In a significant policy shift, Kenya has signaled its intention to continue seeking financial assistance from China for infrastructure projects, despite previous criticisms of Chinese loans.
The policy shift comes ahead of an upcoming visit by China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, to Nairobi.
China has been a major player in Kenya’s infrastructure development, providing significant financing for projects such as railways, highways, and ports.
However, during his presidential campaign, President Ruto had been vocal in his criticism of Chinese loans, raising concerns about the country’s debt burden and the terms of the agreements.
With President Ruto at the helm, Kenya appears to be taking a more pragmatic approach to its relationship with China even though his foreign policy at the beginning of his tenure seemed to ‘look west’.
The upcoming visit by Chinese diplomat Wang Yi will be the first high-level visit by a Chinese official to Kenya this year and the second since President Ruto assumed office in September last year.
Kenyan Foreign Affairs PS Korir Sing’oei met the Chinese ambassador to Kenya Zhou Pingjan on Tuesday and reviewed the progress in Kenya-China strategic relations.
Mr. Zhou had reportedly been sidelined by Nairobi once Ruto rose to power. He was only granted an audience with the Kenyan leader in late December last year, almost four months after he became President.
Despite China being Kenya’s largest bilateral lender, the Chinese ambassador has had limited contact with government officials, though KFP was unable to independently verify whether the Chinese mission had made any meeting request.
During the campaign period, Ruto, who had been Deputy president since 2013, took a sharp stance toward China, blaming Beijing for Kenya’s debt problems and threatening to deport foreign nationals, including Chinese working illegally in Kenya and operating small retail businesses that could be run by locals.
Ruto also pledged to declassify all contracts for major projects Kenya signed with China.
Beijing has financed massive infrastructure projects in Kenya, including the US$4.7 billion railway that runs between the coastal city of Mombasa and Nairobi with an extension to Naivasha.
China has also funded and built the 27.1km Nairobi expressway, constructed by the China Road and Bridge Corporation, for US$688 million under the public-private partnership model.
According to a report by South China Morning Post last year, Kenya’s debt to China rose from US$2.1 billion in 2015 to about US$6.4 billion in December 2021, accounting for about two-thirds of all bilateral debt.
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