Where would we be if we had embraced China much earlier? This is a question that seemed to linger in the minds of many African heads of State and government, as the Forum on China and Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) closed in Beijing on Tuesday.
Apparently, China is firmly on the saddle in Africa. For instance, since 2012, the Chinese have constructed two of Kenya’s biggest infrastructural projects since independence—Thika superhighway and the Standard Gauge Railway.
But even as we remain mesmerised by these infrastructural feats, it is all in a day’s work for the Chinese contractors. After completion, they simply dust their palms, and move on to a new site. But our neighbours are not sitting pretty either. Ethiopia and Tanzania are now giving us a run for our money in their development cooperation with China.
When Narc was in power about 10 years ago, former special advisor to then President Mwai Kibaki, Raphael Tuju, said something that must have sounded outrageous. He advised that may be it was time Kenya looked to the East for her development goals. He observed that countries such as China were more empathetic of our poor development.
Former President Daniel Moi had just retired. Sadly, he bestowed the new regime with baggage from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Both parties had totally given up on each other because of the conditions the Bretton Woods institutions had pegged on budgetary support for Kenya.
The new Narc regime had no choice as the twin lenders were not relenting on their calls for certain reforms. These conditions seemed punitive and appeared geared at keeping our begging bowls perennially outstretched. Therefore, embracing China was like a stop-gap measure, rather than a long-term relationship.
The Chinese have brought a paradigm shift in our view of development. Hitherto, implementation of projects stalled almost every other business. Government delegations from Treasury and the Cabinet constantly shuttled from Nairobi to Western capitals to “justify” their request. By the time funds were received, they tasted like hot water in the mouth of a thirsty person.
The Chinese have demystified this. First, they have left us to deal with our sovereignty in what China’s president Xi Jinping referred to as the “five nos” in China’s Africa policy in his FOCAC 2018 speech on Monday.
Secondly, the Chinese have emancipated us from mental slavery. By constructing the road and rail as we watch, they have showed us it is not rocket science. Simply put, the Chinese did little manual work. Most of their work centred on directing what was to be done.
It is Kenyans who did the bulk of the work. We dug the tracks and, laid the stones and steel. So the Chinese were really the missing link, rather than the magic bullet. How come we have engineers who are as qualified as their Chinese counterparts but they cannot do a similar job?
Imagine where we would be if China had come on board 40 years earlier. We would be talking of how Kenya should achieve a developed country status by 2030! – Writer is the executive director, Centre for Climate Change Awareness—[email protected]