Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning announced Wednesday that Beijing’s topmost diplomat Wang Yi is set for a three-nations visit of Africa. During his tour of the continent, Wang Yi will be a guest of Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya.
Whereas attention is focused on his participation in the 13th Meeting of BRICS National Security Advisers and High Representatives on National Security meeting in South Africa, his visit to Kenya is particularly crucial. It is his first visit to Kenya after the country ushered in a new administration under President William Ruto.
He also returns to Nairobi having been elevated to the powerful position at the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and as the Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs.
It is expected that Wang’s visit will be an occasion for Nairobi and Beijing to reaffirm their relations, having so far yielded positive outcomes.
When he visited Kenya last year, he toured some of the mega projects sponsored by China even as the two countries entered into more pacts aimed at promoting social and economic relations between the two sides.
His latest trip is, therefore, likely to follow up on proposals and cooperation agreements signed between the world’s fastest growing economy, and East Africa’s biggest economy about 18 months ago, with the new administration.
Wang’s visit in January 2022 ended with great optimism that the strategic partnership between Kenya and China will create lucrative opportunities for both sides.
His visit also comes at a time there have been allegations the new administration was contemplating shunning China in favour of the West. President Ruto has since dismissed the claims saying; “you should be able to separate politics, disagreements, political positions with interests,” clearly confirming that he was not about to disrupt the relationship that has existed between the two countries.
Kenya boasts a very large number of Chinese investments and companies that have put their resources in numerous sectors in the country. China sees the business and investment environment in Kenya as one that is conducive, while Kenya sees China has a lucrative market for a majority of its products, and the two sides appear keen to strengthen their relationship in this regard.
Chinese business community has been growing in Kenya, providing job opportunities to thousands of Kenyans. This number, it appears, will keep expanding as alluded to by a delegation of Chinese investors that paid a visit to the country earlier in the year with a view to exploring investment opportunities. The group disclosed that it was keen to establish a presence in the country’s textile apparel, medical, financial, and pharmaceutical sectors.
Wang Yi is also arriving in Kenya at a time Nairobi and Beijing are gearing up for celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of establishment of their diplomatic relations. So much has been achieved by the two sides since establishment of these ties.
Looking back Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Zhou Pingjian said the two countries share a profound tradition of friendship.
“Since the establishment of diplomatic ties on December 14, 1963, China and Kenya have forged a strong partnership of equals, particularly in recent years. The China-Kenya relationship is in its best shape. Our fruitful and wide-ranging practical cooperation stands out in China-Africa cooperation, delivering solid benefits to the people of both countries. China and Kenya have become a community of shared interests and future,” he said
Zhou reiterated his country’s commitment to, at all times, rally behind Kenya’s development aspirations. Speaking shortly after Ruto took office last year, the envoy noted that President Xi Jinping’s government will be at hand to offer support to Nairobi, and work hand in hand with leaders for the benefit of the people.
He spoke as former Chinese top diplomat to Nairobi Wu Peng, now the Director-General in charge of African affairs at Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also reiterated that his country’s relations with Kenya will not waver promising to ensure that the existing cooperation guarantees good tidings to all citizens.
“China stands ready to work closely with the Kenyan side to promote bilateral cooperation in all areas and advance our comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership,” said Wu
Implementation of Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Senegal meeting resolutions is also likely to feature during Wang Yi’s visit. During the summit in Dakar, key announcements included a pledge by China to boost imports of African products, Chinese participation in African poverty reduction programmes, a green development programme, a capacity building programme and a digital innovation programme, among others. China sees FOCAC as a framework for formal and mutually beneficial partnership with the continent.
His coming is significant in that China’s policy today has seen partners in the Global South like Kenya take a leading role in mapping out areas they would require intervention of Beijing. It means, for instance, if Kenya prioritizes construction of dams, as has been alluded to by President Ruto, this is what China will endeavour to finance, and so the visit will be an opportunity for the new administration to pitch for China’s development assistance.
But China’s development footprints in Kenya and Africa at large have perhaps been more pronounced through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). While proposing the initiative back in 2013, President Xi Jinping described BRI as a vehicle for achieving infrastructure, policy, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity to create new drivers of shared development.
That Africa attaches great significance to Belt and Road is not a secret given that fifty-two out of the 55 member states of the African Union now participate in the programme. China and Africa have advanced the Belt and Road cooperation and so far over 1,100 cooperation projects have been either initiated or completed, and have contributed in important ways to the economic and social well-being of the local communities.
As China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi has been the face of BRI internationally and has overseen the construction of about 100,000 kilometers of roads, more than 10,000 km of railways, close to 100 ports and numerous hospitals and schools in the process.
Indeed, BRI has transformed Kenya’s infrastructure development landscape. Among other flagship projects, Kenya now boasts a 472 kilometer Standard Gauge Railway line connecting Mombasa to Naivasha via Nairobi. The line has eased movement of goods and passengers while reducing the cost of transportation. Just last year, another major project financed by China through Public Private Partnership model was unveiled. The 27 Kilometer Nairobi Expressway that connects the Westlands area of Nairobi with the country’s largest airport, JKIA, has been a gamechanger, easing traffic that initially costed the county billions of shillings within the said stretch. To boost Kenya’s status as a regional commercial hub, Chinese investors set up the Global Trade Center (GTC), that is now home to some of the world’s acclaimed brands in one complex.
But that’s not all. BRI has helped Kenya realize other modern infrastructure projects such as expansion of roads, construction of ports, dams, industries, digital connectivity and airports, and all have positively impacted the country’s economic and social development.
During the same visit, the Chinese top diplomat reiterated that China will step up cooperation with Africa on regional connectivity, even as he indicated China was prepared to help Africa increase its infrastructure, and jointly build a connected Africa.
According to Wang, China will also step up agricultural cooperation with Kenya and Africa, including on food production, storage and transportation. He emphasized Beijing’s commitment to boost the continent’s efforts to attain food security. This too is in tandem with Kenya Kwanza administration’s agenda.
President Ruto’s government believes connectivity is vital for creative economy. He has said his administration is committed to enhance the digital superhighway to create opportunities for content creators to make a living. And this fits squarely in China’s grand connectivity agenda for the continent.
Wang promised last year that “China will step up digital cooperation with Africa. With its technological strengths, China is prepared to help Africa seize the opportunities of ICT revolution, in a joint effort to build a digital Africa,”
Certainly, Kenya has done substantial work in terms of digital connectivity with Chinese companies such as Huawei technologies leading the endeavour to roll out ICT infrastructure across Kenya while offering training to citizens to acquire skills necessary for the job market.
Besides these and other areas that will come to the fore during his visit, Wang Yi is expected to deliver a personal message from President Xi Jinping to President Ruto on the support he intends to extend on behalf of the People’s Republic of China to the people of Kenya.
Talk is also rife that the two presidents might meet before the end of the year to review relations and announce possible new mutually beneficial cooperation areas between the Nairobi and Beijing.
Eric Biegon is a Multimedia Journalist at Kenya Broadcasting Corporation