In the past five decades, the Africa-China ties have developed significantly. By June 2018 China had risen to become Kenya’s second leading lender after the World Bank having advanced the country Sh557 billion ($5.5 billion) against the Bank’s Sh581 billion ($5.8 billion).
The emergence in September 2013 of the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) was an additional chapter in the history of relations between China and African countries. China’s President Xi Jinping recently announced that the second Belt and Road Forum for international Cooperation will be held this April in China. It was inaugurated in May 2017.
For the second forum, the China is predicting that around 40 Heads of State, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, will attend. The Initiative aims to establish a network of railways, roads, pipelines, and utility grids that would link China to the rest of the world. It will inject billions of dollars in international transportation infrastructure stretching across Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
The Initiative, with a focus on Africa, focuses on trade, finance and investment, agriculture and manufacturing, connectivity of infrastructure and facilities, ecological and environmental protection and lastly tourism, cultural, social and educational exchanges.
As the plans for the Belt and Road Initiative unfold, Kenya finds itself at a vantage position among peers.
A look at its map reveals how Kenya is significant to the initiative’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ where Kenya acts as the link between Asia and Africa.
Already, with Chinese funding, Kenya has seen rapid progress in infrastructure development.
The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), Kenya’s largest single infrastructure project, was made possible by funding from China.
Since the Initiative has a heavy bias towards infrastructure, the fact that Kenya’s SGR construction is progressing steadily makes Kenya an indispensable hub along this modern Silk Road.
The SGR line will improve the inter-country transportation status in East Africa, forming a modern railway network.
The project implementation will promote the regional economic and trade development, support the national economic development in Kenya and facilitate the regional economy to better and faster development of the Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Rwanda, DRC and Burundi.
The efficiency of the railway system will also improve foreign trade, tourism, and agriculture in the region leading to an increase in the economic growth.
The infrastructure envisaged in the Belt and Road is both cross boundary and trans-continental. This will help in promoting transnational trade, business and tourism with Kenya being East Africa’s most important link in this infrastructure chain.
Through this infrastructure, Kenya will play a greater economic role within the East African market while fanning local developments and providing new jobs at home.
The Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure is also expected to improve and boost trade among participating economies.
The connectivity is bound to increase our exports by making it easier and cost-effective to move goods from the hinterlands to the port of Mombasa for export. It will also help in spurring the East Africa Community cooperation.
With Kenya’s GDP being largely propped up by agriculture, the Belt and Road is bound to improve earnings. Kenya’s prize export products like horticultural produce are time-sensitive since they are perishable.
Through infrastructure like SGR such products can be speedily transported from areas of production to airports and sea ports for export, thereby reducing loss due to unreliable road transport.
Infrastructure deficit has held Africa back. This is why as other developed economies invest in trade opportunities Africa is allocatinhg a huge fraction of its budget to infrastructure development as it plays catch-up.
However, we need to be careful especially in ensuring that the China-Africa relationship is developed on more equal footing.
Africa needs to establish where our interests converge with China’s, where they diverge and how areas of convergence can be shaped to advance African development priorities. If well executed, Kenya has a lot to gain in the overall scheme of the massive Belt and Road Initiative.