Over the last decade, China has lent money and erected infrastructure on a sweeping scale across Africa. To pay for such projects, many African nations have borrowed from China or relied on natural resources like oil reserves. And when tallying the cost, African nations have generally focused on their rising debts, or occasionally on the exploitative labour practices of some Chinese firms.
In Kenya, concerns about racism and discrimination are a growing part of the conversation about China’s expanding presence. Kenyans say Chinese investment brings racism and discrimination. Kenyan newspapers have often reported about an atmosphere of “neo-colonialism” for Kenyan workers under Chinese management.
As the country embraces China’s expanding presence in the region, many Kenyans wonder whether the nation has unwittingly welcomed an influx of powerful foreigners who are shaping the country’s future – while also bringing racist attitudes with them. It is a wrenching question for the nation, and one that many Kenyans, especially younger ones, did not expect to be confronting in the 21st century. Episodes involving discriminatory behaviour by the region’s growing Chinese work force have unsettled many Kenyans, particularly at a time when their government seeks closer ties with China.
Recently, a Chinese company “M/s China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC)” is facing backlash on social media for its corrupt practices and discrimination against the Kenyans. The company was awarded the contract of constructing Western Ring Road Project in Kenya. This China funded expressway project is apparently being criticized not only for high cost but also for planning to charge arbitrarily high toll charges from the Kenyans. To manage the operations, Moja Expressway Company (subsidiary of CRBC) has been established which is mandated to maintain the expressway for 27 years and collect toll fees as per the pay-for-use basis. Besides, the amount is supposed to be paid in US dollars that may further exacerbate the inflation in the country. Many locals find it strange that the Kenyans would have to pay in dollars. Given the continued depreciation of the local currency and the rising inflation, the actual amount of toll paid by the Kenyans would be much higher than the initial estimate. The CBRC is expected to earn $977 million as dividend and other incomes from the mega road.
Besides, the environmentalists in Kenya have argued that the massive cutting down of trees to implement the project could damage the local climate. According to media reports, some 4,000 young and mature trees have been cut down to make way for the expressway.
Moreover, the CRBC, which is constructing the Kenyan expressway, had been found involved in corrupt practices in other countries as well. The company had been ‘debarred’ by the World Bank in 2009 for engaging in corrupt practices in the Philippines.
Kenya, home to more than 40 officially recognized ethnic groups, has long had its own problems with prejudice and ethnic tensions. But the Chinese presence has only added a volatile new element. Besides, the Kenyans see the Chinese infrastructure projects as ‘elusive development’ as these projects are not benefitting the majority of people. About 107 Chinese firms are reportedly operating in the country and it is becoming increasingly difficult for Kenya to service the Chinese debt and interest. China owns around 72% of Kenya’s total external debt of $50 million. The Kenyan government must look around to see the fate of countries that very warmly welcomed Chinese investments in the past. Today, those countries are unable to meet even their basic needs of life.