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The Chinese strategy in Kenya through the One Belt, One Road policy

The One Belt, One Road initiative was launched by Xi Jinping, the current president of the People's Republic of China, in 2013 with the goal of boosting the world economy in terms of international trade, finance, and tourism. At the same time, One Belt, One Road (OBOR) pursues to promote China's integration into a more global economy through building road, ports and railways and connecting counties between themselves (Dossou, 2018).

This Chinese “friendly” policy is composed of two elements. On the one hand, the “One Belt” is a synonym of the ancient Silk Road or economic road compounded by roads, railways, and pipelines. On the other hand, the “One Road” as the 21st century maritime Silk Road connecting Eurasia and Africa by the sea and the construction of a network of strategic ports. Its main task is to improve the flows of trade and investments in a globalized economy (Odongo, 2018).

In the case of Kenya, China has had commercial trade relations with the country’s inhabitants in the last 600 years. Zheng He, the main navigator of the Chinese Ming Dynasty, traveled around the African coast trading Chinese silk for ivory or other African products. Consequently, these ancient ties between the two countries were used by the Uhuru Kenyatta and Xi Jinping in order to strengthen links of cooperation in economic fields. Moreover, Kenya is considered by the Chinese government as a strategic country for being the gateway of Eastern Africa and African hinterland (Sabil, Feroze-Master, & Tong, 2018).

Geographically, Kenya shares a border with South Sudan, an oil producer country to China. Currently, the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan after the split of the latter has positioned the area as a threat to Chinese oil supplies. For this reason, China has seen Kenya as an alternative route to ensure its Southern Sudan - owner of the 75% of oil of the former whole Sudan - oil supplies avoid the Northern Sudan boycotts and obstacles. Furthermore, the oil discoveries in the North of Uganda allow China to diversify its oil supplies from Africa (Sabil, Feroze-Master, & Tong, 2018).

African instability has led China to invest in public infrastructures in order to maintain and ensure its value chains. Kenya, as a point of entry for the maritime silk road into Africa from Asia, has become the center of Chinese investment, OBOR´s projects. The upgrading of the Mombasa Port, which is the main port of Eastern Africa, the planning of a new ultra-modern port in Lamu and the building of a new standard gauge railway line linking the Mombasa port, the capital Nairobi and Mombasa port are all parts of the Chinese project for the country. The construction of the railway and a pipeline amis to link also hinterland ports in the Lake Victoria, to oil fields in South Sudan and Uganda, to facilitate Ethiopian, Rwandan and Burundian exports and to increase Chinese influence in the hinterland in the near future (Sabil, Feroze- Master, & Tong, 2018).

In terms of Foreign Direct Investment, the modernization of the railway is estimated on USD $25 billion, the pipeline which connects Kenya to South Sudan at USD $ 4 billion and the port of Lamu at USD $ 27 billion. These significant figures could not be raised by Kenya on its own, but under the initiate of OBOR it was made possible. As can be appreciated, OBOR provides with a considerable amount of capital to developing countries in order to facilitate their pathway to improve their economy by reducing the cost of transport and increasing exports (Sabil, Feroze-Master, & Tong, 2018).

According to Eric Wamanji, public relations and communication expert, Beijing has defended the advantages of the OBOR as the economic boost in terms of exports and the rise of productive capabilities (Odongo, 2018). However, the facts show the contrary.

Throughout the last years, China has become the largest trading partner, supplier, lender and the main source of tourism for Kenya. Consequently, Chinese shares 23% of the Kenyan imports which are mainly products of high value as computers, telephones, railway passenger cars, tractors… estimated in US $3.91 billion. However, the Kenyan exports to China represents only 2,2% of its exports. Moreover, Kenya mainly exports commodities such as coffee, cut flowers, tea, tropical fruits which means a low value in comparison with their imports. The result of this trade is a structural commercial trade deficit and the imperative need of borrowing money to finance the domestic spend.

A continuous increase of Kenyan debt as an aim to boost the economy implies a perpetual dependency of external lenders. In other words, Kenya will be subjected to foreign external powers which could oppose to the desires of the nation and its social welfare. Depending too much on China could mean its cession of national sovereignty to the Asian superpower.

This kind of strategy could be seen as a threat to NATO due to the geopolitical implications in the region. Kenya is a good example of how China is moving toward an aggressive policy in important regions as is Eastern Africa. With this kind of movement, China wants to ensure the value chains in order to feed its growing consumption economy. For this reason, this policy is the best strategy to ensure commodities and create tight ties based on enormous economic dependency in which China is the clear winner. If China implements its global project of One Belt, One Road, it will have the ability to limit NATO in every military conflict around the world.

Who is able to handle the economy, will rule the world.


OEC. (2019). OEC - Kenya (KEN) Exports, Imports, and Trade Partners. Retrieved from

Sabil, M., Feroze-Master, N., & Tong, Y. (2018). An Analysis of China and Africa Relations with special focus on "One Belt and One Road". Jornal of Law and Judicial System, 25-33.


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