Kenya has reached a new phase of its rapid development by making its first export of crude oil, and it is of little surprise that Chinese state-owned firm ChemChina won the tender to buy the oil at a premium. With this new cash injection, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has ensured that his country would continue to tap into its natural resources without compromising the needs of the future generations, while promising to bring benefits to the local communities.
China, especially through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has a critical role in the development of Kenya’s infrastructure and economy. One such example is the impressive 470-kilometer-long railway between the Kenyan capital city of Nairobi and the coastal city of Mombasa. With landlocked Ethiopia relying on neighboring Kenya and Djibouti for its international trade, the Chinese-funded railway has increased connectivity in the East Africa region by helping Kenya become a transportation hub for the BRI in Africa. With travel time between the two cities shortened from 10 to five hours, it has also increased Kenya’s gross domestic product by 1.5 percent and created 46,000 jobs for local residents, according to Stephen Ndegwa.
With China being Kenya’s top trading partner, accounting for 17 percent of the African country’s international trade in 2017, it has successfully presented itself as an alternative to U.S. unilateralism that aims to control the continent’s countries through aid dependency. With Africa feeling the horrors of colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries, former Chinese ambassador to Eritrea, Shu Zhan, ensured African countries that “China would not do anything that is like a colonialist.” With unilateralism resembling colonialism in the minds of Africans, Shu’s comments assuaged any fears African states may have had about China.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta (C) poses for a group photo in front an oil tanker carrying crude oil during the inaugural shipment of crude oil at Kipevu Oil Terminal in Mombasa, August 26, 2019. /VCG Photo
It is therefore unsurprising that an October 2016 Quartz publication, which presented data from Afrobarometer, revealed that 63 percent of the 56,000 people surveyed across 36 African countries viewed China’s influence positively while their view toward the U.S. continues to decline with every new poll conducted. The BRI has demonstrated that it is not a project to divert international wealth only toward China, but rather China shares its resources with other countries to help them achieve development and economic growth.
This is seen perfectly in Kenya where China has built new railway lines, roads, and many other vital infrastructures while being proactive in environmental impact management, as well as opening factories and creating jobs for thousands of people. Chinese companies also promote local social and economic development for the local communities they operate in, in addition to promoting gender equality by providing equal learning and working opportunities to empower women.
With the significant Chinese infrastructural and economic development in Kenya, President Kenyatta boldly announced his commitment for his country to be used as a base to expand the BRI into Central and West Africa. Because Kenya is a willing partner to expand the BRI further into Africa, the country’s prosperity is critical for China.
There is growing interest for the Chinese developmental model to be implemented across African nations as they saw China, a country that was once as underdeveloped and poor as most of Africa in 1949, becoming a major world player that has nearly eradicated poverty in its borders. China in 1990 had an extreme poverty level of 40 percent that was reduced to seven percent in 2012. Projections indicate that extreme poverty will be eliminated in China by the next year.
Beijing has genuine interests in getting African countries out of poverty. Although there is no short-term solution to ending poverty in Africa, it can all begin from one oil barrel at a time from Kenya.
With China demonstrating honest intentions and genuine development, it is inevitable that African countries will continue to gravitate toward China, looking at its success in poverty reduction.
The Chinese experience of colonialism gives it an advantage over Western powers who were once the colonizers of Africa, as Kenya develops into an East African hub for the BRI. This international endeavor will continue to be viewed positively across Africa, which could in turn diminish United States’ influence in the region.
This is why Kenya has consolidated its commitment to the BRI project by allowing a Chinese state-owned company to purchase its maiden crude oil export, which will be remembered as a historic moment in Kenya’s history.