Foreign policy shift to East helps African nation regain dignity it had lost to West
As Kenya and China celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year, both countries count enormous benefits accrued over the decades.
To date, China is Kenya’s largest trading partner and biggest source market, and is responsible for major infrastructure projects in the East African country.
Benedict Wachira, secretary-general of the Communist Party of Kenya, said the relationship has been growing stronger especially since 2003, when then-president Mwai Kibaki shifted Kenya’s foreign policies toward the East as opposed to the traditional West.
The new focus saw Kenya regain the dignity it had lost to the West, Wachira said, in addition to getting support from China to construct modern infrastructure projects that have facilitated the country’s economic growth.
“The relationship between China and Kenya is based on dignity, solidarity and mutual respect, unlike its relationship with the United States and Europe, which is exploitative.”
Unlike Western countries that tied their support to strict conditions such as human rights issues, democracy and political interference, the Chinese came and dealt with Kenyans as equals, not as subordinates, he said.
“Western countries would demand that the government reduce funding to education, healthcare and agricultural extensions and increase funding to human rights, failure to which they would not build or finance a project,” he said, adding that China, on the other hand, focuses on the project, adhering to its policy of noninterference in other countries’ internal affairs.
The Chinese infrastructure development work has drawn praise even in remote parts of the country, he said.
If government engineers asked villagers to select a contractor for a road project, with options including British, Indian, Chinese and Kenyan providers, even the oldest villager would recommend a Chinese contractor, he said.
Thika Superhighway, the first major project constructed by Chinese contractors in Kenya, is a testament to the quality of Chinese work. The road is in great condition, and has never been repaired, 10 years after it was inaugurated.
The 50-kilometer stretch links the capital Nairobi with the country’s second-most industrialized town of Thika, easing transportation of raw materials and finished products.
Wachira also underscored the Chinese-built Standard Gauge Railway, the biggest project undertaken by the country to date and one of the key projects under the Belt and Road Initiative in Kenya.
“Many times the trains are fully booked, meaning many people rely on the railway because it is safer, faster and affordable.”
China has constructed about 115 km of road bypasses in Nairobi, including the 27-km Nairobi Expressway, the 453-km Lamu-Garissa Road and 300 km of informal settlement roads in the city, the Africa Policy Institute said.
This is in addition to Kipevu Oil Terminal in Mombasa Port, Lamu Port, Liwatoni Floating Bridge and Thwake Dam, among others.
Affordable, quality goods
Besides infrastructure development, China has provided affordable and good-quality goods to Kenya, Wachira said.
“Traders across all Kenyan cities and towns trade in affordable, brand-new Chinese products. Previously, we used to import secondhand products from Europe and the US, which in terms of dignity was not a good thing.”
The deepening China-Kenya relationship has seen a significant increase in the number of Chinese tourists to Kenya, and China could surpass the traditional bases of Germany and the United Kingdom in the near future, he said.
China is Kenya’s sixth-biggest tourism source market and the second-biggest source market from Asia, according to Kenya’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.
If China had not helped Kenya, the latter would still be under the West’s control, Wachira said.
“The World Bank and the IMF(International Monetary Fund) would still be telling us what to do and what not to do, and we would not be truly an independent country in terms of economy,” he said.
As with many others, Wachira refuted the US’ smearing on China’s relationship with Kenya and other African countries.
“The US wants its own discomfort with China to be transferred and propagated by all others, including Kenya, but it has not been working,” he said.
On the Western criticism that China offers infrastructure projects without regard to how African countries would use them to develop their own self-sufficient economies, Wachira said the Chinese government does not impose project design or origination.
“The Chinese come and support our plan, so if there is a failure of any project it’s not the Chinese, it’s the government and the person who was in charge of the project development,” he said.
Source: China Daily