By Dorcas S
So four years into his first term in office President Kenyatta is finally asking China to “rebalance an increasingly skewed trade relationship between Africa and China”; this ironically and incredulously after “securing” an additional KSh.359bn to extend the standard gauge railway (SGR) beyond Nairobi.
Mr. Kenyatta also noted that aside from the trade imbalance between China and Kenya, the technology transfer has been skewed – in favor of China – against a country (Kenya) where unemployment hovers around 40-50%. Now with the SGR about to come online, the president is offering, again four years later, that “the country Kenya will benefit more if China transfers skills and sets up manufacturing companies in the continent”.
The foregoing assertions by Mr. Kenyatta, a self-styled Pan-Africanist and alleged student of history, political science and economics are coming thirty years AFTER Prof. Cheikh Anta Diop offered the unqualified view that “an African technician placed in optimum conditions of responsibility…..can quickly assimilate the knowledge needed…..to direct a whole complex on which the life of the nation…..will depend” (Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State).
The reality is that China has Kenya and the rest of Africa exactly where the western financial institutions – World Bank (IBRD), International Monetary Fund (IMF) etc. – had them shortly after independence and beyond. The difference is that they, Chinese, have given the likes of Uhuru the misguided and misplaced sense of comfort and complacency that they are “equal” partners in a symbiotic economic relationship.
I’d beg to disagree – vehemently.
To be clear, the benefits of China’s investments in Kenya, in Africa cannot be understated or downplayed. It has been significant and unlike that of the colonial powers – UK, Germany, France and the West in general – Chinese aid has been pragmatic and business-first devoid of the moral pre-conditions the hypocritical West has been notorious for albeit decreasingly so – much to the detriment of the powerless everyday African citizenry.
However, the economic benefits in this second coming of an extractive relationship Africans have a knack of forging with foreign powers are disturbingly one-sided. Former New York Times Bureau Chief Howard French wrote this regarding Africa’s relationship with China: That the Chinese are “doing two things. They are investing…..(and) doing good business for themselves with almost all the money going back to China…..” (China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa).
China has also been implicated in the illegal ivory trade that has virtually decimated the continent’s remaining herds of elephants adversely affecting the important tourist sector. They have also been accused of flooding African markets with inexpensive and sub-standard goods – once again adversely affecting the local manufacturing industries.
Along the way and as noted by Martin Meredith (The Fortunes of Africa: A 5,000-Year History of Wealth, Greed and Endeavor), China worked tirelessly to establish ties with leaders such as Mwai Kibaki and now Uhuru Kenyatta. In exchange for roads, stadiums, railroads and other infrastructure projects, Kenya, like the rest of Africa opened up her natural resources to the juggernaut that eventually became the Chinese economy.
Kenyans are being played, once again, by descendants of home guards mostly responsible for setting Kenya along its current ruinous path after independence. As noted by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, the colonial authorities built extractive institutions that the post-independence African politicians were only too happy to take over and exploit for personal gains over time. (The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty: Why Nations Fail).
To underscore the belief that Kenyans are, once again, being played by a foreign country, consider that a China that makes little to no demands on incorruptible, transparent and good governance of its African clients is clamping down, hard, on corrupt and secretive government officials – at home. Chinese Prime Minister Xi Jinping has waged a relentless fight against corruption since taking office in 2013 – the same year a president – Uhuru Kenyatta – demonstrably weak on and complicit in corruption – took office.