Let Kenya, China leverage gains of BRI as it turns 10

Nairobi Expressway

An aerial view of the Nairobi Expressway. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Next month, President William Ruto will attend the third Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Forum for International Cooperation in China. There, participating countries will review the implementation of one of the most popular global cooperation platforms as it turns 10.

Launched in 2013, BRI has become a veritable outlay for international synergy to foster human development through trade, infrastructure construction, policy coordination, financial inclusion and intercultural amity. One of the 52 African signings, Kenya is the landing country for BRI in East Africa.

With over $1 trillion of investments, BRI has catalysed provision of regional public goods, resulting in unprecedented upgrade of infrastructure, especially in the Global South. Countries have leveraged BRI to learn from China’s economic transformation and tap into the proceeds of its development.

A 2021 study by researchers at the College of William & Mary, in the US, cites Kenya as the most successful country in completing BRI projects ahead of schedule. The Mombasa-Nairobi-Naivasha standard gauge railway (SGR) stands out as the emblem of the partnership.

Other key infrastructure projects delivered include the Nairobi Expressway, expansion of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Lamu deep seaport, Likoni Floating Bridge, Mombasa oil jetty and Konza National Data Centre.

Kenya and China have also ramped up trade cooperation under BRI. In August last year, Kenya became the first African country to export fresh avocadoes to China, earning $50 million in just three months. In June, it shipped out 52 tonnes of anchovies (omena) to China in increased flow of exports.

Besides creating thousands of jobs, BRI is a veritable avenue of technology transfer. Nairobi now boasts a critical mass of expertise in rail technology, including women engineers and drivers. Intercultural exchanges have increased as more young Kenyans prefer China for foreign studies amid additional Confucius Institutes and classrooms.

The success is attributable to strong political will from Kenya’s leadership and efficiency and utility of Chinese companies in implementing large-scale infrastructure projects. The country’s geography, political stability and an educated and entrepreneurial population were also great incentives.

Under the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership, Kenya and China have ratcheted up political consultation and policy coordination to deliver more shared benefits. President Ruto has outlined several development aspirations towards the actualisation of his bottom-up economic transformation agenda, prioritising affordable housing, digitisation, healthcare, agriculture and trade.

These development targets align to the BRI provisions, the 2021 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation meeting outcomes and President Xi Jinping’s three proposals on China-Africa practical cooperation at last month’s BRICS summit in Johannesburg.

Kenya and China should build on the gains and forge a new front in development cooperation. The bandwidth of cooperation is as elastic as the creativity and synergy between the two countries.

Dr Cavince, PhD, is a scholar of international relations with a focus on China-Africa development cooperation. @Cavinceworld