“The surging entry of China into African economies will continue to raise anxieties. As Albert Hirschman wrote, all epoch-making political and economic innovation tends to provoke fierce
rhetoric on the damage that radical change is likely to do to the old order, even when some benefits are grudgingly accepted” (Chege, 37). For the last three decades(1980-2007), China has been the lifeline for Kenya. Most foreign relationships are formed in the shape of trade, which has been on the rise with multiple actors on the Kenyan scene; India, China, and the East African community. What makes the relationship between Kenya and China special is China’s ability to take multifarious forms.
Kenya, just like any other developing country, is making an effort to hasten its development despite all obstacles, whether they be in governance, or the lack of human capital, or inadequate funds. China enables sub-Saharan African countries to attempt at rapid development, and that is why for a country like Kenya, China is currently her best ally. Chinese contractors get the job done more quickly than any other nations’. Furthermore, China’s simple bureaucracy, compared to that of Western countries, makes China attractive and easy to work with.
Moreover, China has actively personified her relationship with Kenya. A visit to Kenya, starting from the main airport in Kenya (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, which was recently renovated by Chinese contractors) can attest to the tangible embodiment of Chinese relations with Kenya. China has contributed largely to Kenya’s infrastructural development and also at a lower cost. India and the East African community mainly conduct bilateral trade with Kenya. Trade is significant for the Kenyan economy, but then what will happen when the resources (tea) are depleted? Or something like a war obstructs their production? Or when the other nation’s manufacturing sector become better?
During pre-independence trade between Kenya and China, their commodities were almost of the same quality. But then when Kenya got independent, the conservative and “mixed economy” proponent, president Jomo Kenyatta, could not afford to work with communist Mao, so trade between Kenya and China came to a standstill for 13 years, until both died. So when Moi took over after president Kenyatta and established a relationship with China in 1980, China’s economy was already transformed. Their manufacturing sector was booming and thus when trade began, Kenya’s balance of trade with China was (and still is) at a deficit. China’s policy in the 1960s use to allow “commodity-financed” projects (Chege, 23), while now they fund projects through loans and grants. This is partly because they recognize that their commodities are cheaper and of better quality. Thus if their relationship with Kenya relied on exchange of commodities, it would be weak. It is therefore significant that China is creating institutions in Kenya that could ensure sustainable growth. Kenya experienced a sustained economic growth between 2003-2007. “GDP growth rose from 2.9 percent in 2003 to a projected 7.1 percent in 2007” (Chege, 26). This was largely attributed to the increased cooperation between Kenya and China, amongst other factors. The other nations, India, EAC countries, UK, and the U.S. have traded with Kenya for decades without a similarly significant impact.
The 2007-2008 post election violence severely affected trade and foreign relations. However, infrastructure built by the Chinese remained standing. Hospitals like the Moi referral hospital in Eldoret even helped casualties of the violence. Therefore, no matter what people feel about the Chinese presence in sub-Saharan Africa, they have to recognize that China is filling a niche that was historically absent.
- Michael Chege, Economic Relations between Kenya and China, 1963-2007
- Joseph Onjala, The Impact of China-Africa Trade Relations: The Case of Kenya (Issue Number 5, 2010)