All rights reserevd “Belt and Road” Initiative International Think Tank, CASS
Editor's Note: China and Kenya have deepened mutual trust and expanded cooperation in recent years, pushing the relationship to the best it has ever been. As an active participant in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), how does Kenya view the opportunities and benefits the initiative offers? What are Kenya's expectations from future bilateral cooperation? James W. Macharia (Macharia), cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing & Urban Development and Public Works in Kenya, shared his opinions with Global Times (GT) reporter Yu Jincui at the sidelines of the Dialogue between Executives of Chinese Financial Institutions and African Coordinators of the Implementation of the Follow-up Actions of the Beijing Summit of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. The forum was held in September 2018.
GT: China proposed the BRI to promote connectivity. What are the prospects of this initiative in Kenya? Why do you think Kenya can become an important pillar of the initiative in Africa?
Macharia: I think our location as a country is very, very strategic with regard to the BRI. We have a natural corridor. We start from the port called Mombasa on the east coast, go toward the west, and border Uganda, and then go right into what we call the Great Lakes and then to the west coast of Africa. This area is called the Northern Corridor where China has helped us build the Standard Gauge Railway, the most successful project in Eastern and Central Africa.
At international forums, we present this project as an integral part of the BRI. So for us, it is not just a theory. It is not a concept. It is already on the ground. We are seeing the benefits. It's not something we are planning; it's already there.
GT: Many Western countries interpret the BRI from a geopolitical perspective. How do you view this?
Macharia: Yes, they may do so because most countries, especially developed countries, are competing for African space. But we are looking at what is good for us. What is good for us is what China has given us in terms of the support and these productive investments. China is not giving money for us to throw away. It's giving us money to put in projects which are productive so that we can increase our GDP. When we increase our GDP, it helps us pay back these loans.
If some countries are saying it is geopolitical, let us see what they have done themselves. They tell us that we got too much debt from China, which it is not true because our debt ratio is about 50 percent to GDP. This is very sustainable. Most importantly, that money is once again going into productive assets which would help us increase the GDP therefore helping us repay the loans. It will not be a big problem.
GT: The rapid development of China-Africa cooperation has caused Western countries to pay renewed attention to the continent. Is there competition between China and Western countries in their cooperation with Africa? And what are the advantages of China-Africa cooperation?
Macharia: Yes. I think some developed countries have noticed what China is doing in Africa, and they are also coming now to Africa. The good thing is by them coming to Africa, we get a very competitive proposition. It is for our own benefit, because now we have a choice. But so far, I think the advancement which we have made with China cannot be really replicated. I think we've gone very far.
The good thing with China is that it doesn't interfere with the political and international affairs of countries. It is very fast in processing these projects in terms of proposals. It understands our development because China is also, despite its size, a developing country. It helps us access China's market.
GT: How would you comment on the current state of China-Kenya bilateral relations?
Macharia: We have a long list of projects which are not only planned, but also projects which have been completed, revealing that this is not something which has started. It is something we planned years ago.
After the forum here in Beijing, I'm going to fly to Changsha in Hunan Province for the first China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo. This is about trade now, trade of agricultural products and manufacturing products. And so the bilateral relations are getting much, much broader in terms of what we are doing with China.
GT: We know Chinese company Huawei scaled up investment in Kenya in recent years. How do you see Huawei's role in Kenya's digital development?
Macharia: Kenya is building what we are calling the Konza Smart City in Nairobi. The idea is to make sure we have an integrated urban information and communication technology network.
Huawei is a global company. We have visited their factory here in Beijing with our president twice, and we've seen their capabilities. They are helping us in not only smart cities, but also the areas which we call the intelligent traffic system. They have come to help solve the problems of congestion in the city of Nairobi, and they are working to develop it.
GT: This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. Over the past 70 years, China has made great achievements in development. Are you studying the Chinese development model in Kenya? Any lessons do you think African countries especially Kenya can learn from China's development experience?
Macharia: There are many areas of learning which we have actually adopted the Chinese way of doing things. On top of development, you cannot have development without political stability. What China has is political stability, which we are learning from, because the projects we are talking about are long-term ones.
If you have short-term views and a changing political environment, you shall not succeed. That's why we are looking at the Chinese model, whereby for 70 years you've been very consistent. So, you can plan your projects 10, 20, 30, 40 years in advance. The same thing with Africa. Only having five years and a changing political environment does not help.