Former Kenyan students who made headlines last week for writing to President Xi Jinping, who subsequently made an unexpected response to their letter, on Thursday spoke of the astonishment arising from the heartwarming move by the Chinese leader.
The group, the majority of whom are now working at Kenya Railways, trooped to the Chinese Embassy in Nairobi to make their feelings known. They were here flanked by other members of the Kenya-China Alumni Association, and the China-Kenya Friendship Association, in their mission to convey their heartfelt message of gratitude to President Xi through his representative in the country, Zhou Pingjian, the Chinese Ambassador to Kenya.
At the embassy, they told the ambassador how their minds were blown away after realizing they had captured the attention of President Xi, a leader of the world’s second-largest power. That the response letter by Xi to them was in the news, was too good to be true.
“Obviously, we were shocked. We did not even think he would take the time to read it,” observed Tafawa Patricia, an assistant engineer at Kenya Railways
Tafawa studied railway engineering while in China courtesy of a Chinese government scholarship and was one of the 40 students to draft a letter to President Xi to express their gratitude for the opportunity that completely changed their lives.
“As a leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world, his schedule is extremely tight. But he took the time to read it and he sent us a response,” narrated Tafawa who believes Xi felt the impact that education, made possible by his government, has had in their lives.
She went to China in 2018 courtesy Chinese government scholarship program, provided under the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), which airlifted 100 Kenyans to Beijing Jiaotong University who have since graduated and are back in the country helping nation-building.
In his letter to the students on January 17, 2024, President Xi indicated that he was pleased that they had gained a lot from their studies in China and were now contributing to Kenya’s development. He said China and Kenya enjoy time-honored friendship and hope that the Belt and Road Initiative, which birthed the Standard Gauge Railway where a majority of them are working, will continue to benefit more Kenyans.
“Going forward, many more capable young people like you are needed to turn into reality the magnificent plans of Belt and Road cooperation, an ambitious blueprint of China-Kenya comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership,” said Xi in the letter to the students, as read by Ambassador Zhou Pingjian.
“The letter from President Xi reflects the great importance China attaches to the China-Kenya friendship. I strongly believe that the letter will mark a memorable story not just for our bilateral relations but for our own lives. The embassy stands ready to facilitate mutual exchange between our two peoples,” said Zhang Zhizhong, the Minister Counsellor at the Chinese embassy.
The Chairperson of the Kenya-China Alumni Association Henry Rotich said the gesture by Xi will inspire the group to continue deepening and cementing the friendship between Nairobi and Beijing.
“We share in appreciating the invaluable education that we received in China. We acknowledge the historical ties between Kenya and China and recognize the significance of the belt and road projects, being an architect of a shared future,” said Rotich.
Having helped in financing and construction of the standard gauge railway, the alumni group also dispatched a train ticket to President Xi, as a demonstration of appreciation for what the project has done to them and many Kenyans. They expressed hope that the Chinese leader will schedule a visit to the country and take a ride through the SGR.