Kenya and China: Six-decade diplomatic odyssey thriving

President Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Kenyan President William Ruto at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 18, 2023.

Photo credit: AFP

On December 14, China and Kenya will celebrate the 60th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. The milestone marks six decades of collaboration, mutual respect and shared development since just after Independence on December 12, 1963. It reflects the enduring strength of a partnership that has withstood historical challenges to emerge even stronger.

True to the saying that ‘the sun always rises in the East’, Nairobi takes pride in myriad infrastructural development bearing China’s signature—such as Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani; Thika Superhighway; standard gauge railway (SGR); and Nairobi Expressway—giving the term ‘fast track to friendship’ a whole new meaning.

These ventures have not only improved internal connectivity within Kenya but also laid the groundwork for sustained economic growth and equipped the country with the tools to forge a prosperous future. (On a light note, word has it that even the zebras in Nairobi National Park do the electric slide when the Madaraka Express train zooms past along the SGR tracks!)

The ‘Look East’ policy, particularly with China, has propelled Kenya’s pursuit of sustainable development. The two nations have collaborated on several initiatives encompassing technology transfer, agricultural development and renewable energy projects, among others. For instance, the Lake Turkana Wind Power (LTWP) project, at the heart of Marsabit County, was completed by a Chinese firm in March 2019 after a three-year hiatus by an Italian company.

In recent years, Kenya has seen the impact of Chinese investments—notably, China Square stores have expanded from Unicity Mall, at Kenyatta University, to Waterfront, in Karen, selling from household goods to telecommunication appliances affordably, bringing the latest technology to Kenya.

During President William Ruto’s recent visit to China, Kenya signed an MoU with Huawei Technologies to enhance its ICT infrastructure, which is expected to foster digitisation in areas such as transportation, e-government, education and digital energy. The deal emphasizes the ongoing collaboration to cultivate digital skills, promoting knowledge sharing and ensuring that Kenyan youth are well-prepared for employment opportunities.

The friendship has extended to cultural and educational exchanges. The numerous scholarships and exchange programmes have facilitated the immersion of students and professionals from both countries in each other’s rich cultures, providing valuable insights. The government-funded Mandarin language programmes run through the Confucius Institute in various universities, including the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University, have further strengthened cultural ties.

Pivotal moment

A pivotal moment of the partnership was when, on October 15, Presidents Ruto and Xi Jinping engaged in substantial discussions at the Great Hall of the People on the sidelines of the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, in Beijing. The meeting underscored the enduring friendship and laid the groundwork for stronger ties.

Recalling the Kenya-China diplomatic odyssey, shows, evidently, the partnership has transcended political boundaries, blossoming into a genuine friendship founded on shared values and mutual respect. The undeniable positive impact of China’s contribution to Kenya’s development continues to shape a course for a brighter future.

May the next 60 years of this friendship be marked by even greater achievements and prosperity!

- Ms Muli is a researcher, SDG advocate and scholar of international relations and diplomacy from the University of Nairobi. [email protected].