Instead of the camels and caravans that transported spices and silk hundreds of years ago, China’s strategic $1.4 trillion (Sh142 trillion) One Belt, One Road initiative aims to redirect its domestic economic potential and investments to development of international infrastructure projects in Asia, Europe and Africa.
The initiative consists of two major projects: The creation of the original Silk Road from Asia via the Middle East to Europe and a maritime road connecting China’s port facilities with the East African coast, leading to Europe via the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
Analysts suggest that President Xi Jinping’s vision programme is 11 times the size of the United States’ Marshall Plan, which reconstructed Europe after World War II.
Kenya and Ethiopia were the only invited African head states to the summit to discuss new roads, high-speed rail, power plants, pipelines, ports and airports and telecommunications links that would boost commerce between China and more than 60 countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Kenya’s transformation to its Vision 2030 aim to be a rapidly industrialising, middle-income country will depend on how it utilises China’s investor interests for its own sustainable development.
Kenya ought to aggressively strengthen its position as a regional trade hub and entry point for foreign direct investment, a position which is quickly being overtaken by Ethiopia.
Participation of Kenya’s Small Micro Enterprises in industrial transformation and growth of the Value chains will require both capital and knowledge capabilities.
China in the last 20 years has tapped into inbound investment from mainly the United States, Europe and Japan to quickly turn around their highly disadvantaged industrial capabilities and investor knowledge to emerge an important investor in the world, including Kenya.
There are more than 500 Chinese enterprises investing in Kenya, mainly in infrastructure, construction, mining and telecommunications.
Kenya has a grand opportunity to learn from Chinese companies in agro-processing, clothing, textile and leather production, all low-lying fruit, both for consumption by the burgeoning two billion Africa population and export to the belt and road corridor countries, Europe, the United States and the world.
Focus on strategic investment, modes of FDI that encourage and promote learning about Kenya’s SMEs sector, create SME vibrancy and protect the growing industry, is key.
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