However, a leaked diplomatic cable written by the US ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger provides a rare, on-the-ground-view of how America’s top diplomats view the rise of China in Africa.
It also reveals how America’s foreign policy is contributing to its waning economic influence in East Africa relative to China.
While Washington continues to take a missionary approach that seeks to spread democracy and promote governance in the region, Beijing’s policy is driven by its core national interest of economic survival.
Over the past five years, China’s relations with East Africa and the wider Great Lakes region have been driven by the need to secure energy, strategic metals and mineral reserves to meet rising consumer demand at home.
The cable, posted on global whistleblower WikiLeaks’ website, indicates that the US government is reluctant to collaborate with China in East Africa as there appears to be little convergence of the two countries’ interests to date.
In addition, China’s apparent silence on implementation of Kenya’s political reform agenda in particular, is causing unease, as the US considers the reforms essential to the country’s future stability and prosperity.
The flooding of regional markets with Chinese counterfeit goods, such as batteries, which directly damages US market share in the country, is another source of concern.
The cables say that Kenya’s leadership may be tempted to move ever closer to China in an effort to shield itself from Western, and principally US, pressure to reform. This story is already being reflected in the region’s investment data.
According to data from the Kenya Investment Authority, Chinese investment projects in Kenya in 2008 numbered about 96, representing an investment capital of $52.6 million, about 7.3 per cent of the total foreign direct investment flowing into the country.
In Kenya, Chinese foreign investment is mainly in the manufacturing and service sector with a recent shift into mining and minerals exploration.
Shengli Engineering & Consulting Company was the prime contractor for the Mombasa Road-City Centre-Gigiri road upgrade project.
In addition, the second phase of a project to upgrade the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is being worked on by China National Aero-Technology International Engineering Company. The first phase of the project was completed by the Chinese company China Wu Yi.
Negotiations are underway regarding the building of the second main port in Lamu and the South Sudan Rail Link ($1 billion, partly financed by the Chinese government).
In the East African region as a whole, China’s investment footprint has also been growing steadily. In Rwanda, for instance, according to a study done by the African Centre for Economic Transformation, between 2000 and June 2009, the Rwanda Investment and Export Promotion Agency registered nine Chinese investment projects worth $46 million, about 4.3 per cent of registered investment projects during that period.