Economy

Survey shows China main source of inspiration for Kenyans

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A Chinese trader sells goods at a past Nairobi International Trade fair. Chinese firms have in the past decade been aggressively pursuing and winning multi-billion shilling deals in multiple sectors. Photo/FILE

Summary

  • Slightly more than a third of Kenyans or 34 per cent look up to China as a role model and destination for business opportunities, technology and infrastructure development, according to Consumer Insight survey.
  • China beat the US to second position with 33 per cent followed by Japan (nine per cent). Britain was fifth at five per cent.

China has edged out the US and UK to become the top source of inspiration for Kenyans, a new study by Consumer Insight shows.

Slightly more than a third of Kenyans or 34 per cent look up to China as a role model and destination for business opportunities, technology and infrastructure development.

This saw the giant Asian economy beat the US to second position with 33 per cent followed by Japan (nine per cent). Britain was fifth at five per cent.

“For the longest time, Kenyans looked to the US and UK for inspiration. While an element of this remains, China seems to be enjoying a growing share of national attention,” says the Consumer Insight survey titled ‘‘Is China Eclipsing Britain and US in Kenya?’’

The survey carried out in January this year in major urban centres and rural areas across the country polled 1,889 respondents who were asked which country offered the best inspiration and hope to Kenya.

“Ranging from the roads and public works they’ve built, or their endless stream of cheap everyday products, the easterners have clearly found favour with the Kenyan public,” the study concluded.

Kenya bought goods worth Sh167.2 billion from China last year, which is more than the combined value of imports from the US and UK, making it the second biggest source for imports after India.

The value of American imports to Kenya in 2012 grew 16 per cent to reach Sh66 billion. Kenyans bought British goods worth Sh43.8 billion last year.

However, the trade with China is heavily tilted in favour of Beijing, which bought goods valued at only Sh5.4 billion compared to Sh40.6 billion exports to UK and Sh26.4 billion to the US.

Chinese firms have in the past decade been aggressively pursuing and winning multi-billion shilling deals in multiple sectors such as infrastructure development, ICT, real estate and mining.

(Read: China lowers trade tariffs to woo Kenya exporters)

Its multinationals such as Huawei, ZTE, Lenovo, UnionPay, Beiqi Foton, Chery Automobile, Sinopec, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC Group), China Wuyi and China Road and Bridge Corporation have set base in Nairobi.

The 50.4 kilometre eight-lane superhighway connecting Nairobi and the industrial hub of Thika is arguably the flagship of China’s influence in the region. It was constructed by three Chinese contractors - China Wu Yi, Synohydro Corporation and Shengli Engineering - at a cost of Sh31 billion.

“Increasingly, Kenyans’ perception to the ‘Made in China’ tag is turning positive,” said Joy Masimane, a research analyst at Consumer Insight in an interview with the Business Daily.

The study says the ‘no-questions-asked’ diplomacy used by the Chinese may have seen the dragon economy win favour among Kenyans who are increasingly critical of taking orders from Western powers.

Macharia Munene, a professor of history and international relations at the United States International University (USIU), says the Chinese are finding favour world over due to their economic power clothed in soft diplomacy.

“Globally, people are looking at China with admiration, especially for the great strides the country has made in the last decade. Its success from a third world economy to a major world power is an inspiration to Kenyans and Africans in general,” said the university don.

Fear of losing out to China saw Washington and London retract their earlier threats to limit engagement with Kenya because of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto crimes against humanity charges in The Hague.

“Kenyans can see what the Chinese have done here. They deliver projects cheaper and faster; and the relationship is based on mutual respect,” said Prof. Munene.

The research is likely to embolden President Kenyatta’s resolve to continue with his predecessor’s policy of turning to the African continent and the far East in search of trade and investment opportunities.

“To the nations of Africa and the AU, we join you in continuing to insist on relating with all nations as equals – not juniors. As partners, not subordinates,” Mr Kenyatta said during his inauguration on April 9, 2013.

Closer home, South Africa came out as the most favoured source of inspiration to Kenyans with 55 per cent, ahead of the EAC bloc which inspires 29 per cent of citizens. “The continent inspired little hope,” says the study.

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