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Uhuru joins world leaders for global trade talks in Beijing

Sunday May 14 2017

President Uhuru Kenyatta and other world leaders during the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the China National Convention Centre (CNCC) in Bejing Olympic Park, China.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and other world leaders during the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the China National Convention Centre (CNCC) in Bejing Olympic Park, China. PHOTO | PSCUAC 

AGGREY MUTAMBO
By AGGREY MUTAMBO
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In Beijing, China

President Uhuru Kenyatta joined more than two dozen other world leaders for a trade connectedness conference in Beijing on Sunday, as the Chinese vowed to use the forum to create "one big family" of trading nations.

The President and his entourage were among 28 leaders including Russian President Vladmir Putin, Phillipine's Rodrigo Duterte, Turkey's Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, Indonesia's Joko Widodo and Ethiopian Prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Each of them are there for different interests. For Kenya, the need to build more roads and extend the new railway line influenced President Kenyatta to attend — he had admitted in an earlier press conference.

At the start of the Belt and Road Forum, President Xi Jingping of China pledged an additional $14.5 billion (Sh1.47 trillion) to fund facilities meant to expand trade links with other countries, Sh850 billion of this money targets developing countries like Kenya.

"We intend to create one big family based on harmonious co-existence," he told participants seated in a hall in the humongous China National Convention Centre in Beijing.

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SPREAD INFLUENCE

First launched in 2013 by the Chinese to create what they called an open economic system based on balanced trade, the Belt and Road initiative tracks down the ancient silk-road route used by the Chinese to spread influence globally.

Today, Beijing wants to track the route used during the Tsenge Po in the 14th century that saw its explorers reach the shores of Kenya in Lamu, but with different means and reasons.

The Initiative generally targets 60 countries mainly in Asia and Europe, with few in Africa such as Kenya, Egypt and Tanzania.

But the 28 were invited, basically, because they are the focal point of the Initiative.

In Kenya, the Chinese have been building the Standard Gauge Railway line, roads and are eyeing the Lamu Port and its attendant service roads.

PRESIDENT’S ADMIRATION

In Ethiopia, the Chinese recently finished a fully electrified railway line from Addis Ababa to Djibouti.

Ahead of this trip, President Kenyatta spoke of his admiration for President Xi and his efforts to improve life standards for the Chinese.

"It is something I admire about him. His determination to lift people out of poverty is something we share, and that is also our vision as the Kenyan government," the President had told reporters at State House Nairobi last week.

President Kenyatta is scheduled to speak at a roundtable on Monday.

Africa's only other dignitary, Premier Desalegn, who spoke on Day One said China has proven to be a genuine partner to help Africa fight poverty.

"China has taken the initiative in laying the foundation for our cooperation," he told the gathering.

"We continue to view China as a successful economic model and reliable ally in the fight against poverty and in the quest for prosperity," the Ethiopian leader argued.

DISH OUT LOANS

China is now Africa's largest financier of infrastructure. In Kenya, they have pumped in $463 million in the last 15 years. This could be more if we include the SGR loan which cost Sh327 billion, with Beijing financing 90 per cent of it.

The Belt and Road Initiative has a kitty of about $40 billion mostly managed by the China Exim Bank.

With trade in sight, the Chinese have been willing to dish out loans to construct these facilities in developing countries which they hope to use in boosting their entry in these markets.

But they have also been insisting that those loans are granted only if a Chinese firm is involved in the project.

Nairobi says it is asking for more of those to finance a transport system in Nairobi and hopefully reduce congestion by dualling the bypasses around the city.