Kenya says China central to President Kenyatta’s legacy

Wang Yi and Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a past meeting at State House, Nairobi. Mr Wang is expected in Kenya on January 5, 2022.

Photo credit: File | PSCU

Kenya has said that the visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will signal the crucial role of Beijing in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy, especially in key infrastructure projects in the country.

Ahead of Mr Wang’s tour of Nairobi this Wednesday, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau said ties between the two countries are still strong because the Chinese have supported Kenya’s crucial areas of the economy.

Mr Wang will tour Kenya on Wednesday and Thursday on his second leg of the Africa trip that also includes Eritrea and the Comoros Islands.

A tentative programme showed Mr Wang will meet with counterparts in Kenya including Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo, Transport CS James Macharia, Mutahi Kagwe (Health), Betty Maina (Trade), Peter Munya (Agriculture) and Joe Mucheru (ICT).

Bilateral agreements

Several bilateral agreements and MoUs will be signed, the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced.

But in Kenya, his trip comes amid continuing debate on China’s role in infrastructure building as well as other areas of focus for President Kenyatta’s government, including tapping the blue economy and investing in green technology.

Mr Wang’s tentative programme shows he will inspect the Kipevu Oil Terminus in Mombasa, a Sh40 billion project which has been put up by the Chinese to help handle larger oil tankers into Kenya.

“Kenya looks forward to this historic visit which comes at the beginning of the new Focac nine-point programme of the Chinese Development Co-operation with Africa,” Mr Kamau said on Tuesday, referring to the declaration made recently in Senegal after the Focus on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) ministerial conference.

“Kenya’s Big 4 Programme that has left the signature legacy projects for president Uhuru Kenyatta have enjoyed significant support from China as part of the previous Focac programmes of cooperation between Kenya and China and this will be reviewed during the bilateral conversations as well as with discussions with his Excellency, the president,” Mr Kamau indicated on Tuesday.

Legacy projects

He was referring to President Kenyatta’s legacy projects focusing on housing, food security, healthcare and manufacturing, all of which are capital intensive and rely on proper infrastructure.

The Agenda has forced Kenya to borrow heavily, mostly, bilaterally, from China. And while the Chinese are seen as better at erecting the projects within a short time, they have also elicited continual debate on debt sustainability in Kenya.

Mr Wang’s trip though, officials in Nairobi said, is also about other focus areas in relations between the two countries, including regional peace and security, harnessing the resources in the seas and inland waters (blue economy) as was as sustainable technology.

At the conference in Senegal, President Xi Jinping had announced China will send one billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to Africa to aid the fight against the pandemic and bridge access to immunisation, and announced another USD40 billion worth of investments in Africa.

Key areas

“They are key areas of significant importance such as peace and security, health, climate change and blue and green technology transfer, circular economy, and other vastly important areas for the transformation of Kenya’s economy and for the global economy in general,” Kamau said.

“Conversation will of loss of course revolve around our relationship with China in the Peace and Security Council of Africa at the African Union and in the UN Security Council in New York as well as on regional peace and security issues in the horn of Africa.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta is due to retire later this year, after completing his second and final term in office as head of state. But he has used engagements with global leaders to also push for regional stability.

In neighbouring Ethiopia where conflict has raged for the past one year, President Kenyatta had called for dialogue and ceasefire.

And Mr Wang had visited in November and urged that more support be given to the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to strengthen the security of the country. His call, though, was met with more push by the West to have allegations of atrocities by both the rebel group, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and government forces be investigated by the panel of experts from the UN Human Rights Council.

Belt and Road Initiative

Mr Wang was expected on Tuesday to meet with Eritrean leaders in Asmara, signalling a new start for the latest African country to sign on Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Eritrea, now a close ally of Ethiopian leader Abiy Ahmed, has also been vocal against ‘foreign interference’ in Ethiopia. Its military was recently sanctioned by the US for taking part in the war in Ethiopia.

The Chinese diplomat’s trip, his office said last week, was keen on avoiding any ‘imperialist’ sentiments though.

“We are not only comrades-in-arms in the fight against hegemonism, but also partners in the pursuit of development and revitalisation, and important forces defending international fairness and justice,” said Mr Lijian Zhao, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman.

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