Chinese economic dominance built on firm cultural foundation

Wednesday March 18 2020

Kenyans seem to feel that they are victims of the Chinese government through loans, never mind that it is our government that asked for this money.

It is not clear if any arm of government is charged with analysing the social impact of government borrowing on current and future generations.

Kenyans on social media were further enraged by the use of banners in Chinese symbols, during the opening or commissioning, in Ngong, of a tunnel that will serve the Standard Gauge Railway.

China, alongside a number of Asian countries, including Japan and Korea, to their credit, value their own cultures so much that they have not bothered to adopt the Latin alphabet that all African countries, with an exception of Ethiopia, adopted from their colonisers. They instead use linguistic characters or symbols known as Han, Hanja or Kanji.

Ethiopians use Amharic symbols. Whereas the Latin alphabet has 26 characters, the Chinese symbols are about 3,000 that need to be memorised before one can understand or write the language.

The anger Kenyans are expressing may be the only way they are trying to resist a second colonisation.

The second quest for Africa will not be by marauding armies or slave traders. It will be a cultural and economic conquest. The cultural conquest already started with the use of other people’s languages as the primary mode of communication, followed by high content cultural materials – the movies, the television series, the music, etc.


According to World Bank projections, the population of Africa will be about 2.5 billion in 2050. The projection for Kenya is a population growth rate of about a million people per year. Which means that by 2050, our populations may hit the 80 million mark.

Some of the most urgent issues that will need to be addressed from this growth are food security, gainful employment, high commodity demand and other basic pressing needs such as housing and healthcare.

Whereas the President Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda of food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and affordable healthcare, seem to be an effort to strategise for this future growth, they are set on quick sand, as they lack a cultural foundation.


Urban Kenyans are under the false impression that learning their mother tongue is backward. They will not bother to learn the national language, Kiswahili properly either. Yet language is the mode of transmission for any progress.

Since language is so heavily laden with content, successful countries such as China do not want to give up theirs for any reason. As they expand and conquer other nations economically, they will bring their language with them.

And if Kenyans want China to build their infrastructure, import food stuffs such as fish and buy Chinese cheap manufactured goods, including phones and household equipment, they might as well start to learn their language now. It will give us a head start.

To master 3,000 symbols takes a certain logic and way of thinking. Otherwise the language would be practically impossible to learn. That logic is also hidden in their technical and innovations output on which they have based their manufacturing.

The cultural basis of all these development is their eight linguistic divisions, all based on Han symbols. It is also through use of language that they are able to lock out the rest of the world from their knowledge.


It is not strange to hear of Africa-China investment forums, in which trade, production and transfer of technology are discussed. But it is worrisome that the trade seems to be one-sided, with China exporting to Africa.

The results of structural industrialisation in which Kenyans would learn the Chinese technology and localise for use in Kenya is practically non-existent. It therefore becomes ironical when Kenyans are unhappy that China also wants to export ''motorcycle selling'' expatriates to Kenya.

As our population grows and unemployment rises, Kenya's export of unskilled labour to America, Europe and the Middle East will continue. Majority of our nationals in such countries do not take with them any particular skills, but are riding on the illusion of ''a better life'' philosophy. Nor do they bring back any particular production technologies which can help us add value to our raw materials.

The connection between culture and development is often lost in planning. By the use of their language as a seal on their innovations, technology and products, the Chinese are a very good example of that correlation.

If Kenya is not willing to use her own cultural logic as the basis for development, we might as well abandon the language of our colonisers and take up that of China, our chosen development partner.

Twitter: @muthonithangwa