China has been doing pretty good for itself over the past 2 decades. Emerging as a Frenemy to the US has particularly entertaining with both powers needing each other but vehemently refusing to be influenced culturally or technologically by either. As the Swahili say, Fahali wawili wakipigana, Nyasi huumia which translates to ‘When two bulls fight, the grass suffers’ seeing as it will be trampled by the stomping hooves. In this case donor recipients are happy because they now have more big brothers to turn to and both have deeper pockets than our central banks can imagine.
President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta just returned from a trip to China, Dubai and Russia seeking business, money and I suppose moral support. It is evident to anyone who has been following Kenyan local, regional and international politics to see that Uhuru and his deputy have been besieged men with everyone wanting a piece.
It is with this backdrop that the China visit spoke volumes about renewed commitment and I assume the direction he would like his regime to lean in the future. He even missed his father’s(Founding President Jomo Kenyatta) commemoration just for the trip. The west(as is characteristic of it) has taken every opportunity to meddle in Kenya’s political affairs for the last 3 years with threats, arm-twisting and financial guarantees for electoral material procurement. The ‘Dynamic Duo’ as they are now called are leaning more towards the eastern powers in a move to balance the pressure from the west. This may have resulted in the allowing of their trial cases pending at the Hague to be heard in Tanzania.
On his return, Uhuru came with billions of Shillings in development finance and a bunch of promises that the Chinese are bound to fulfil. These developments are met with mixed feelings amongst the public with some not liking the Chinese onslaught on local business while others welcome the new technology and infrastructure that is bound to benefit the country in the long run.
The increased presence and influence of the Chinese is stoking the old anti imperialist sentiment which the older generation is all to familiar with having grown up smack in the middle of the colonial era. Foreigners with advanced tech, bottomless wallets and strange mannerisms and language all invokes negative feelings of days gone by. Neither do the fast growing Confucius centres at our institutions of higher learning help to assuage fears.
Kenya and by extension Africa has had a healthy trading relationship with the Asians for centuries before the Europeans showed up. It was never conquest based interaction as far as is reported just trade and mutual benefit. The news everyday is how many billions are being invested by the Chinese Government all-over the continent and how big the frown on western pundits is.
The new onslaught seems similar to this interaction with little meddling in participant counties internal affairs and sticking to the business side of things. This is understandably very welcome to African strong men who have been getting lectures from junior officials in the richer countries as to how they should run their countries if they want dollars to make sure they are not overthrown.
We will have to wait and see if our governments are any smarter as concerns the handling of a foreign power trying to influence your internal affairs by use of the wallet and the need for the money to be dished out anyway.