China’s foreign minister began a visit to Kenya on Wednesday in an attempt to shore up support for Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) amid fears over debt burdens.
The Kenyan foreign ministry described the visit by Wang Yi, who is also state councillor, as “historic”. It said security, health, climate change and green technology transfer would be discussed and new bilateral agreements would be signed.
Kenya is the second of three stops on Wang’s African tour, along with Eritrea and the Comoros. Eritrea joined the BRI, a long-term plan to fund and build infrastructure linking China to the rest of the world, in November 2021.
The trip comes as Morocco and China on Wednesday signed an agreement sealing a strategic partnership between the two nations as part of the BRI.
Beijing has lent African countries billions of dollars as part of the BRI, including $5 billion for the construction of a modern railway from the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
That model has been evolving, partly under the strain of the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic fallout and partly because of a backlash from African critics against rising debt levels.
Shift Towards Trade
China is shifting from hard infrastructure loans to efforts to boost trade.
Among the critics of Kenya’s reliance on Chinese funding is Kimani Ichung’wah, a ruling party lawmaker who has become a critic of the government.
“It is a debt trap and they should start renegotiating,” he told Reuters before Wang’s visit, complaining that the interest rates on Chinese loans was exorbitant.
Ichung’wah is backing William Ruto, estranged deputy to President Uhuru Kenyatta, to take over the presidency in an election scheduled for August, and said that if Ruto won his government would seek new terms for the loan repayments.
Eritrea, one of the poorest and most isolated nations in the world, is involved in the conflict in Tigray in northern Ethiopia that has destabilised the Horn of Africa region.
The China-Morocco accord, a roadmap for the joint implementation of the key Chinese project, was inked by Nasser Bourita, Moroccan foreign minister, and a senior Chinese official, Ning Jizhe.
The partnership is aimed at facilitating cooperation in infrastructure, trade, investment, industry, agriculture and more, a Moroccan government statement said.
- Reuters, with AFP and George Russell