x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Kenya looks east for trade deals

Snubbed by the United States and charged by the International Criminal Court, the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has headed east and scored US$5 billion (Dh18.4bn) of infrastructure deals with China.

NAIROBI // Snubbed by the United States and charged by the International Criminal Court, the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has headed east and scored US$5 billion (Dh18.4bn) of infrastructure deals with China.

Just months into his presidency, Mr Kenyatta has highlighted China's growing economic clout in the region by choosing to make Beijing the destination of his maiden state visit.

As an astute, western-educated economist and businessman, Mr Kenyatta has all the more reason to work on ties with China given that he was snubbed by Barack Obama during the US leader's trip to Africa last month.

"China's importance to Africa cannot be underrated. China is our biggest partner in development," tweeted Mr Kenyatta, who is wanted on charges of crimes against humanity by the ICC, as he touched down in Beijing at the beginning of the week.

The latest deals include a batch of energy projects and the building of a new railway track from Kenya's Indian Ocean coast to its western border with Uganda.

Mr Kenyatta also tweeted pictures of himself and his wife strolling along the Great Wall of China in the company of his Chinese counterpart and host, Xi Jinping.

"We welcome the investment in key sectors of our economy," Mr Kenyatta said after the signing in Beijing on Monday.

He pledged to further bolster "political and economic partnerships" with China.

China has long been a vital partner for most African countries, Kenya among them. China's official news agency Xinhua said that at $2.84bn in trade, Beijing is the East African nation's second-largest commercial partner.

Ahead of Kenya's March elections, Washington warned Kenyans that "choices have consequences", in an apparent caution against voting for Mr Kenyatta.

After Mr Kenyatta's win, Mr Obama, whose family on his father's side is Kenyan, bypassed Kenya in favour of neighbouring Tanzania when he came to east Africa in early July.

A Kenyan banker and analyst, Aly-Khan Satchu, said this may have backfired.

"I think the Western nations are finding the choices they made are having consequences in regard to the relationships that Kenya is seeking, China being the latest example," he was quoted as saying by BBC.

The red carpet treatment and 21-gun salute that the Kenyan leader received in China contrasted starkly with the reception he got in London, where he was invited to attend a conference on Somalia in May.

In Britain, Kenya's biggest bilateral trading partner, Mr Kenyatta got a polite welcome but there was no opportunity for him to pose for the press alongside David Cameron.