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Discontent brewing among Kenyans as China eyes control of infra development business

Discontent among locals in Kenya rising against the Chinese

Kenya and China have just signed six trade agreements and have even proposed to form a joint working group to carve out ways to reduce trade imbalances. China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was in Nairobi earlier this week reiterated that the Beijing-funded infrastructure projects were mutually beneficial to both countries. But despite this rhetoric, there is a growing sense of underlying apathy and discontent among the local Kenyans against the Chinese companies and contractors.


Besides apprehensions of a possible debt trap, the Chinese companies have bagged most of the key infrastructure projects leaving the small and sub-contracted work for the locals.

According to Kenya-based news organization the East African, only a few Chinese companies have amassed road and infrastructure contracts worth $8.8 billion under the Jubilee administration.

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“The dominance of Chinese companies has left a bitter taste among local contractors who are now losing out even on county roads and real estate projects,” the news organization said in a recent report published during Wang’s visit.

“A strange and new form of imperialism is emerging with the way the Chinese businesses are operating,” Rajen Harshe, leading scholar in African and international relations studies in India told India Narrative.  “For the Chinese, the focus is less on capacity building, it is more about seizing power and exploiting the resources,” Harshe added.

The speed, financing muscle and negotiation power of the Chinese firms has endeared them to almost all government departments, ministries and parastatals, “which have seen them eat the lunch of local companies who the government accuses of shoddy jobs and noncompetitive bids,” the news organization said.

China Communications Construction Co (CCCC) and its subsidiary China Road and Bridges Corporation (CRBC) have been entrusted with the bulk of road and railway construction which generate earnings of $6.9 billion.

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That apart, “hundreds of billions” have gone to other Chinese firms including China Wu Yi, Synohydro, China Railways 21 Bureau Group, Jiangxi Engineering and Third Engineering Bureau of China City Construction Group which have grabbed several projects across Kenya.

Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International said that African governments must enable the local private sector to flourish.

“The problem that most African countries face is that of governance deficit, what is required is a well thought out state policy when it comes to infrastructure development,” Besides, the process of global tendering needs to be fair and transparent.

“The local firms are feeling the pinch and this will hit the Chinese over time, people will start reacting especially since there is a colonial past and history attached to Africa but times have changed and people are more aware and information exchange is easy,” Mehta said, adding that global infra development companies based in other countries including India must also be given a fair chance.