agricultural exports like coffee and avocados into its expansive consumer market. Joint investments in Agriculture will deliver win-win outcomes for China and Kenya.

Under the framework of the bottom-up economic model, the new administration in Nairobi aims to spur industrialisation and provide jobs for millions of Kenyans. China has surplus industrial capacity at home. With a highly skilled workforce, strong infrastructure backbone and veritable geolocation, Kenya presents a formidable outpost for Chinese firms seeking to invest abroad. The new investor friendly ecosystem being rolled out by Nairobi should act as incentive and catalyst for this process.

Kenya’s development prospects are also underpinned by regional security and stability.

Indeed, Nairobi has not only provided a haven for millions fleeing conflict in the neighbourhood but also proactively taken to peacebuilding and conflict prevention in the region. Under China’s Global Security Initiative, the two countries can work synergistically to buoy peace and stability prospects in the Horn of Africa region.

Sustainable health systems

The Covid-19 still presents a serious threat to Kenya. Investments in effective and sustainable health systems is a key step in managing the global health crisis and other health challenges.

President Ruto has called on developed countries to democratise production, and distribution of commodities. China, which was among the first vaccine producers to donate vaccines to Kenya, is keen on operationalizing a number of vaccine production hubs in Africa, with Kenya being one of the target countries. Implementing such a facility in Nairobi will strengthen our health capabilities while spurring technology transfer and industrial base.

Kenya and China have consolidated a strong framework of bilateral cooperation. Harnessing the goodwill to deliver wide ranging public goods under the multilateral platforms like the BRI and the GDI is a strategic call for the leadership of both countries.

The writer is a scholar of international relations with a focus on China-Africa cooperation. Twitter: @Cavinceworld.


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