Kenya looks East to 'sincere friend' in China

Beijing and Moscow, not Washington, are first non-African ports of call for new president

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 9:37pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 August, 2013, 3:38am

China and Kenya exchanged vows of friendship and spoke of widening economic and political co-operation at talks between Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and President Xi Jinping yesterday that signalled Beijing's growing interest and presence in Africa.

Kenyatta's visit to Beijing following a stopover in Moscow highlights Nairobi's strengthening focus on its "look East" policy. The two nations are the first non-African countries he has visited since his inauguration in April.

China and Kenya signed co-operation agreements on energy development, environmental protection and personal exchanges. Kenyatta described China as a "sincere friend" and called for deeper political and economic co-operation. Xi said China and Africa "share the same fate", and that Beijing was willing to assist African development.

China has stepped up its engagement with Africa in recent years. It has become Kenya's second largest trading partner and mainland investment in Kenya has reached US$474 million, the nation's largest source of foreign direct investment. Trade between the two nations was worth US$2.84 billion last year.

In March, Xi visited three African nations during his first diplomatic tour since being named president, vowing to build mutually beneficial relationships with nations across the continent amid charges that China was exploiting Africa's resources.

Li Xinfeng , a specialist in African affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Kenyatta picked China and Russia rather than the US as his first destinations outside Africa as Nairobi was seeking alternative sources of assistance amid strained relations with the West.

Kenyatta and his vice-president, William Ruto, have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on multiple counts of crimes against humanity tied to the 2007 Kenyan election. Kenyatta and Ruto have denied the charges. Beijing has been critical of the ICC.

"Western nations share different political ideologies with Kenya and exert pressure on the nation, while cutting back aid and assistance because of the economic downturn," Li said.

Liu Hongwu , director of the Institute of African Studies at Zhejiang Normal University, said China's political and economic influence in Kenya was outpacing that of the US.

Kenya had expectations of better ties with the US after the election of Barack Obama, who has ancestral ties to the country. But Obama did not make Kenya his first diplomatic stop in Africa in his first or second terms.