The Chinese did not come here on charity: We’ll pay through the nose

Monday May 12 2014

PHOTO | EVANS HABIL President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at State House in Nairobi May 10, 2014 after addressing journalists.

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at State House in Nairobi May 10, 2014 after addressing journalists. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL NATION MEDIA GROUP

MACHARIA GAITHO
By MACHARIA GAITHO
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I saw plenty of starry-eyed faces as Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang came calling with his bag of goodies.

President Kenyatta and his band looked rather like love-struck teenagers smitten with the fabled celeb from the neighbouring housing estate lavishing them with attention.

No doubt the billions doled-out by the kind man from the East could go a long way towards making key development projects a reality.

Nearly a half trillion shillings committed to various projects, with the new Mombasa-Nairobi railway as the centerpiece, is a stupendous investment by any means, and that’s before adding up the billions more signed on the Ethiopian, Angolan and Nigerian legs of the tour.

No doubt the Chinese largesse will have Western nations, which previously dominated trade and aid with Africa, looking on with envy.

At the State House ceremony on Sunday, President Kenyatta and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni pointedly took digs at the West while heaping praise on the Chinese visitors.

President Kenyatta likened the ageing Kenya-Uganda railway to a colonial imposition meant to ease exploitation of East Africa; and the new standard gauge railway line to be financed, and built, by the Chinese as a stellar example of partnership.

Taking the cue, President Museveni lauded the Chinese for focusing on real development assistance rather than lecturing Africans on their internal affairs.

Both leaders are fed up with Western finger-wagging for their failings on matters such as good governance, democracy, corruption and human rights. They could not resist the temptation to let the West know it no longer has the leverage to apply pressure on such issues because Chinese aid will not come with such strings attached.

The message is that African leaders now have licence to oppress their people, clean their national treasuries; and generally rob, loot, rape and plunder because their new masters will not hold them to account on how well or how badly they treat their subjects.

What President Kenyatta and his counterparts across Africa should realise, however, is that they can only play the China card for so long.

Chinese aid is welcome and invaluable to our development, but we should look East with wise and open eyes, not like foolish virgins who don’t realise that the rich fellow bearing gifts is not a kind-hearted philanthropist. He will always want something in return.

By all means let us build on relations with China, but do so in ways that advance our national interests rather than just opening ourselves up to exploitation.

If we rightly are fed-up with neo-colonialism, we would be foolish to exchange one exploitative relationship for another.

There’s a lot to gain from China, but we must realise that the rich men from the East are here to expand their geopolitical tentacles, and need us as much as we need them.

Therefore we should be able to bargain hard to secure what we need rather than just opening up in total submission.

President Kenyatta must not for a moment forget that it is not free cash he is getting from China, but loans that massively increase our foreign debt exposure and which we all, and our children, will be paying for generations.

That Chinese money does not mean that procurement laws designed to protect Kenyans from thieves must be thrown out of the window.

Nor does it mean that quality, standards and oversight on the projects must be left exclusively to the vendors and contractors.

And if President Kenyatta thinks that Chinese aid does not come with strings attached, let him try, tomorrow, inviting the Dalai Lama to Kenya, or sending an envoy to Taiwan.

* * * *
After the weekend massacre from poisonous liquor, we must acknowledge that the so-called Mututho Laws have failed.

What I can’t understand is why it is the chief executive of Nacada who was sent home, instead of the chairman John Mutotho, who long ago usurped executive functions.

But then the latter is a favoured political appointee who got the job despite the fact that the law disqualifies him from public office while facing criminal prosecution.

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