Change of diplomatic guard should not slow Kenya-China relations

The immediate former Chinese Ambassador to Kenya, Liu Xianfa, concluded his tour of duty last month, in what is billed as an exemplary run in cementing China-Kenya relations since January 2014.

 

Under Liu's stewardship, China became Kenya's largest trading partner, investor and contractor.

 

Bilateral trade volumes increased by 59 per cent from 2013 to hit Sh5.2 billion last year. Signature projects like the standard gauge railway, the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology based Sino-Africa Joint Research Centre and the University of Nairobi Towers, embellish Liu's legacy in Kenya.

 

In his exit notes, Liu put the number of Chinese enterprises in the country at 400, providing some 130,000 jobs. The blossoming relations have also seen over 67,000 Kenyans trained at various levels, with some 200 full scholarships disbursed annually.

 

Luckily for Kenya, Liu's replacement has had the best window to view the meteoric rise in China-Africa relations. Before her posting to Nairobi, Ambassador Sun Baohong served in two African countries - South Africa (1996-99) and Ghana (2014-18).

 

In 2000, when the preeminent Forum for China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was launched, Sun was serving at the Department of African Affairs, where she rose through the ranks to be divisional director by the time she exited in 2005.

 

Equally important is the fact that when Beijing promulgated China Africa Policy in 2006, Sun was serving as counsellor in the Chinese Embassy in the US; the biggest rival of China in Africa. The implementation of the policy saw China displace US as Africa's largest trading partner in 2009.

 

It, therefore, suffices to say Sun has closely observed Chinese activities in Africa, making her an important actor Kenya could leverage in cementing even more beneficial ties with Beijing.

 

In addition, as the first female Chinese envoy to Kenya, Sun also brings on board a new idiosyncratic dimension to the conduct of foreign relations between the two states.

 

That said, the new envoy has a chance to build on the gains already consolidated and open a new frontier of engagement for the two countries.

 

To start with, it would be great to see additional Chinese investments in Kenya in healthcare, agriculture, housing, energy and infrastructure. Such investments, in the backdrop of tempered debt levels, will provide additional jobs to Kenyans and enhance the country's competitiveness as a key link in the Belt and Road Initiative.

 

Second, long-term sustainability of Chinese investments in Kenya will largely depend on peace and stability. It is, therefore, incumbent upon Sun to promote ideas and initiatives that speak to Kenya's domestic aspirations of national unity, peaceable coexistence and shared prosperity. Without such enabling conditions, China would simply be taking the proverbial shot of broken arrows in the dark.

 

Third, the partnership between China and Kenya should focus on human capital development. A key part of this process is strategic investments in scientific and technological innovation.

 

The World Bank reports that between 2005-14, Kenya had only 231 full-time researchers for every million residents. Kenya has an opportunity to work with China through initiatives such as SAJOREC to buoy these figures.

 

True technology transfer by China to Kenya will be a significant boost for the country to attain an industrialised and knowledge-based economy.

 

To achieve some of these goals, the two countries should effectively target the upcoming FOCAC, slated for September. Although implemented within the broader framework of China Africa Policy, Beijing has since 2006 developed country specific policies targeting various capitals in Africa.

 

Kenya should in the same spirit develop both long and short-term policy guidelines in its engagement with China. This will also help palliate fears among many observers in Beijing that African countries still do not have concrete plans of what they hope to achieve with China.

 

I take this opportunity to wish Sun a successful tour of duty.

 

(ADHERE CAVINCE,Star,May.26.2018)

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