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Sino-Kenyan transformative cooperation moves forward without strings

Sixty years ago, on Dec 12, 1963, colonial rule ended and Kenya officially became independent. Two days later, Kenya and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations.

After 1978, during the administration of then Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi, that relationship deepened. A warm relationship emerged. The scope of the relationship was on the cusp of a dramatic change.

The watershed moment was the inauguration of former president Mwai Kibaki’s “Look East” strategy in 2005. That strategic decision eventually placed China at the heart of Kenya’s dreams of modernization. A sweeping range of activities have brought the two countries ever closer and, just as important, placed Kenya within reach of becoming a middle-income country.

In the process, many bilateral economic and trade agreements have been signed. The 400-plus Chinese companies in Kenya are now an integral part of the Kenyan economy, employing over 50,000 Kenyans. Agreements on cultural cooperation have led to scholarships for Kenyan students to study in China, and many people-to-people exchanges have taken place.

Furthermore, events such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation meetings are now fixtures on Kenya’s diplomatic calendar, and high-level visits between Kenya and China are now considered the norm.

After so many achievements, these two celebrations, marking the 60th Independence Day and 60 years of diplomatic relations between Kenya and China, are an opportune moment to reflect. Where has Kenya-China cooperation been the most transformative? Which activities have been the most rewarding and therefore most deserving of expansion over the next decade or so?

Kenyans from all walks of life have heard of the standard gauge railway between Mombasa and Nairobi. It is part of a cluster of infrastructure projects arising from Kenya-China cooperation. The projects also include Lamu Port, the Kipevu Oil Terminal, the Nairobi Expressway and the Thika Superhighway.

Taken together with the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway as the flagship, this cluster of projects has begun to chip away at the deficit in infrastructure that must be addressed if Kenya is to modernize.

Kenya and China should prioritize additions to this group of infrastructure projects, at least for the next decade.

Obviously, additions will only be forthcoming if Kenya and China have the financial and economic capacity. Moreover, any new cooperative infrastructure projects will have to meet all standard financial and economic tests. The overriding posture is that if it is to consolidate its nascent middle-income status, Kenya simply must have modern port facilities, railways and highways.

The list of projects that have been undertaken since the start of the “Look East” strategy is long and impressive. Nearly half of Kenya’s 30″flagship projects “are due to close cooperation between Kenya and China.

Furthermore, for over two decades, China has supported two projects that may hold part of the key to Kenya’s food security. The Kenya-China Belt and Road Joint Laboratory for Crop Molecular Biology, based at Egerton University’s Confucius Institute, and the Sino-Africa Joint Research Center at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology provide cutting-edge science, technology and resource support in crop breeding and skills training.

The ability to help promote Kenya’s modernization without any interference in its internal affairs is one of China’s most endearing qualities. It is admired in Kenya and across the African continent.

China’s respectful posture will almost certainly guarantee another 60 years of transformative relations with Kenya.

Source: China Daily