- Among the key projects that China has undertaken in Kenya include the Thika Superhighway, Standard Gauge Railway, Nairobi Expressway and Lamu port.
- According to Energy and Petroleum CS Davis Chirchir, the government is in talks with Chinese and Indian investors into putting capital in the project.
The Kenya Kwanza government is now softening its stance on China going by recent remarks by President William Ruto and Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria.
The government, which had initially signalled a Look West Policy, has in last few days reenergised ties with China, which has been a key infrastructure development and trade partner in the last 20 years, since President Mwai Kibaki's tenure.
Speaking at the New Global Financing Pact ceremony in Paris, France, held between June 22-23, Ruto said China remains Kenya's close partner in its infrastructure development.
Among the key projects that China has undertaken in Kenya include the Thika Superhighway, Standard Gauge Railway, Nairobi Expressway, Lamu port and the anchor for the Lamu Port South Sudan - Ethiopia Transport Corridor, the expansion of the 84km Kenol-Sagana-Marua to a dual carriageway among other roads.
"As we discuss this new financing system, we value the incredible support by the multilateral development institutions, World Bank and IMF. We also have a wonderful relationship with China, they finance our infrastructure development.
"The tension between the West and China is unhelpful, unnecessary and is as useless as the tension between the North and South when we discuss climate change. That's not necessary. We must find a formula that will bring all our financing to respond to three issues: Urgency, scale and make it more affordable," President Ruto said.
He was speaking at a panel discussion that consisted of French President Emmanuel Macron, IMF boss Kristalina Georgieva and her World Bank counterpart Ajay Banga.
Ruto went on to thank President Macron for making it possible for China, the West and Africa to share the platform in the Paris meeting.
The President's remarks were followed by a meeting by Trade CS Kuria, who on Tuesday, met China Ambassador to Kenya Zhou Pingjian in Nairobi.
Kuria said China is a valued partner in Kenya's trade negotiations and Nairobi must tap into its enormous market for its products, as it boosts local production.
"In the County Aggregation and Industrial parks, I have engaged with most governors and we are aggressively looking for investors and China comes in handy. As a government, we have promised to have a well-structured way for the Chinese investors coming into the country as we also guard our local production,” Kuria said.
He further said that he will lead a high-level delegation to an upcoming trade exhibition to engage with potential investors.
"Additionally, we have also agreed to meet with all Chinese investors in Kenya," he said.
This is a departure from his previous harsh comments against Chinese investors, particularly the China Square standoff in February, accusing it of setting an unhealthy competition for small scale traders in Kenya.
He went on to threaten the takeover of the retailer mall in Nairobi.
“I have today given an offer to Prof Wainaina the VC Kenyatta University to buy out the lease for China Square, Unicity Mall and hand it over to the Gikomba, Nyamakima, Muthurwa l and Eastleigh Traders Association,” the CS said at the time, adding that, “We welcome Chinese investors to Kenya but as manufacturers, not traders.”
Foreign Affairs PS Korir Sing'oei, however, sharply differed with CS Kuria, saying Kenya’s investment promotion and protection regime is equitable, non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory.
“All actors, no matter their nationality- operating within the law should suffer any apprehension ... No lawful investment actor- irrespective of their nationality- should be apprehensive because the country's investment regime is non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory," Korir said.
Another gesture towards China is a five-day visit of Diaspora Affairs PS Roseline Njogu to Hong Kong this week to pursue opportunities for the Kenyan diaspora and deepen the relationship between Hong Kong and Kenya.
PS Njogu, who arrived in China on Sunday, said she is leading a delegation to structure frameworks for engagement between Kenya and the special administrative region of Hong Kong.
According to the State Department of Diaspora Affairs, discussions with Ambassador Edwin Afande, Charge d’affaires in Beijing and Dr Tam Wing Kun, the Honorary Consul of Kenya in Hong Kong and Macau revolved around deepening the relations and partnerships, creation of employment and investment opportunities, Kenyan diaspora workers’ welfare and rights, exchange of culture and knowledge transfer.
Njogu’s visit followed her meeting with Afande in Nairobi on June 14, where they explored ways on how to better serve the Kenyan Diaspora, expand opportunities for jobs and education for Kenyans in China and other upcoming diaspora engagements.
Earlier in June, Water CS Alice Wahome attended the 14th International Infrastructure Investment and Construction Forum in Macau, China. During the trip, Wahome met her counterpart Li Guoying and discussed how Kenya and China can continue to engage and strengthen partnerships in the water sector.
The President has promised to build 100 dams, and it is expected some Chinese firms will be involved in the projects.
And following the exit of Africa Oil Corp and Total Energies, the two joint venture partners, from the Tullow Oil project, China is among the new partners being considered.
According to Energy and Petroleum CS Davis Chirchir, the government is in talks with Chinese and Indian investors into putting capital in the project.
The developments come amidst the President's push for a new world order in regards to international financing that is dominated by the West as well as reforms at the United Security Council.
Ruto has also spoken against the use of the dollar in intra-African trade, a language that fits within the BRICS (Russia, India, China and South Africa) de-dollarisation push and the reform of the global economic order.
Earlier at the meeting in Paris, Ruto suggested that Africa and the developing south no longer wants the IMF and World Bank and instead, a new financial architecture where governance and power are in the hands of a few "a new organisation of equals", was needed.
During the campaigns, the President talked tough on China, and despite telling China’s special representative on African affairs Liu Yuxi that his government would step up and expand ties on infrastructure, agriculture, education, among other broad array of issues for the mutual benefit of the countries, shortly after taking office, he has largely looked West going by his diplomatic meetings and foreign trips.
When asked in a past interview if he was concerned by Ruto's “look West” activities, Ambassador Zhou maintained Kenya and China enjoy traditional friendly ties.
“We are confident that under the leadership of President Ruto and President Xi, the comprehensive strategic cooperation partnership will get stronger for mutual benefit for our two countries and our people,” Ambassador Zhou said at China Embassy.
Experts such as Prof Macharia Munene, who teaches International Relations at USIU, say the President might still be reevaluating Kenya's foreign policy and trying to strike a balance between the East and the West, and the pendulum is still swinging, and remains to be seen where it will stop.