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Daily Nation’s Aggrey Mutambo on the Current State of China-Kenya Relations

The China-Kenya relationship is at a sort of inflection point right now where there is a palpable sense that the relationship has to change or else it risks deteriorating. The ballooning debt, yawning trade imbalance and the general lack of transparency in the deals made between these two countries are becoming increasingly unsustainable, both economically and politically.

This sense of frustration, or at least the need for change, was evident last week during a visit to Nairobi by Chinese president Xi Jinping’s special envoy Yang Jiechi, who also happens to be one of China’s most senior foreign policy officials. Yang met with President Uhuru Kenyatta for the standard diplomatic discussions on mutual development, Belt and Road, etc… but interestingly after the talks, the Kenyan president issued a statement where he called on the Chinese to do more to foster private sector engagement and to make it easier for Kenyan products to access the vast China market.

Chinese special envoy Yang Jiechi meets President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi. Photo: Handout

“We need to really now focus on how we can work together to get our private sector, our investors to work more closely together,” Kenyatta said in the statement. “How do we attract Chinese investors, manufacturers, industrialists and other businesspeople to invest in Kenya?”

“A spokesperson of Chinese ambassador to Kenya Mr Wu Peng, told The EastAfrican that China is still interested in making Kenya a part of its “Belt and Road Initiative,” but will only enter into projects that are viable.”

Aggrey Mutambo

The president is clearly signaling to Beijing that ties have to evolve beyond the state-to-state model that has defined the relationship until now. Moreover the Chinese are under pressure from both Japan and the United States who are also focusing their new Africa policies on private sector engagement.

While there are indications that non-state-owned Chinese companies, Transsion, Huawei and Alibaba for example, are moving quickly to expand in Africa, it’s not entirely clear if the Chinese government is prepared for what would no doubt be a major shift where the state has always been in control of the agenda.

The Daily Nation’s Senior Diplomatic Writer, Aggrey Mutambo, has been closely following this discussion and reporting on the broader China-Kenya relationship. Aggrey is one of the most prolific writers on China-Africa relations and joins Eric & Cobus the current state of ties between these two countries.

Show Notes:

About Aggrey Mutambo:

Aggrey is a reporter with the Nation who enjoys writing on international/diplomatic and humanitarian affairs. Occasionally, he writes on politics in Kenya. He studied communication and media technology at Maseno University. He joined the Nation Media Group upon graduation in 2009. In 2010, he went through the Nation Media Group journalism training program, the Media Lab. He has been reporting for the Nation since.

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