Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit demonstrates confidence in Kenya

Uhuru Kenyatta, Wang Yi

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at State House, Nairobi  in 2016.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

In keeping with a tradition that now spans 32 years, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is slated to make his first annual overseas visit to Africa on January 4-7.

The diplomat’s entourage will be in Kenya as part of a three nation Africa tour that will also take him to Comoros and Eritrea.

It is a demonstration of great importance that China attaches to its Africa partners coming barely a month after the conclusion of the 8th Ministerial Conference of the China-Africa Cooperation which was held in Senegal.  

In Kenya, Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit reaffirms the strong diplomatic and economic ties that exist between Nairobi and Beijing.

China is today Kenya’s largest trade partner, development projects financier, and constructor. Just a week ago, President Kenyatta lauded Kenya’s economic partnership with China, terming it win-win.

Infrastructure upgrades

Kenya has actualised major infrastructure upgrades with the help of China. The largest project so far completed is the 480 kilometre Standard Gauge Railway linking the port city of Mombasa to Kenya’s administrative capital Nairobi and onwards to Naivasha.

Others include a newly constructed deep sea port in Lamu, the Thika Superhighway and a network of roads across the country. Also marked for completion in the year are Thwake multi-purpose dam and the Nairobi Expressway.

As the East African node of Beijing led Belt and Road Initiative, Kenya has emerged among the most successful states in the completion of projects under BRI. Strong political leadership by President Uhuru Kenyatta; and ability of Chinese firms to complete development projects ahead of time have played an important role in ensuring that Kenya claims the top spot in project implementation.

Economic partnership

The strong economic partnership is an important principle in China’s foreign policy towards Africa. Leaders across the continent are working towards improving the socio-economic wellbeing of Africa’s 1.2 billion citizens.

In China, African countries found not just a motivation to overcome development challenges within a short time but also a ready partner that has over the years extended technology and finances to help Africa reboot its economic engine.

China’s development support to Africa and other developing economies has attracted criticism with some quarters claiming that Beijing is soaking partner countries with unsustainable debt. Several studies have since debunked the debt trap myth and beneficiary countries continue to report transformative impacts of the development projects.

In Kenya, thousands of young people are acquiring technical skills from the Chinese companies besides getting employment opportunities. The big projects’ implementation mechanisms by Chinese firms have also led to a shift in how the government approaches execution of development projects. It is these soft skills transfer that acts as glue that cements China-Africa economic relations.

Economic takeoff

With a strong infrastructure backbone spanning road, rail, port, energy, water, health, education and digital domains, Kenya is now ripe for targeted investments that can facilitate economic takeoff. In the Dakar FOCAC conference, Africa and China agreed to expand cooperation into new areas such as private sector engagements, amplifying voices of women and youth; confronting the menace of climate change while promoting African exports into China. The fight against Covid-19 global pandemic still remains a top priority to Africa and China.

Kenya should leverage Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to firm up joint efforts in the pandemic fight.

Nairobi has expressed interest to host the Covid-19 vaccines manufacturing centers in partnership with China. If successful, Kenya will have a strong basis to hit the 27 million vaccination target by 2022.

Poor access to vaccines has stagnated Africa’s vaccination aspirations with just 8% of the continent’s eligible population fully inoculated against Covid-19 disease across the continent.

Secondly, Kenya should seek China’s support in the fight against poverty. Beijing has consolidated an enviable history of poverty alleviation, taking just over two decades to lift 800 million people out of penury. 

Thirdly, the two countries should amplify cooperation on industrialisation and technology transfer. With a skilled youth band and strong infrastructure base, Kenya is ready to host Chinese firms in the low to medium manufacturing scale.

More industries will see additional jobs while enhancing Kenya’s export capacity to reduce balance of trade with partners including China.

Minister Wang Yi’s visit is a vote of confidence on Kenya as a strong partner for China. As one of the countries to enjoy comprehensive strategic cooperative agreement with China, Nairobi has the opportunity to draw maximum utility from its relationship with Beijing.

The two countries should continue engaging on the basis of mutual trust, respect for each party’s internal conditions and foundation of inclusive gain.

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


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